Marijuana : Why is it illegal?

Many people assume that Marijuana was made illegal through some kind of process involving scientific, medical, and government hearings; that it was to protect the citizens from what was determined to be a dangerous drug. The actual story shows a much different picture. Those who voted on the legal fate of this plant never had the facts, but were dependent on information supplied by those who had a specific agenda to deceive lawmakers. You’ll see below that the very first federal vote to prohibit marijuana was based entirely on a documented lie on the floor of the Senate. You’ll also see that the history of marijuana’s criminalization is filled with:

  • Racism
  • Fear
  • Protection of Corporate Profits
  • Yellow Journalism
  • Ignorant, Incompetent, and/or Corrupt Legislators
  • Personal Career Advancement and Greed

These are the actual reasons marijuana is illegal.

History of Marijuana

For most of human history, marijuana has been completely legal. It’s not a recently discovered plant, nor is it a long-standing law. Marijuana has been illegal for less than 1% of the time that it’s been in use. Its known uses go back further than 7,000 B.C. and it was legal as recently as when Ronald Reagan was a boy. The marijuana (hemp) plant, of course, has an incredible number of uses. The earliest known woven fabric was apparently of hemp, and over the centuries the plant was used for food, incense, cloth, rope, and much more. This adds to some of the confusion over its introduction in the United States, as the plant was well known from the early 1600’s, but did not reach public awareness as a recreational drug until the early 1900’s. America’s first marijuana law was enacted at Jamestown Colony, Virginia in 1619. It was a law “ordering” all farmers to grow Indian hemp seed. There were several other “must grow” laws over the next 200 years (you could be jailed for not growing hemp during times of shortage in Virginia between 1763 and 1767), and during most of that time, hemp was legal tender (you could even pay your taxes with hemp — try that today!) Hemp was such a critical crop for a number of purposes (including essential war requirements – rope, etc.) that the government went out of its way to encourage growth.

The Mexican Affiliation

The first state law outlawing marijuana did so not because of Mexicans using the drug.

Oddly enough, it was because of Mormons using it. Mormons who traveled to Mexico in 1910 came back to Salt Lake City with marijuana. The church was not pleased and ruled against use of the drug. Since the state of Utah automatically enshrined church doctrine into law, the first state marijuana prohibition was established in 1915.

Other states quickly followed suit with marijuana prohibition laws, including Wyoming (1915), Texas (1919), Iowa (1923), Nevada (1923), Oregon (1923), Washington (1923), Arkansas (1923), and Nebraska (1927). These laws tended to be specifically targeted against the Mexican-American population. When Montana outlawed marijuana in 1927, the Butte Montana Standard reported a legislator’s comment:

When some beet field peon takes a few traces of this stuff… he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico, so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.”

Alcohol Prohibition and Federal Approaches to Drug Prohibition

During this time, the United States was also dealing with alcohol prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933. Alcohol prohibition was extremely visible and debated at all levels, while drug laws were passed without the general public’s knowledge.

National alcohol prohibition happened through the mechanism of an amendment to the constitution.

Earlier (1914), the Harrison Act was passed, which provided federal tax penalties for opiates and cocaine. The federal approach is important. It was considered at the time that the federal government did not have the constitutional power to outlaw alcohol or drugs. It is because of this that alcohol prohibition required a constitutional amendment.

In 1930, a new division in the Treasury Department was established — the Federal Bureau of Narcotics — and Harry J. Anslinger was named director. This, if anything, marked the beginning of the all-out war against marijuana.

Harry J. Anslinger

Anslinger was an extremely ambitious man, and he recognized the Bureau of Narcotics as an amazing career opportunity — a new government agency with the opportunity to define both the problem and the solution. He immediately realized that opiates and cocaine wouldn’t be enough to help build his agency, so he latched on to marijuana and started to work on making it illegal at the federal level.

Anslinger immediately drew upon the themes of racism and violence to draw national attention to the problem he wanted to create. He also promoted and frequently read from “Gore Files” — wild reefer-madness-style exploitation tales of ax murderers on marijuana and sex and… Negroes. Here are some quotes that have been widely attributed to Anslinger and his Gore Files:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”

“Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

“Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing

“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

And he loved to pull out his own version of the “assassin” definition:

“In the year 1090, there was founded in Persia the religious and military order of the Assassins, whose history is one of cruelty, barbarity, and murder, and for good reason: the members were confirmed users of hashish, or marihuana, and it is from the Arabs’ ‘hashashin’ that we have the English word ‘assassin.'”

Yellow Journalism

Harry Anslinger got some additional help from William Randolf Hearst, owner of a huge chain of newspapers. Hearst had lots of reasons to help. First, he hated Mexicans.

Second, he had invested heavily in the timber industry to support his newspaper chain and didn’t want to see the development of hemp paper in competition. Third, he had lost 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa, so he hated Mexicans.

Fourth, telling lurid lies about Mexicans (and the devil marijuana weed causing violence) sold newspapers, making him rich.

After Anslinger

The narrative since after Anslinger has been a continual litany of…

  • Politicians wanting to appear tough on crime and passing tougher penalties
  • Constant increases in spending on law enforcement and prisons
  • Racist application of drug laws
  • Taxpayer funded propaganda & Political contributions from corporations that profit from marijuana being illegal (pharmaceuticals, alcohol, etc.)

… but that’s another whole story.

Check out this documentary:


About theultimaterenaissance

I am an Engineer and a Management Graduate. I love writing poetry and research reports on cars. Surfing, listening to music, and Reading and writing Technical & Research papers are among my most savored hobbies.
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7 Responses to Marijuana : Why is it illegal?

  1. mo79uk says:

    Interesting post. I definitely think between alcohol and marijuana, alcohol is infinitely more dangerous. It’s legal because it’s easy to profit from.
    It’s not alcohol itself but the fact that very few people ‘enjoy’ alcohol responsibly, many people consume it to get drunk.

    The same can be said for marijuana and other drugs. Marijuana is much harsher than it used to be, but that’s only to up the appeal of a taboo substance. If marijuana was legalised it would most definitely be safer to use because of removing the dealer. The side effects are no worse than pharmaceuticals, and probably less if you have the right mental disposition.

    I have never tried any alcohol or drugs by the way, but I do see a disparity between common sense and law and have observed the effects of both alcohol and marijuana in people I know. I’d be happy to vote for marijuana legalisation and tougher rules on alcohol.

  2. eltone says:

    Very well researched and accurate article proving the point that the prohibition of cannabis is not now nor ever has been a health issue, it is strictly motivated by prejudice, evil power and greed. Also check, it is very accurate and educational on the history of cannabis prohibition. If we the people continue to accept dishonest, lieing, corrupt and ignorant lawmakers as our leaders we will fall just like the Roman Empire. How can a divided country stand? That’s what we are the Lawmakers/Politicians vs The People. Rather than a government “Of the people, By the people and for the People,” we have a Government “Of the Politicians, by the Politicians and For the Politicians.” Why else would the Federal Government deny scientific and medical facts concerning marijuana’s medical efficacy and non addictive very theraputic nature. “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest most theraputically active substances known. It would be unreasonable, arbutrary and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between those sufferer’s and the substance.”—Francis L. Young, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, 1988. Then President/congress buried the report and told Francis they were only interested in the harmful/negative affects and to re-do the report accordingly. Francis quit. You have to ask yourself why? Why all of a sudden is marijuana a “killer weed?” After being used safely and effectively as a medicine since medical practice began? The only answer there is when the truth is being supressed and replaced with governmental propaganda is evilness and corruption. If you know different please tell me. But first show me the truth in this statement by Sen Tom Harkin (D-Ia), “If you smoke marijuana you will find yourself huddled in a corner willing to sell your children for another hit of marijuana.” True story just check and read for yourself, Sen Tom Harkin (D-Ia) and all politicians like him, who lump marijuana in the same catagory as heroin, cocaine, meth, alcohol and nicotine the hard drugs, must be killed… the next election (had ya scared for a minute there didn’t I.) Now politicians who out and out lie and continue to deny truth are not medically nor morally qualified to be outside a mental institution more less in public office. It is up to us to use the power of our vote (even though the last Presidential Election proved the popular/people’s votes do not count. The winner of the 2004 Presidential Election was not the one chosen by the people, it was the one chosen by their fellow politicians.) Do you really think this is what our founding fathers had in mind? If so leave the USA and go live in Iraq. Legalize marijuana now and topple the Marijuana Black Market!! Right? I mean that would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? Well I guess if your one for suppressing the truth and living in a country where your life is in danger if you don’t agree with the King’s Law, admit it but don’t deny the facts, you cannot deny facts. Vote out the nay sayers and vote in educated, compassionate and informed people in 2008. Legalize cannabis for all purposes and release those incarcerated for non violent cannabis related charges. I know a man doing three years in prison for possession of three ounces of Medical Grade Marijuana, where the hell is the justice in that. Especially considering one of those was for me and had already been paid for. Do you know how hard it is to get your money back from someone in prison? Its a no worky. Peace…P.S. I was just kidding about one of those ounces being for me, no I wasn’t, yes I was, No I Wasn’t, YES I WAS!!! That’s the state of our nation concerning marijuana use conflict and confusion reign supreme. That’s the way our lawmakers approach marijuana the poor little politically maligned plant.

    • Jennifer says:

      You brought up some issues that definitely contributed to the illegalizing of marijuana. But, why was alcohol legalized again and marijuana wasn’t. It’s not just a race issue, that’s just part of the propaganda that makes the real issue easier to hide. Use an issue that can seem very real so the real one isn’t brought up. Minorities drank alcohol as well. In fact, some ran speak easy’s so that couldn’t truly be the reason. Also, marijuana was used by all races just like alcohol. So, why would something that never was really harmful left illegal while alcohol (the truly lethal out of the true) was ok to legalize? Can you do a bit a research on this because you seem to do a very good job. Look up information about hemp and oil companies in the early 1900s. Very insightful! The propaganda you brought up is correct but, it was propaganda to cover up other propaganda. Also, it’s amazing to see these “weed is just as bad as cocaine and is dangerous” politicians got away with convincing millions of this without any backing or proof. Not to mention that the US Army proved otherwise but still to this day the myth is very much believed still. Even with all this proof that it does not harm. It just shows you the intelligence of the population and how easy it is to dupe people. Scary!

  3. Susan Worth says:

    Wow, you put a lot of work into this. Funny how it can lead to pacifism and aggression.

    George Carlin said: “Many people in this country want to expand the death penalty to include drug dealers. This is really stupid. Drug dealers aren’t afraid to die. They’re already killin’ each other by the hundreds every day. Drive-bys, turf wars, gang killings. They’re not afraid to die. The death penalty means very little unless you use it on people who are afraid to die. Like the bankers who launder the drug money. Forget dealers. If you want to slow down the drug traffic, you have to start executing some of these white, middle class Republican bankers. And I don’t mean soft American execution like lethal injection.” – Napalm and Silly Putty

    • Jennifer says:

      Yep, couldn’t agree more! And I loved that George Carlin bit. I loved all his stand up though. He is quite the character but has a brilliant mind.

  4. Jennifer says:

    The worst part about it, if you really sift through all the piles of crap on top of the propoganda on top of more crap and more propoganda, that the eventual truth comes out. The truth has nothing to do with marijuana used for recreation, medication, or any of that. In fact, it was demonized because hemp was once used as fuel. Since anyone can grow hemp, it’s cheap, cleaner and more efficient, the competition for the oil companies was too big so they demonized it to the point that it was made illegal and eventually everyone bought into the bullcrap. The oil companies got lucky with the fact that hemp can be used in other ways so it was easier for them to demonize it. The sad part is that hemp can be used for more things than anyone can think of and it’s affects of it truly is not harmful. I personally don’t like it because I don’t like how I feel when I smoke, but that’s my choice and I choose not to. What about those who use it for medical reasons? I know people that have chronic illnesses that have medications that either do not work or causes other issues. But, marijuana truly helps. There are no known marijuana causing deaths, but look how many alcohol related deaths there are. Driving accidents, liver issues, and countless other fatalaties widely known to be caused by alcohol. Not just studies showing possible links, 100% difinitive proof. Same thing with tobacco. But, both are legal. Does this make sense to anyone? I don’t even like to smoke week, and I drink on occassions and smoke cigarettes. So, even without the bias, how come I can see this, but others don’t. The government should just legalize it and tax it. I can gaurantee our deficit issue would be a thing of the past. But, too easy of a solution and the oil companies still seem to have their greedy hands in everything. So, legalization of marijuana will not happen in our time. Maybe our government should stop making deals with the devil and do something right for us and our country for once. Alternative energy is there, make it a priority, and while they’re at it, take a closer look at how hemp can help as well. We’ll be going green, saving money, and getting the economy back to where it should be. The oil companies have raped the world long enough. Can we please finally do something about this? Sorry for the rant! The reason it’s illegal ties in with so many very real issues that it became a bit long winded. Sorry! Do the research for yourself. If I am wrong, please let me know. But, if you see that i’m right, then maybe you can agree it’s time for a change.

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