Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought us…….a plant. Cannabis. it’s true! Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were both promoters of hemp. George Washington cultivated it (Fisher 3). However our founding fathers did not do this illegally. In fact marijuana was legal in every state before 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed(Gerber 47). This plant was being used for more useful products such as clothes and rope which is now called hemp. In fact the first known woven fabric is made from hemp (Fisher 8). The ironic thing is the first ever law made regarding marijuana was established in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 which ordered farmers to grow hemp seed from the Indians. Many “must grow” laws were present in that time age (Fisher 9). Marijuana has had uses for many years, ever since 7,000 BC. Cannabis was even used as a means of currency at one point in time, for example to pay taxes. As well the American government went out of their way to encourage growth and cultivation of marijuana due to its quality (Fisher 11).
However, now this valuable product is looked down upon due to the thought of violence, history, and other components.
First State to Outlaw
Utah was the first state to outlaw marijuana (Provine 42). The reason behind this was not because of Mexicans but Mormons surprisingly. In 1910 the Mormons who traveled to Mexico brought it back to Salt Lake City with them. However, the church was not pleased and disliked the plant from the start. At the time Utah was heavily a church influenced state and because of the churches disliking, this state established the first law prohibiting marijuana in 1915(Provine 43). Soon after in the same year Wyoming followed. Then, Texas in 1919, Iowa in 1923, Nevada in 1923, Oregon in 1923 as well Arkansas and Nebraska, and so on (Provine 45). This led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
The western states in the 1900’s had many problems with the Mexican-Americans. This led to the revolution in Mexico 1910 (Provine 28). After that the depression emerged and tensions escaladed. One of the main differences between the groups was that a majority of Mexicans at the time smoked this plant and transferred marijuana with them while migrating. This escalated in many disliking this plant due to racial assumptions (Provine 30).
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Paragraph. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937
Harry J. Anslinger was a prominent figure with the prohibition of marijuana. Due to the recognition of an amazing jump start career he wanted to be involved with the Bureau of Narcotics (Gerber 16). His prime goal was to find the problem and fix it with a solution. This made him try to make marijuana illegal at a federal level. Racism and violence were common themes influenced with his problem solution theory (Gerber 20). This is seen very vividly by this quote he stated by saying,
"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" (Gerber 20).
Mr. Anslinger also received help by the media. He used yellow journalism by including lies and opinions that were at the uttermost ridiculous (Gerber 20). One example was seen in the San Francisco Examiner by declaring,
“By the tons it is coming into this country -- the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms.... Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him...."(Gerber 22).
Another prime example was in the nationwide columns by stating,
"Users of marijuana become STIMULATED as they inhale the drug and are LIKELY TO DO ANYTHING. Most crimes of violence in this section, especially in country districts are laid to users of that drug" (Gerber 24)
After a couple of years of organizing, Anslinger took his case to Congress. He brought stories of murderers who smoked marijuana, these type of editorials seen above, and etc (Gerber 47). Dr. William C. Woodward was on the opposing side of the case and was appalled at the fact that Anslinger referred to this as marijuana instead of hemp or cannabis (Gerber 51). In the time period marijuana was used only to refer to the Mexicans use of it. This doctor also explained that Anslinger and the Bureau of Narcotics had no thorough evidence of any relevance of killings due to marijuana. In the end medical science lost to yellow journalism. This made Anslinger the first drug czar (Gerber 53). While reflecting back at this case the prime reasons for this ruling were that the politicians wanted to appear tough on drug crimes, taxpayer funded propaganda, the corporations that profited from this plant being illegal such as pharmaceuticals, and etc (Boaz 89).
Nancy Reagan commented on the problem by stating,
“The casual user may think when he takes a line of cocaine or smokes a joint in the privacy of his nice condo, listening to his expensive stereo, that he’s somehow not bothering anyone. But there is a trail of death and destruction that leads directly to his door. I’m saying that if you’re a casual drug user, you are an accomplice to murder(Boaz 105).”
Mrs. Reagan’s statement came at a relevant time because a couple days later a police man working in New York City was shot to death in his patrol car while guarding a man that had been threatened by drug dealers. Furthermore, Nancy Reagan began the “Just Say No” campaign in 1984 to decrease the use of illicit drugs. (Boaz 105)However, the First Lady and no one else seem to have a solution to stop incidents such as this one.
It is proven in the past that drugs lead to an abundant amount of violence. The Office of National Drug Control found in 1996 that the teenagers who use marijuana more often are more likely to engage in the destruction of other people’s property and likewise attack others (Boaz 94). Additionally, many gang related crimes have been because of drugs including cannabis. However, the real question is, does marijuana cause violence or is prohibition of this plant the real crisis? Prohibition has already failed in the past with alcohol, but now prohibition of marijuana is causing costly measures. With over a million users, an average unemployed, uneducated man can make the same amount income as a local anchorman selling this product (Boaz 98). The temptation to make a living out of this illegally is very appealing and not burdensome. This leads to an increase of people in legal trouble with marijuana, which takes a lot of money to fund the justice system. The jails are already at an overly high capacity limitation, not including the judges, police officers, and prosecutors. To build and establish more could cost billions of tax payers’ dollars (Boaz 98). Couldn’t all this money be used to help another cause in the United States current economy?
Boaz, David. The Crisis in Drug Prohibition. Washington:Cato Institute, 1990.
Fisher, Gary L. Rethinking Our War on Drugs. Westport: Praeger, 2006.
Gerber, Rudolf Joseph. Legalizing Marijuana. Westport: Praeger, 2004.
Provine, Doris Marie. Unequal Under Law: race in the war of drugs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,