The more popular cannabis becomes, the more people are looking at it objectively and wondering why and how it ever become illegal in the first place. After all, our very own Declaration of Independence was written on hemp yet cannabis has been deemed the most dangerous, Schedule 1, drug by our government.
Hemp was a major crop in the colonies. In fact, hemp was such a critical crop that the government went out of its way to encourage growth. George Washington even grew it as one of his three main crops. Domestic cannabis production boomed until the Civil War, when it was used to produce rope and fabric. Not only were hemp and marijuana embraced for their practical uses, but their medicinal properties as well. So what happened?
In the early 1900s, the U.S. saw an influx of Mexican immigration. Even though cannabis was already in many medicines and tinctures, when Mexicans began referring to it as “marihuana,”
the media picked up on that phrase and played on the fears of the public by associating marijuana with “disruptive Mexicans.” Americans were completely unaware that this “marihuana” was the same exact thing they already had in their very own medicine cabinets. This laid the groundwork for marijuana to earn a negative connotation in the U.S. that reputation gained traction quickly.
During hearings on marijuana law in the 1930’s, people made claims about marijuana causing black men to become violent towards white women. This helped lead to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which banned both the sale and the use of marijuana. Some historians believe that the efforts to pass the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 were prompted by Andrew Mellon and the DuPoint family who saw the hemp industry as a monetary threat to their own businesses. Mellon and Dupoint ran large and lucrative paper mills. As hemp was becoming a cheaper substitute for the wood pulp used to print newspapers, they began to put up a fight against marijuana’s legality.
The government, both at the state and federal level continued to escalate punishments related to marijuana offenses until the late 1960s, when the laws began to effect white, upper-middle-class college students who had taken a liking to the drug. Suddenly, marijuana was no longer solely associated with blacks and hispanics. “During the mid-1970s, virtually all states softened penalties for marijuana possession,” reports The New York Times. The federal government, however, continued to cling, as it does today, “to a policy that has its origins in racism and xenophobia and whose principal effect has been to ruin the lives of generations of people.”
As of today, 30 states have legalized marijuana as a medical alternative and eight have legalized it for recreational use. As people begin to educate themselves on the benefits of marijuana and realize the negative connotations were not necessarily the truth, marijuana is becoming more mainstream every day.
Although marijuana faced discrimination originally in the U.S., it is finally beginning to be recognized for the wealth of positive benefits it provides to its users.