Cannabis reform has been arguably the biggest public policy topic of this decade. Cannabis reform touches on law, social justice, economics, public health, and a number of other areas in public policy.
With so many obvious reasons to end cannabis prohibition in America, it begs the question, ‘why was cannabis ever prohibited in the first place?’
Cannabis was legal in America for a long time. It was not uncommon for cannabis to be found in products that were in homes across America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Cannabis was a common ingredient in medicines that were widely distributed all over the country, and it was seen as being a safe substance to use.
That changed during the 1910’s and 1920’s when America saw an influx of immigrants from Mexico and the growing popularity of genres of music that were associated with minority communities.
Authorities were looking for a way to search, and/or detain and/or deport immigrants and people of color, and they found exactly what they were looking for via cannabis prohibition.
Harry Anslinger, the driving force behind federal cannabis prohibition in the 1930’s, was quoted as saying at the time:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., 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 Hearst and DuPont theory
In his groundbreaking book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, legendary cannabis activist Jack Herer offered up the theory that cannabis prohibition was also driven by the financial interest of William Randolph Hearst and the DuPont company.
The theory certainly has some validity, as Hearst (newspapers made from timber) and DuPont (petrochemical products) definitely had a financial incentive to see hemp prohibited in the United States and beyond.
However, it is harder to substantiate Hearst and DuPont’s motives than it is with Harry Anslinger.
Hearst certainly published a great deal of anti-cannabis propaganda via his media empire, but that could have been for any number of reasons or a combination of reasons.
Either way, the end result was that cannabis was prohibited in America, and both Hearst and DuPont benefited greatly from the public policy change, so if that was indeed their intent, they definitely achieved their goal.
The Nixon administration
Prohibiting a plant that is safer than many household substances for decades on end takes some public policy upkeep of sorts.
By the end of the 1960’s many Americans were questioning the merits (or lack thereof) of cannabis prohibition. It was part of a larger national political conversation that was going in America at the time.
Then-President Richard Nixon was no fan of the counterculture movement, which is why he kept cannabis prohibition in place, as summed up via the quote below from one of his top aides (via CNN):
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday.
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said.
“We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Cannabis prohibition has been a tool for many decades that helps authorities target members of society that are seen as being unruly or undesirable. That stigma still exists to this day.
The good news and what you can do to help end federal cannabis prohibition
Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. So far eight states have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use, 29 states have legalized cannabis for medical use, and more are on the way.
Washington D.C. has legalized cannabis for both medical and adult-use. A number of local victories have been achieved as well, but there is still a tremendous amount of work left to be done.
Even in states that have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use, there are still issues such as racial disparities in enforcement of public consumption laws.
If you love the plant and believe in compassion and justice, step up and do your part. Contact your members of Congress and let them know that prohibition has failed and it is time for a more sensible approach! And share this article to spread the word!