Why is ‘Marajuana’ illegal? The answer(s) may surprise you.

Written by A. Joe Dale for DumDittyDo.com    All Worldwide Rights Reserved

edited by Scarlett Alexandria

Before we get started on the illegalities, it is interesting to note a few historical facts about Cannabis.

Both hemp (sativa) and marijuana (indica) are from the Cannabis family with the main difference between the two being the amount of THC, the psychoactive agent that makes you ‘high’.  Furthermore,  whereas marijuana has a higher concentration (up to 33%) of tetra hydro cannabinol (THC), hemp is higher in something called cannabidiol which actually inhibits (and even eliminates) the psychoactive components. Different countries have different laws restricting the amount of THC allowed in ‘industrial’ hemp.

Hemp rope
Hemp rope

Hemp was one of the earliest plants to be spun into fiber, dating back 10,000 years. (Hemp imprints have been found on pottery dating back to the 5th Millenia BC ) According to Wikipedia, it was known that the Greeks would ‘inhale the smoke from hemp seeds.’ The Chinese also use hemp to make ropes clothes, shoes, and something resembling an early form of paper.


Greek historian Herodotus reported that the inhabitants of Scythia (present-day Romania and Bulgaria) would often inhale the vapors of hemp-seed smoke as a ritual as well as for their own pleasure. Cannabis has been used as a food in cooked dishes, as filling in pies and tortes, even boiled in a soup and used in salads. In fact, it was used as bird seed as recently as 2003 (where a survey found that at least 95% of hemp seed sold in the European Union was used in animal and bird feed).

Other uses for hemp include; canvass and clothing, as a mulch and as a bedding for animals. Further, when dried, the oil from the seeds becomes a solid which is used for oil-based paints, in creams (as a moisturizing agent), for cooking, and in plastics. The seeds are known to have been eaten by the Japanese as far back as 10,000 BCE.

Elizabeth Wayland-Barber circa 1958
Elizabeth Wayland-Barber circa 1958

Also interesting is that Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a textile historian, noted that ‘Cannabis sativa’ was grown and known all across the northern latitudes, from Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Romania and Ukraine) to East Asia (Tibet and China). Further,  she speculates that what catapulted hemp as a cultigen, causing it to spread westwards in the 1st millennium B.C., was the habit of pot-smoking from ‘somewhere in south-central Asia’ where the drug-bearing variety of the plant originally occurred. (Cannabis indica)

John-Adams-on-hempIt should be noted that many of our founding fathers grew Hemp on their own farms as a cash crop, including Washington,  Jefferson,  Madison,  and Monroe to name a few.  It’s even speculated that Washington may have smoked the female flowers to enjoy a ‘recreational’ high.  It was most likely on Columbus’ ships as rope for the sails.

In 1619 Virginia, an Act was passed ‘requiring all planters in Virginia to sow “both English and Indian” hemp on their plantations’. In fact, you could be arrested and jailed for NOT growing marijuana in times of deficit (1763-1767). Many other ‘must grow’ laws were enacted in numerous states up until 1819. One could go so far as to say Hemp was ‘as good as gold’, and a true ‘cash crop’, seeing how you could pay your taxes with hemp! The US Government even went out of its way to encourage hemp growth. Would you believe the Declaration of Independence was written on Hemp paper? It was.

And now, how (and why) marijuana became illegal.

Legal Stamp for Cassius Clay

It wasn’t until 1937 that a law was passed to tax ‘marihuana’. This law was mainly aimed at destroying the hemp industry as it was feared (mistakenly) that hemp would become a cheap substitute for paper.  (Ben Franklin used it for his publications).  Another main reason to destroy the hemp industry was to promote a new fiber. Until this time, Hemp was something of a go-to product with unlimited uses. DuPont, however, wanted to use their new fiber ‘nylon’ for Toothbrushes (which began selling in 1938) and to compete against silk and Rayon for things like women’s stockings.

d36d37934c9850a5d4be184959ca4200Also noteworthy is that Hemp was used extensively in the making of Military uniforms and canvass during WWII. In the early 1940’s somewhere around 300,000 TONS of hemp was sold worldwide, with Russia as the biggest producer until the 1980’s. More recently (2013) only 68,000 tonnes was produced worldwide, with France the largest supplier at 70% (with 75% of that being used for cigarette paper!!) and 95% of the resulting coarse material being used as horse bedding.  Russia’s production is less than 1% (probably why they make Vodka and stay drunk?), while the U.S. doesn’t even make the list. (In all fairness though the % drop for Russia probably has more to do with the break up of the USSR into fractured states, now being counted individually, as opposed to the whole USSR).

Not so oddly enough the people suspected to be responsible for the 1937 Marihuana Tax Law, were the DuPont family,  Randolph Hearst, and Andrew Mellon.  At the time,  Mellon was both the Secretary of Treasury and the wealthiest man in America. (He also had a substantial investment in the Dupont family’s business.)

When it comes to the ecological aspects of hemp it is an excellent benefit to the following planted crop, as it suppresses weeds, loosens the soil and it’s root system is considered to have a positive effect on the tilth (or health) of the soil. Hemp has few diseases,  (which do not effect the yield of the crop) and can be planted in the same location several years in a row. It even uses less water (14x less) than cotton. (Does all this mean it’s Green?)

In 1894 John Burke wrote that ‘many Mexicans added the herb to their cigarritos or mescal, often taking a bite of sugar afterward to intensify the effect.’

William Randolph Hearst early 1900's
William Randolph Hearst
early 1900’s

But quite possibly the #1 reason for marijuana’s illegal status is nothing more than plain simple hatred. In the early 1920’s, Mexicans were known to cross the border into Texas and California, bringing the Green plant with them. Tensions were still high from from the Spanish American War (as well as the Battle of the Alamo) and Mexicans were generally not liked. Especially by one notable business and Newspaper man that had lost some 800,000 acres of timber to Pancho Villa.  Being heavily invested in the newspaper business, this particular man also didn’t want to see hemp become competition for paper (made of timber pulp). Can you guess his name? If you guessed William Randolph Hearst, you would be correct.

This all led to numerous laws against marijuana (aka Loco Weed) in the early 1900’s, as it was directly associated with Mexicans.

As the Great Depression eventually took hold of America in the early 1930’s, Mexicans were then viewed as taking jobs away from the whites furthering their dislike. The 1930’s is also well know for the beginning of Jazz, and subsequently the black man. As the Jazz ‘train’ made it’s way up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago, and from there over to Harlem,  marijuana became infused with the cultural music with such hit songs such as “That Funny Reefer Man” by Cab Calloway, “Muggles” by Louis Armstrong’s, and Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag”.

 Marco Polo
Marco Polo

Then there is the old tale of Marco Polo using ‘Hasheesh eaters’, or ‘Hashashen’s’ as cold blooded killers. Marco Polo would invite these people to his garden, give them large doses of Hash and then show them the paradise that awaited them after their task. In 1931, it was written in a medical journal that those under the effects of Hasheesh ‘would madly rush at their enemies, and ruthlessly massacre every one’.  From this the word ‘assassin’ was derived and very soon, marijuana and violence went hand in hand. (like peanut butter and jelly)

But there is more still. Keeping in mind slavery was very prominent in the 1930’s, and Jazz was on the rise (Speakeasy’s), it was said that “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” (Heaven Forbid.)

As recently as 1951 more than 41,000 tonnes of the ‘loco weed’ was dug up and burned throughout the New York Boroughs.

Harry J. Anslinger,

Finally enters Harry J. Anslinger, something of a famous cop whom gained notoriety as an investigator with the Pennsylvania Railroad. At the age of 23, he found that a widower from a train wreck filed a fraudulent claim and saved the Railroad a cool $50,000 (A whole lotta money in 1915 = roughly 1.79 Million in 2016 dollars, US)

He went on to work for various military and police organizations until 1928, gaining a reputation as an honest and incorruptible man. In 1930, Anslinger was appointed the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics by then Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon (his wife’s uncle) and given a budget of $100,000. (Can anyone say Nepotism?)

Here’s where it gets really fun. Up until about 1929, Anslinger had claimed that Cannabis was not a problem, did not harm people, and  that “there is no more absurd fallacy” than the idea it makes people violent. Seeking the views of 30 leading scientists he found 29 of them said Cannabis did no harm.

3 years after the end of Prohibition, in 1933, he changed his views and chose to pursue the views of the one scientist who did. And as the Commissioner of the newly founded Federal Bureau of Narcotics he needed a rally cry, a new prohibition of sorts, and as such set his eyes on Cannabis.

How did he promote his new rally cry at a national level? Through the media (newspapers) of course, with much help from fellow advocate , one William Rudolph Hearst.

imagesAnd what better method than fear to gain backers and advocates. (Not to mention selling newspapers). Arslinger would often use racism and violence to create the problem he needed resolved. He would read from, and promote “Gore Files”, (wild reefer-madness-style exploitation tales, of ax murderers on marijuana, involving sex and now, Negroes). They were a collection of quotes from police reports, graphically depicting offenses caused by drug users. (Kidnapping, rape, murder etc) They were written in the terse and concise language of a police report, the most infamous of which concerns a Victor Licata, who killed his family. Essentially, the teen was said to have smoked ‘muggle’ (childhood term for marihuana), which in turn caused him to murder his family with an axe. In actuality, the young boy had a severe mental illness. In later years, 198 of the 200 stories told were proven false, with the remaining 2 cases having no existing records.

Printings from the papers included such headlines as: “Marihuana makes fiends of boys in thirty days — Hashish goads users to bloodlust.”

And articles wondering: “Was it marijuana, the new Mexican drug, that nerved the murderous arm of Clara Phillips when she hammered out her victim’s life in Los Angeles?

And stating that THREE-FOURTHS OF THE CRIMES of violence in this country today are committed by DOPE SLAVES — that is a matter of cold record.” (or so the papers said)

Or this one: “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.”

And of course Anslinger loved to pull out his own version of the “assassin”:

“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.’”

These ‘editorials’ were printed frequently and often over the course of 2 years, and then those sensationalized Hearst editorials were used before Congress to enact The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.  Most notable about these hearings was how short they were. 5 days.

Dr. William C. Woodward

There were impassioned objections by Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Council of the American Medical Association. Among other things he was upset that there was a “(distortion of) earlier AMA statements that had nothing to do with marijuana (but) making them appear to be AMA endorsements for Anslinger’s view.”

He was also upset Anslinger used the term marijuana in the legislation and did not publicizing it as a bill about cannabis or hemp. (At this point, marijuana (or marihuana) was a sensationalist word used to refer to Mexicans smoking a drug and had not been connected in most people’s minds to the existing cannabis/hemp plant.) Thus, many who had legitimate reasons to oppose the bill weren’t even made aware. The Congressional committee passed the Bill (largely on the testimony of the editorials written by Hearst’s publications) onto the House of Representatives where the whole discussion on the matter was :

“Mr. Speaker, what is this bill about?”

Speaker Rayburn: “I don’t know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it’s a narcotic of some kind.”

“Mr. Speaker, does the American Medical Association support this bill?”

(Member on the committee jumps up and says): “Their Doctor Wentworth[sic] came down here. They support this bill 100 percent.”

And on the basis of that lie, on August 2, 1937, marijuana became illegal at the federal level.

The entire coverage in the New York Times: “President Roosevelt signed today a bill to curb traffic in the narcotic, marihuana, through heavy taxes on transactions.”

And just that quickly and quietly, marihuana became illegal.

Harry J. Anslinger held office an unprecedented 32 years, in his role as commissioner.


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