It Started with One Powerful Anti-Marijuana Voice.
While cannabis has traditionally been used for both medicinal and recreational purposes around the globe for thousands of years, it was only in the last century that it became demonized and declared illegal in the US. Before the 1930s, cannabis products were widely available in pharmacies and drug stores around the country. As the political climate changed however, Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger became a powerful anti-marijuana voice.
Anslinger took note of the rising use of cannabis in the 1930’s, specifically among people of color. “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” he was quoted as saying. “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.”
Fearmongering Leads to Regulation
In 1935, Anslinger urged Franklin D. Roosevelt to adopt the Uniform State Narcotic Act, using the Hearst newspaper chain to promote his fearmongering, propaganda campaign. This eventually led to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, under which the importation, cultivation, possession and/or distribution of marijuana were regulated. The term “marijuana”—derived from the Mexican slang “marihuana”, was used to create confusion around more familiar name of hemp.
William Woodward, legislative counsel to the American Medical Association, argued against the bill. They claimed the bill had been prepared in secret without giving proper time to prepare their opposition, and disagreed with FBN’s claim that marijuana is an addictive, violent drug that carries a threat of overdosing.
An Unwarranted Schedule 1 Substance
While the Act was ruled unconstitutional years later, it was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970’s which established Schedules for ranking substances according to their dangerousness and potential for addiction. Cannabis was placed in the most restrictive category, Schedule I, supposedly as a place holder while then President Nixon commissioned a report to give a final recommendation.
The Schafer Commission, as it was called, declared that marijuana should not be in Schedule I and even doubted its designation as an illicit substance. However, Nixon discounted the recommendations of the commission, and marijuana remains a Schedule I substance.