Cannabis was legal and on pharmacy shelves in the United States from mid-19th century until 1942. It was considered one of the best pain relievers and was prescribed by doctors on a regular basis. So why was it outlawed and how did the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 come into being? It is a perfect demonstration of the confluence of greed, money, discrimination and power.
William Randolph Hearst had been conducting a yellow journalism campaign against Hispanics and Mexicans since the Spanish-American War of 1898. Hearst-papers lambasted Mexican immigrants for laziness and contributing to crime. William Randolph Hearst’s hostility was believed to have been accelerated by Pancho Villa, who had appropriated over 1,000,000 acres of his land in northern Mexico during the Mexican Revolution in 1910.
Henry J. Ansliger, was appointed to be the Director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Agency in 1930. The FBN was responsible for enforcing federal drug laws against heroin, opium, and cocaine…but not cannabis because it was not considered a dangerous drug.
Anslinger, married the niece of Andrew Mellon, the wealthy financier and, not so coincidentally, the du Pont family’s banker. Mellon was also secretary of the U.S. Treasury. It was in this capacity that he appointed his niece’s husband, Anslinger, to be the first director of the FBN.
DuPont® saw low cost hemp as a threat to their developing petrochemical line which provided gas additives, nylon, lubricants and more to which they held the patents. Anyone could grow hemp. Henry Ford was an outspoken advocate of using hemp to fuel automobiles.
In 1933, Anslinger launched a national propaganda campaign, speaking across the country and writing many commentaries in newspapers and magazines–with assistance from the Hearst syndicate–against what he called the evils of “marihuana” or marijuana. Most people did not know “marijuana” was cannabis so there was no real objection from the public. In fact it was the Spanish slang name for cannabis.
Anslinger asserted a bogus relationship between marijuana (never using the word cannabis) with murder, mayhem, Mexicans, Negroes and jazz. Anslinger worked hard to associate the word “marijuana” with depraved behavior and heinous acts. He was a great publicist. And Hearst papers happily carried and added exaggerated/fictitious stories of their own to add fuel to fire.
This racist assault culminated in the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act (MTA), in spite of the chief spokesman for the American Medical Association testifying that cannabis was medicine and the AMA knew of no dangers from the medicinal use of cannabis.
The MTA did not outlaw cannabis/hemp but placed a prohibitive tax on hemp, making it cumbersome and expensive to use hemp industrially or cannabis medicinally. It effectively shut down the hemp and medicinal cannabis industries in the United States. The MTA was used as yet another tool to marginalize Blacks and Hispanics.
For thousands of years, since the time of the pagans and the witch hunts, drug policy has been used to demonize certain plant material and to marginalize the people who use it for recreational, spiritual and medical purposes. In the United States, over the last hundred years, a constant barrage of misinformation, propaganda and outright lies have shaped the average American belief that cannabis is a dangerous substance.
By 1942 cannabis was off pharmacy shelves and very few were growing hemp in the United States. Although Henry Ford had built an experimental car in 1939 that ran on hemp ethanol and had a body made of resin-stiffened hemp that was 10 times stronger that steel, the petroleum industry won. We have been paying for it ever since. The demonization of cannabis made it all possible.
As the government continues to support the criminalization of cannabis to reinforce the belief that cannabis is a dangerous substance, the Institute of Medicine (1999) and the National Academy of Science (2017) have reported that cannabis has medicinal value.
From the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 to Nixon’s War on Drugs to the present, those behind the promotion and passage of U.S. drug laws frequently have had a vested interest, usually financial or political or both. By giving racist-driven forces a powerful cudgel to beat down already marginalized populations and preventing serious research on the medical potential of cannabis and cannabinoids, we have been unable to do additional studies on the several tests that shows cannabis kills cancer cells.
Drugs Are NOT The Devil’s Tools explains all of this in fascinating detail and makes it clear that now is the time for a new paradigm.