80 years ago the U.S. declared war on weed. 80 years later, they still haven’t been able to bring it, or us, down. On August 2nd, 1937, the federal government took its biggest legal action against cannabis. After an earlier prohibition of alcohol, they thought banning weed would be a piece of cake. Not so much.
A Timeline of Events
80 years ago the U.S. declared war on weed. Before we get to 1937, there was a variety of events that happened before cannabis was legally outlawed. Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there were no restrictions on cannabis. It was used in a variety of different medicinal ways and was a common item in your local drugstore. Most of the cannabis products available were in liquid, hashish-like form.
In addition to its easy to-ingest liquid form, another form was readily available that remains very popular today– edibles
In an old advertisement from Vanity Fair way back in 1862, hashish candy was actually advertised to treat ‘nervousness and melancholy’. It was also labeled a ‘pleasurable and harmless stimulant’ in the same description.
Tell us something we don’t know.
Either way, things began to change on the legal cannabis front by 1906. While it was still totally legal, the Pure Food and Drug Act required medicinal companies to list any cannabis ingredients on their products.
Beginning with the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914, states began to prohibit the use of cannabis. Between 1914 and 1926, 26 states effectively outlawed the use of weed.
However, prohibiting weed wasn’t working well enough, so the federal government decided to take the next step in 1937– taxing it.
So on August 2nd, 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was put into place. By taxing the product, the act essentially prohibited the sale or possession of cannabis in all 48 states. Congress found it difficult to enforce a total ban on weed, so taxing it seemed like the most effective way of prohibiting it.
Who Spearheaded the movement?
Obviously, someone had to be behind the war on weed. There were several people who advocated for the ban of cannabis, but one of the main ambassadors was a man named Henry J. Anslinger. Anslinger was a former assistant commissioner of the Prohibition Bureau, so he was already pretty familiar with the act of banning substances. In 1930, he became the first commissioner of the now-defunct U.S. Treasury Department’s Narcotic’s Bureau.
Anslinger was furiously opposed to narcotics. According to Origins, a joint publication by the Ohio State University and Miami University history departments, Anslinger tried to associate weed with violence and fear.
“However, Anslinger began to capitalize on fears about marijuana while pressing a public relations campaign to encourage the passage of uniform anti-narcotics legislation in all 48 states. He later lobbied in favor of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.”
Where did such an irrational fear come from? The sensationalist journalism at the time. William Randolph Hearst, the American publisher and founder of Hearst Communications was also at the forefront of the cannabis ban. He uses the media to slander weed and his ‘yellow journalism’ associated weed with violence.
“The association of murder, torture, and mindless violence with marijuana was not borne out by evidence or actual events but blossomed thanks to the vivid imaginations of the journalists charged with sensationalizing the tired story of drug use and addiction,”
It was also around this time that the cult-classic Reefer Madness was released. The film, which was released in 1936, painted cannabis as a drug that inspires violence, madness, and psychosis to its users. While it’s now considered one of the worst movies of all time, it was very influential in its day. Anslinger played up most of these unfounded horrors of cannabis in his 1937 case.
Beginning in the 1950’s, the U.S. went to greater lengths in punishing those possessing or selling cannabis. In 1951, the Boggs Act was put into place. This law set mandatory standards for drug punishments. A first offense for cannabis contained a minimum 2-5 year sentence, along with a $2,000 fine. The second offense was a minimum of five years and maximum of ten years. Third offense was a minimum of ten years and maximum of 15 years.
By the 1970’s the Controlled Substances Act was later put into place. This act classified drugs into the “schedules”.
Final Hit: 80 Years Ago The U.S. Declared War on Weed
80 years ago the U.S. declared war on weed. But despite the U.S. Government’s best efforts to ban weed, here we are. It’s pretty safe to say they’ve failed miserably. Although it’s still not legal on a federal level, weed is becoming more and more of a commonplace in today’s society. 29 states have legalized it medicinally, while five have legalized it recreationally. The war on weed is still happening today. But it’s pretty safe to say we are winning the war. Or rather, weed is winning the war.