Marijuana illegal: When, How & Why did it happen?

Pointing fingers isn’t always a bad thing. Who made marijuana illegal, and how have they managed to make of the cannabis plant such an gangster?

The cannabis plant has been cultivated by humans for more than 12000 years. It is one of the oldest crops grown by people. You may call it cannabis, weed, pot, herb, hemp, marijuana, ganja, dope, or something else even… Regardless of names or labels, the plant has been around for a much longer time than any of us can trace back their genealogy.

At the risk of sounding imperious, let me put it this way: Anyone looking into the true story of how and why cannabis was made illegal will have no choice but to realize weed being outlawed is the result of a true conspiracy. Laws are made by people, not the other way around. Many conspiracy theories are perhaps either a little or completely “out there”. You can probably think of a few examples, but hey… we’re not here to judge any of those. This one is an actual conspiracy, in the literal sense of the word. How does the dictionary word it again…?

conspiracy (kən-spîrˈə-sē)

  • n.
    An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.
  • n.
    A group of conspirators.
  • n.
    Law An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.

Right. It’s as if the word was created specifically for this story.

From Cannabis Being Mandatory to Marijuana Being Illegal

There was a time where every farmer in the United States had to grow cannabis. That’s right! This may have been centuries ago, but it was mandatory instead of forbidden. Two US presidents famous for growing their own marijuana are Washington and Jefferson. For the sake of accuracy: The term marijuana wasn’t actually introduced in America until much later, but I’m randomly alternating between marijuana and cannabis to change things up a bit. Many other presidents (Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Taylor, Pierce…) at least smoked cannabis and found relief for various ailments in the medicinal properties of marijuana.

Before Congress declared marijuana illegal in the United States in 1937, cannabis was a staple in every medicine cabinet. It was truly the medicine of the people. The many health issues it was used for varied from pain relief to glaucoma, from assisting women in labor to providing better sleep and fighting insomnia – just to name some.

The 2 Most Famous Cannabinoids’ Healing Potential

THC is known as the component in cannabis responsible for getting “high”, also called the “psychoactive” effect. CBD refers to a different substance present in the cannabis plant. Another one of the 80-ish cannabinoids present in marijuana, CBD has no psychoactive effects and will not get you high. It does, however, come with its own range of health benefits.

CBD is getting quite a lot of attention in the media. Sometimes it may seem as though CBD is the one and only cannabis component with health benefits. You may even have been made to believe that CBD is the “good” part and THC the “bad” part of marijuana. In reality, THC has no fewer health benefits than CBD. Studies show that it is not so much the CBD but the THC that has the strongest effect on cancer cells. THC is unfortunately often difficult for medical professionals to work with, due to its legal status.

The sad and simple truth is that a very promising and affordable treatment for cancer is actively being kept from us by government laws. Please note that we aren’t saying that cannabis can cure cancer. That is a rather bold statement to make when there is very little research available to prove such a claim. Personally, the anecdotal evidence I’ve come across so far would be more than enough to give it a try if – God forbid – I was ever in need.  Based on actual research done by medical professionals, however, we can most definitely say the results look very promising. (Check out Dr. Christina Sanchez’ lectures on Youtube.)

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Modern Day Victims of Anti-Cannabis Laws

A direct and very unfair result of marijuana being illegal affects small children in need of cannabinoids. One of the most famous patients using CBD is a little girl named Charlotte. She went from having hundreds of epileptic seizures a day to only a few a week after her parents started feeding her a cannabis oil. Growers in Colorado created a special strain with just traces of THC and very high amounts of CBD when they heard about her struggle, naming it after her as well.

Vivian Wilson is another little girl who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. She also finds relief in the only medicine that works for her: cannabis. In 2013, New Jersey governor Chris Christie supported a new law which would ban the use of cannabis edibles. Since small children obviously can’t smoke, they need to take cannabinoids orally. Under said law, Vivian’s parents would no longer have access to the one and only medicine that helped their daughter. At some point, governor Christie attended a public event where Brian Wilson, Vivian’s father, was part of the crowd. Brian publicly asked the governor: “Please don’t let my daughter die.”

Due to the internet, events like this one are no longer just an isolated incident. Before mass media or even social media, perhaps five or ten people at the local grocery store would talk about such things over the course of an afternoon. People now hear and share on a much larger scale. An embarrassed Chris Christie adjusted his stance. It doesn’t matter what your political views are – nobody wants to be seen as the mean guy who lets someone’s daughter die. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, the growers of Charlotte’s Web are doing amazing work and helping many kids to get their much needed medicinal marijuana.

The point is: it shouldn’t be such a hassle and such a game of twister with the law to acquire access to medication for little children. Or adults in need – whatever that need may be. Especially medicine that is fairly easy and cheap to grow. It is only kept from them by an absurd set of laws that criminalize a plant. Laws that have been put in place by greedy people, for all the wrong reasons.

Fiction, Lies, Personal Financial Gain

Back in the 1920’s and 30’s, a select group of people found it in their best personal interest to have marijuana outlawed. The matter goes to court, but not before thorough preparation of the terrain (a.k.a. the public opinion) with headlines, newspaper articles stating “facts”, movies… Basically, all means they have available at the time. The arguments used to blacklist cannabis are outrageous and grotesque. They’ll probably cause you to roll your eyes in disbelief. Unfortunately, the people back then were still very much susceptible to these lies.

These individuals and companies can be considered ‘the driving force’ behind cannabis becoming illegal.

  • Harry J. Anslinger (link to Wikipedia)
  • William Randolf Hearst (idem)
  • Dupont – Founded in 1802 as a manufacturer of gunpowder by a Huguenot protestant who fled France. Currently described as an “American corporation engaged primarily in biotechnology and the manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals.”
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Even though a much larger number of folks had to play their role for cannabis to become and remain illegal over the course of almost a century, these guys (not to sound sexist, but at the time these things were most definitely not decided on by women) have gone to great lengths to lay the foundation today’s marijuana laws are based on.

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This so-called foundation came together through a mixture of prejudice, segregation, racism, misinformation, and sensationalism, all blended in a base of political ties, shareholding and personal enrichment. The parties involved managed to push their agenda based on and after the spreading of false information. People didn’t have the means to verify the presented “facts”. There was little transparency and there were hardly any of the means to communicate that we have access to today. All and any sharing of information was in the hands of a handful of powerful figures. Unfortunately, these figures had nothing but their own interests in mind.

Smoke, Music, Slander

In the early years of the 20th century, a large number of Mexican immigrants came to the United States. This was right after the Mexican revolution. William Randolph Hearst, who owned a newspaper, played a big role in spreading false rumors about Mexicans. The Mexican immigrants were labeled as anything from rambunctious to criminal in print. These lies caught on without much trouble. As such, the made-up bad behavior of Mexicans was – also falsely – attributed to their use of cannabis. Americans actually used cannabis oil for medicinal purposes back then. Mexicans mainly smoked the dried plant material, and they called it marijuana, but it was the exact same plant.

Furthermore, marijuana use got linked to the black Jazz music scene in the 1920s and 1930s. Allegedly, it caused violent behavior in general, and black men to assault white women in particular. Again, certain people in power had strong reasons to back these absurd claims. They controlled the media, which was, of course, all printed material back then, but it was enough. The public opinion had been manipulated to the point where enough people believed said slander.

Harry Anslinger played an active, though somewhat more obscure, role. It seems the fight to declare marijuana illegal would have helped him to propel his career to the top.

The company Dupont’s involvement is fairly simple and straightforward. They had just patented a new substance called nylon. Nylon’s biggest competition was… (drum roll) hemp fiber. Cannabis could seriously mess with their profits, and it was in their best interest to get rid of it. With marijuana illegal, the way to take over the entire market was wide open.

In 1937, Congress votes to declare marijuana illegal. It deserves to be mentioned that the American Medical Association defended its medicinal properties, but to no avail.

Racism Pulling Greed’s Wagon

The arguments used against cannabis in the 1930’s are extremely racist, but racism in itself wasn’t the reason for marijuana to be labeled illegal. The racist statements were merely used as tactics. Put in place by (including, but not limited to) the characters on the shortlist mentioned above, to influence the legal system and direct the public opinion. That’s not to say the people issuing them weren’t racist and prejudiced too, but their core motivation was financial. Racism was the tool they used to acquire their goal. As always: follow the money.

Marijuana illegal, tobacco and alcohol galore.

We could compare cannabis to tobacco or alcohol. While some shady folks have gone to great lengths to make marijuana illegal, nobody has ever died from an overdose of cannabis. The other two pose serious health threats and people die every day from the disastrous effects of both tobacco and alcohol on the human body.

Isn’t it odd that two drugs doing so much harm are perfectly legal? Marijuana doesn’t come anywhere close to posing a similar kind of threat. On the contrary, it harbors promising scientific breakthroughs in treating some of our most fatal illnesses. For almost eighty years, the United States government has denied the health benefits of cannabis and actively fought a war on drugs against it and its users. But guess who owns a patent on cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants (filed in 1999/2003)? That’s right, the US government. If that isn’t an interesting twist.

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Patent Number US 6630507 B1 for Cannabinoids as Antioxidants & Neuroprotectants

The U.S. Departement of Health and Human Services owns a patent (number US 6630507 B1, filing date April 21, 1999) on cannabinoids as antioxidants & neuroprotectants. You may be wondering if you just read that wrong, but no: the United States government indeed owns a patent on the very substance it has outlawed and claims to have no medicinal value what so ever.

This is a small sample, taken directly from the abstract:

Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention. [Read more and view the full abstract here.]

Access To Accurate Information About Marijuana

Now that the internet allows people to learn, share, and research so many things, it is becoming increasingly difficult for politicians and lobbyists to push their agenda’s. Modern media give a platform to all sorts of information. Useless tidbits, but also important things that people feel like they need to share. When something is controversial, unfair, or just plain wrong, it can snowball into a movement almost overnight.

I’ll be the last one to dismiss the negative (psychological) effects of social media on different aspects of our lives. (Totally off-topic, but this is a great video to watch if you don’t like social media.) On the flip side though, people often count on social media to mobilize masses of like-minded folks, and many good things have come from that. Whether you like social media or not, there is no denying that the internet and social media can contribute tremendously to the creation of positive change.

If the internet existed fifty or a hundred years ago, maybe cannabis would never have ended up on the list of dangerous class 1 drugs. The accusations that were stated as “facts” back in the 1920’s and 30’s for the sole purpose of making marijuana illegal certainly would not have been accepted today.

Or so one can hope.



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By Felis Cannabis

Hi, Felis Cannabis here. This little corner of the web is my scratch pole. The legalize movement is growing, but not fast enough for me to give up the incognito status just yet. ;-) Let's keep at it! We should have the right to use any plant we choose.