Worldwide, there is a long history of cannabis prohibition. For dozens of years, different governments fought against cannabis and treated this plant like one of the most dangerous and harmful drugs. But there were times when cannabis was treated differently―as a medicine, as a useful raw material, and even as food. So, when exactly and, most importantly, why was marijuana made illegal? WeedLex will take you to a brief trip into the history of marijuana laws.
There are a few versions of what became the first step towards changing the legal status of cannabis in the U.S. According to one, the first decisive move was made when the 1906 Federal Food and Drug Act was passed. Among other things, the 1906 act required to label all over-the-counter medicines that contained cannabis. Some people think that it was the first step towards restricting marijuana.
According to another theory, cannabis was outlawed in an attempt to change the way people saw migrants from Mexico. Newspapers wrote about Mexican men who were aggressive and dangerous because they smoked cannabis. The plant's name was also changed: from the previously used and more familiar “cannabis” to “marihuana,” as Mexicans called it. Later, the myth about cannabis causing aggressiveness and, as a result, leading to higher crime rates, became one of the main arguments used by cannabis prohibitionists.
The theory about the war on marijuana being a part of a bigger “war” against Mexican migrants seems to be quite believable because the first states to outlaw cannabis were the ones that had the most migrants from Mexico.
Curiously, the very first state in the U.S. to make marijuana illegal was the exact state that made the first step towards lifting the ban from medical cannabis a few decades later―California. According to an article “The Forgotten Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California” by Dale H. Gieringer, in 1913, California passed the law that prohibited marijuana across the state.
Later, marijuana was outlawed in Utah and Taxes. Then other states joined the marijuana prohibition movement, and by 1930 the plant was forbidden in 30 states across the U.S.
But the first federal attempt to criminalize the plant was made in the late 1930s when the infamous Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed. The act restricted both use and sale of cannabis.
Years later, the document that banned marijuana in 1937 was ruled unconstitutional. But it did not change anything for cannabis: neither the legal status of the plant, nor the way its name was spelled. In 1970, the 1937 act was replaced with another document―the Controlled Substances Act. The document established Schedules for ranking prohibited substances. Cannabis was ranked as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD. Funnily enough, that document still refers to cannabis as “marihuana,” just like back in 1937.
And just in case you were wondering who made marijuana illegal, the “honor” goes to President Nixon who did not exclude cannabis from the Schedule I list, despite the recommendations of the Schafer Commission.
Curiously, the marijuana prohibition movement was not a local thing. In fact, the UK and Canada started their war on cannabis before the U.S. did.
Canada outlawed marijuana in 1923 when the Canadian Parliament passed the Act to Prohibit the Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs. Cannabis was put alongside such substances as opium, morphine, cocaine, and heroin.
In the UK, cannabis prohibition started in 1928, but doctors were able to prescribe cannabis for medical use until 1971. In 1971, the Misuse of Drugs Act was passed, establishing a new classification and adding more drugs to the list of controlled substances.
Of course, there is still a strong stigma on everything related to cannabis, and it takes a lot of effort to help people see the real potential of this amazing plant. Thankfully, there are thousands of activists who constantly work on changing local marijuana policies, raising awareness about marijuana's medicinal properties and potential, educating people, and spreading the incredible cannabis culture throughout the world.