CategoriesCannabis Awareness

The History of Cannabis Prohibition

Cannabis Prohibition

The lack of understanding around the legality of Cannabis based products is a common issue we come across over here at Hope CBD so lets dig into the history of Cannabis Prohibition.

Cannabidiol (CBD) can come from medical marijuana plants or industrially grown hemp, and as the laws governing both plants differ greatly from country to country it can understandably cause confusion.

Cannabis prohibition - cannabis leaves and handcuffs


What is CBD? Read our article here .

CBD is legal in many nations and is generally grown under license. It is THC –  the psychoactive cann

abinoid found in cannabis plants that is the illegal component of Cannabis, with CBD having no psychoactive effects.

This is a fluid situation with many states in America currently decriminalizing the use of Cannabis for both medical and recreational use but this begs the question…..why is a plant with many known historical uses even illegal in the first place?

We’re about to have a bit of a history lesson. Everything mentioned is easily validated with a quick check online, it’s a very interesting story so here we go……

Heavenly Hemp

Before the 1920’s there was no concept in the states of anything called Marijuana, it was known as Hemp, which described the cannabis plant and was a farm crop in use for many years. At the start of the 1920’s Hemp was used extensively in the manufacture of clothing, rope, medicine and candles amongst a variety of other products. Yes, it was being smoked recreationally but nobody was uncomfortable at the time to the thought of anybody ‘smoking up. ‘


50,000 hemp plant uses - many uses of hemp - cannabis sativa
Many Uses of Hemp Infographic


It was around this time that Hemp was being touted as a viable and more sustainable alternative to paper. This caused issues for some key characters which set in motion the drive for marijuana prohibition which still reverberates to this day.

Introducing the Robber Baron

One of these characters was a chap called William Randolph Hearst who was a newspaper tycoon and could accurately be described as the early 20th Century version of Rupert Murdoch.

william randolph hearst - cannabis prohibition
William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst was not just a publisher; he was a shrewd businessman who effectively owned the lifecycle of the paper he used.

He owned the lands where the trees were grown and this access to ‘cheaper’ paper gave him an edge over his competition.

Around this time, as hemp was being commended, Hearst had invested into millions of acres of growing lands. Talk of hemp being a better, cheaper and more sustainable alternative posed a threat to his commercial interests. This gave him the reason to attack hemp; the easiest way to do this was by going after it’s recreational use and it’s association with Latin America.

Bearing in mind this is not long after the Mexican Revolution in 1910 at a time when USA vs Mexican relationships were precarious to say the least.

reefer madness - cannabis prohibition poster -

In the 1920’s and through his vast media empire, he had the ‘ear’ of much of the population. William Randolph Hearst launched a propaganda campaign that effectively demonized hemp but interestingly never called it Hemp. He instead used the more alien sounding name of “Marijuana”. By focusing only on the recreational aspects of Marijuana, Mr Hearst was able to sway public opinion by labeling it as a ‘Mexican drug problem’.

cannabis prohibition - reefer madness - why is cannabis illegal?
Reefer Madness

His propaganda consisted of outlandish claims about what Marijuana does, labeling it the “Devils Harvest” Hearst touted Marijuana as being of the Devil which caused Sin, Degradation & Insanity.

Mr Hearst was successful in his campaign and by the 1930’s public perception of ‘marijuana’ was at a point where many Americans were scared of it paving the way for Cannabis prohibition.

So he was successful in swaying pubic opinion but there was another character who would come into play and he would take this demonization to a whole new level………..the political and legal level.

Here come the feds’ & Cannabis Prohibition

Introducing Harry J. Anslinger, who in 1930 took the helm as the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. (FBN). He had a strong distrust of Mexicans and all recreational drugs with the FBN focused primarily on the fighting of opium and heroin smuggling.



cartoon of cop with marijuana warning sign

Anslinger made it his mission to rid the USA of all drugs including Cannabis. Armed with Hearsts newspaper stories from the 1920’s, Anslinger took the fight political and in 1937 criminalized Cannabis through the Marijuana Tax Act 1937

It is worth noting that the FBN also oversaw the prohibition of alcohol, which was repealed in 1933. One could say that there was a self-preservationist drive behind Anslingers decision to drive a policy towards Cannabis Prohibition.

Overseeing a major government department whose ‘work load’ decreased with decriminalizing alcohol, Anslinger needed a new enemy to fill the void. He found it and nearly 100 years later we are still feeling the effects of one mans capitalistic greed.

And the rest you could say is history, the propaganda campaign initiated by Hearst and moved forward by Anslinger altered public opinion. This reverberates through the ages and causes much of the lack of understanding of Cannabis to this day.

This is why we push to further the discussion around Cannabis and its benefits to try and do our bit to undo over 80 years of Cannabis prohibition and propaganda.