The history of Cannabis prohibition – The last 100 years

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. Here we look at why Cannabis has been demonized and prohibited over the last century.

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 answering the simple question:Is CBD legal?” a bit tricky to say the least. You have to look at where the CBD was produced, what kind of plant it comes from and if it contains THC, then how much does it contain. And it is this, the THC, that causes the issues. 

CBD is pretty much legal in many developed nations and generally is grown under license, it is THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants that is illegal, not CBD.

This is a fluid situation with many states in America currently decriminalizing the use of marijuana 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 here, everything mentioned is easily validated with a quick check online, it’s a very interesting story so here we go……

Before the 1920’s there was no concept in the states of anything called Marijuana, it was known as Hemp, which describes 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. ‘

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

 One of these characters was a chap called William Randolph Hearst who was a newspaper tycoon and could accurately be described as the early 19th Century version of Rupert Murdoch. 

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 wee grown and this access to ‘cheaper’ paper gave him an edge over his competition. Around this time, as hemp was being condemned, Hearst had invested into millions of acres of growing lands and this talk of hemp being a better, cheaper and more sustainable alternative posed a threat to his commercial interests and gave him the reason to attack hemp and 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.

So in the 1920’s and through his 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. They rather 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’.

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. So he was successful in swaying public 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.

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. 

From the book “Chasing The Scream: The First & Last Days of the Drug War” author Johann Hart wrote, “From the moment he took charge of the bureau, Harry was aware of the weakness of his new position. A war on narcotics alone — cocaine and heroin, outlawed in 1914 — wasn’t enough,” He continues, “They were used only by a tiny minority, and you couldn’t keep an entire department alive on such small crumbs. He needed more.” 

So Anslinger made it his mission to rid the USA of all drugs including Cannabis. Armed with Hearst’s newspaper stories from the 1920s, Anslinger took the fight politically 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 go after Cannabis. 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 which reverberates through the ages and causes much of the lack of understanding of Cannabis to this day and makes our job as sellers of Cannabis-based products as much around the delivery of information to educate users of CBD, its benefits and it’s history as much as it is around selling our quality products.