Busted – America’s War On Marijuana


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War on Drugs

Discover the fascinating and tumultuous history of marijuana in America with “Busted – America’s War On Marijuana.” This article takes you on a journey through time, from the encouragement of hemp production in the 17th century to the criminalization and fear surrounding marijuana in the 1930s. Explore the impact of legislation, propaganda, and changing cultural attitudes on the status of marijuana in society. Delve into the creation of government agencies, the rise of the counterculture movement in the 1960s, and the ongoing debate surrounding the medical use of marijuana. Gain insight into the complex and evolving relationship between America and marijuana in this captivating exploration of the United States’ war on marijuana.

1600-1890s Domestic Production of Hemp

American production of hemp was encouraged by the government in the 17th century for the production of rope, sails, and clothing. Hemp, which marijuana is derived from, was required to be grown by every farmer in Virginia in 1619. The plant was also used as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. Domestic production of hemp was successful until after the Civil War when other materials began replacing hemp. However, in the late 19th century, marijuana became a popular ingredient in medicinal products and was openly sold in pharmacies. During this time, hashish use also became popular in France and to some extent, in the U.S.

1906 Pure Food and Drug Act

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required the labeling of cannabis in over-the-counter remedies. This act aimed to provide consumers with information about the ingredients in the products they were purchasing. By requiring the labeling of cannabis, the government aimed to inform the public about the presence of marijuana in medicinal products.

1900-20s Mexican immigrants introduce recreational use of marijuana leaf

After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants began migrating to the U.S., bringing with them the recreational use of marijuana. As a result, marijuana became associated with the Mexican immigrants, and fear and prejudice towards the newcomers became associated with the drug. Anti-drug campaigns arose, warning against the so-called “Marijuana Menace” brought by the immigrants. Terrible crimes were attributed to marijuana and the Mexicans who used it, fueling public concern.

1930s Fear of marijuana

During the Great Depression, high levels of unemployment led to increased public resentment towards Mexican immigrants. This, in turn, escalated public and governmental concern about marijuana. Research began linking marijuana use to violence, crime, and other socially deviant behaviors, often attributed to “racially inferior” or underclass communities. By 1931, 29 states had outlawed marijuana, reflecting the growing fear and concern surrounding its use.

1930 Creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN)

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America’s war on marijuana

In response to the increasing concern about drug use, particularly marijuana, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was created in 1930. Harry J. Anslinger became the first Commissioner of the FBN and held this position for over thirty years. The establishment of the FBN marked a pivotal moment in the government’s efforts to combat drug use, specifically targeting marijuana.

1932 Uniform State Narcotic Act

Recognizing the rising use of marijuana and the associated social problems, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics encouraged state governments to take control of the issue by adopting the Uniform State Narcotic Act. This act aimed to standardize laws and regulations surrounding marijuana across different states. By encouraging state governments to control marijuana, the federal government aimed to tackle the issue on a smaller scale, potentially leading to more effective solutions.

1936 “Reefer Madness”


In 1936, the propaganda film “Reefer Madness” was produced, further stigmatizing narcotics such as marijuana. The Motion Pictures Association of America, consisting of major Hollywood studios, banned the showing of any narcotics in films. This film and the subsequent ban had a significant impact on shaping public perception of marijuana and further deepening the fear and prejudice associated with its use.

1937 Marijuana Tax Act

Following a national propaganda campaign against marijuana, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. This act effectively criminalized marijuana possession, restricting its possession to individuals who paid an excise tax for authorized medical and industrial uses. The act aimed to control and regulate marijuana, further contributing to its stigmatization and reinforcing the government’s stance against its use.

1944 La Guardia Report finds marijuana less dangerous

In 1944, the New York Academy of Medicine issued the La Guardia Report, which contradicted earlier research on marijuana. The report declared that marijuana use did not induce violence, insanity, sex crimes, addiction, or lead to the use of other drugs. This report challenged the prevailing beliefs about marijuana and called into question the credibility of earlier research that had linked marijuana to various social problems.

1996 Medical Use Legalized in California

In 1996, California passed Proposition 215, legalizing the sale and medical use of marijuana for patients with AIDS, cancer, and other serious and painful diseases. This law marked a significant milestone in the changing attitudes towards marijuana, recognizing its potential medicinal benefits. However, it also created tension with federal laws that prohibited the possession of marijuana.

Throughout history, the production, use, and perception of marijuana have undergone significant changes. From its initial encouragement by the government for domestic production of hemp to its criminalization and subsequent push for legalization for medical use, marijuana has had a complex and evolving relationship with society and the government. Understanding this history helps to provide context for the current debates surrounding the legalization and regulation of marijuana.



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