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An Early History of Marijuana Prohibition. US map with weed on it.

An Early History of Cannabis Prohibition

Cannabis has always been a topic of contention and it has been adversarial to some opponents. Indica was the first strain that was introduced in 1839 by William O’Shaughnessy who advocated western medicine. William has spent a lot of time in India, pursuing discoveries related to science. In 1841, he went back to the city of London to publicize his discoveries to the entire United Kingdom. By 1850, medical cannabis had become a part of the U.S. pharmacy inventory. So what happened?

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, cannabis consumption had been on the rise. Hemp also became one of the popular items in the mid-1850s. Hashish parlors popped up in the 1880s throughout the United States, but illegal cannabis was still in existence.

The Poison Law

It was during the 1850s that the United States thought about regulating cannabis and prescribed drugs. This was done to try to block drugs from the black market. For some reason, when the twentieth century came around, though, most states had considered illegal cannabis a poison to society. The idea of labeling cannabis as poison and labeling their cannabis laws as ‘poison laws' made some advocates angry. California was one of the states that tried to introduce a poison law in the early part of 1880.

The Regulation

It was during the twentieth century that the government attempted cannabis regulation to push against illegal cannabis as they indicated. The Pure Food and Drug Act were introduced in 1906 to advocate cannabis prohibition. During that time, patent medications were mostly unregulated. Many of them contained undisclosed or secret ingredients and sometimes, labels that were quite misleading. In 1910, government tried again with new legislation to squash continuous complaints about the easy access to narcotics and they included illegal cannabis into the mix.

In Massachusetts, the state passed regulations in 1911 to limit the sale of illegal cannabis. Maine and New York followed suite in 1914. In 1913, the state of California passed the Poison Act. And over the next several years, other states followed. The states included Texas, Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Nevada.

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The Pure Food and Drug Act in 1938 were passed to make provisions and update to the Federal Pure Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. Today, this same regulation is still in effect. Under this Act, cannabis is thought to be illegal cannabis by the feds as well as a dangerous drug.

Law Enforcement

There were also fines and penalties associated to illegal cannabis as enforced by law. One of the first legislative pieces was put into effect in 1925 and lasted until 1932. The name of it was the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act. This Act allowed law enforcement to have the power to enforce drug laws and facets of cannabis prohibition. This resulted in many Americans to be imprisoned for illegal cannabis according to the law of the land.

The infrastructure of policing began to expand. In 1930, Henry J. Anslinger, the head of the Federal Narcotics Bureau considered illegal cannabis to be the cause of people committing crimes that were violent and irrational. For that reason, the Bureau supported some harsh penalties for all drug possession including cannabis. In 1937, the Bureau also lobbied for the passing of the Marihuana Tax Act. This is the legislature that made the transfer or possession of cannabis illegal.

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At that time, illegal cannabis included its medical or recreational use. The head of the Bureau continued to advocate for more cannabis prohibition, even after the passing of the Marihuana Tax Act. Punishment and penalties increased over the years. By the 1950s, cannabis was demonized into full-fledged illegal cannabis.