The Tangled Roots of Marijuana Opposition

Reefer. Weed. Pot. They’re all slang terms for a rather remarkable plant that’s become vilified for ridiculous reasons. When the so-called Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was being considered, many members of the American Medical Association spoke out against strict government regulation of the medicinal herb. It is interesting to note that in by the year 1937, cannabis had already been an important part of American Pharmacopeia for nearly ninety years.

The American public of the 1930s was whipped into a frenzy by sketchy media reports that described Mexican immigrants and African-American musicians as wild-eyed maniacs who raped white women while high on reefer. By the time Harry Jacob Anslinger was seated as the first commissioner of the nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the country was just fearful enough to believe his insane assertions about marijuana, or ‘muggles’ being a prime contributor to mental illness and murderous mayhem.

While racial prejudice is certainly part of the problem, it alone does not fully explain the reasons cannabis is outlawed in most US states to this day. Bear in mind the racial origins of pot prohibition, but also understand the financial reasons that cannabis was outlawed in America.

During the first decades of the 20th century, three families ranked among the wealthiest in the nation: They were the Mellons, the Hearsts and the DuPonts. William Randolph Hearst was an American entrepreneur who had a lot of holdings in the timber and paper industry. Hemp, which can produce several harvests a year and grows virtually anywhere, had the potential to take away from Hearst’s family paper fortune. For similar reasons and in a similar fashion, the Mellon and DuPont families put vast sums behind the criminalization of hemp and hemp-related products. Pot became outlawed in America not for health reasons but for reasons related to fear and finance.

Can hemp save the world? Maybe it can. In the meantime, research into the medical uses of marijuana continues. States like Colorado that have recently legalized marijuana for use by adults are showing the country that cannabis cultivation and sales can be managed quite nicely without anything remotely resembling ‘reefer madness.’