The history of cannabis in the US has contributed to much of the stereotypes, misconceptions and negative feelings about the plant. While legalization in many states has helped shift the mindsets, it’s still an uphill battle for those who advocate for safe consumption for recreational and medicinal use. To have a better understanding of the perceptions many in western society have of cannabis and cannabis users, we need to take a deeper look into its legal history in the US.
Hemp is a non-psychoactive product of the cannabis plant and can be used to produce a number of clothing, paper, plastic and other commodities. There was a time when the US used hemp for a variety of goods. Alongside lumber and tobacco, hemp was a popular cash crop. In fact, prior to the Revolution, King James I ordered farmers to grow hemp for fiber exports, even fining those who refused.
But as hemp continued to show great promise in other areas, like fabrics and oil and gas, those with corporate interests in competing industries desired the cannabis plant in its entirety be made illegal. That’s the theory anyway. And while there’s no THC in hemp, in order to convince the nation to abandon such a profitable, easy-growing and sustainable crop, hemp was associated with being dangerous because it came from the cannabis plant.
We all know when you operate in the upper echelons of society, you make influential friends. And though we can’t be sure, it seems marijuana prohibition stemmed from the greed of those who could pull political strings to line their pockets, while creating stereotypes leveraged for their own gains! American icons like William Randolph Hearst and the DuPont family are key players in the relationship between cannabis and the legal system.
Both Hearst and the DuPonts had great reason to be wary of cannabis cutting in on their end lines. Hearst was involved in the timber business, and the DuPonts nylon. The DuPont family recently patented nylon technology and they became fearful that hemp could replace nylon eventually. So, as the story goes, the DuPonts rubbed elbows with the Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon(who had financial interests in the DuPonts family businesses), and other politicians who could influence the laws. Their friendships and mutual financial desires paved the ways for a smear campaign against cannabis and the eventual prohibition of the plant.
Articles appeared in Hearst’s New York Journal with sensational headlines linking cannabis to criminal activity, psychotic episodes and other outlandish behaviors. Hearst had financial interests in paper products, and hemp was a direct competitor. Known for yellow journalism, Hearst went to work in harnessing the mindset of the masses to associate cannabis with dangerous activities. Later came films like Reefer Madness (1936) which showed characters taking puffs of a marijuana cigarette and going completely off the rails.
The push for cannabis prohibition started at the state level as early as 1910 while legislation to prohibit alcohol was ongoing and laws made to ban cannabis were thrown into the mix. By 1937 The Marijuana Tax Act prohibited cannabis at the Federal level, and cannabis became criminalized entirely by 1956 with the Narcotics Control Act. But by 1956 the perception of marijuana had already been sealed with years of anti-cannabis propaganda in the news media. Cannabis was stigmatized further in 1970 as part of the Controlled Substance Act when it became a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, ecstasy, methaqualone, LSD, and peyote.
There have always been a fringe population who have advocated for the plant’s efficacy against ailments as well as its sustainable growth. Though in the past it was associated with the counterculture and “free love” movement, cannabis is becoming more mainstream in today’s society. There’s strong research linking cannabinoids to helping those who suffer from PTSD, anxiety, epilepsy, and even autism.
But aside from medical benefits cannabis presents, there’s still the question to be asked, why is indulging in alcohol consumption accepted overall and cannabis isn’t?
Why is having a drink or two to end the evening considered “normal” by many, but a puff of a vape or bite of an edible raises eyebrows? Is it time cannabis be redeemed from its lackluster perception?
We think so, what do you think?