It’s been over 100 years since marijuana became illegal in the US, and up until them it wasn’t any bigger of a deal than the coffee bean. However, Prohibition changed things starting with the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937. It was the end result of 22 years of scapegoating, but researchers now say that racism was at the core of marijuana Prohibition. Texas was one of the first US states to welcome anti-marijuana laws. Today’s marijuana laws are rooted in decades-old legal documents, and it’s been uncovered that the first states to embrace marijuana prohibition were also battling strong Mexican migration.
At the turn of the 20th century, Mexicans were immigrating to the US on the hunt for stronger economic opportunities. They also brought Mexican marijuana into the US, which was a new strain of weed even though the US had plenty of its own. According to early Texas Senate documents, the law stated that, “All Mexicans are crazy and this stuff is what makes them crazy.” Experts agree that these kinds of outdated, racist attitudes are why marijuana is still illegal in most states today and at best is approved for medical use only.
The prohibition spread
Just like in Texas and other border states, alleged racist thoughts began to spread across the country including Montana where there’s a record stating, “Give one of these Mexican beet field workers a couple of puffs on a marijuana cigarette and he thinks he is in the bullring at Barcelona.” That’s obviously a racist statement based in ignorance and fear, but at the time it was acceptable. States began to copy one another’s prohibitions, with a 1919 New York Times editorial stating that, “No one here in New York uses this drug marijuana; we have only just heard about it from down in the Southwest but we had better prohibit its use before it gets here.”
There was plenty of fear mongering and scare tactics being used and allegations that hard drug users and alcoholics would soon be changing their drugs of choice for marijuana. Prohibition was bolstered by solid leadership, including the support of Harry Anslinger who’s dubbed the “Father of the War on Weed.” He was the inaugural Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner in the 1930s and said, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers.”
Calling these marijuana smokers satanics who listened to jazz, Anslinger’s wild claims became the basis for “Reefer Madness.” Fortunately, the laws are changing but it’s slow moving and who knows what old legal documents will be turned up next.