• Todd Strasser

"The Terrible Marijuana Menace!" A Brief History of Marijuana Use in the United States

Part 1

According to stories from the History Channel and PBS, after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded into the U.S., introducing to American culture the recreational use of marijuana. The drug became associated with the immigrants, and the fear of and prejudice against the Spanish-speaking newcomers became associated with marijuana. Anti-drug campaigners warned against the encroaching "Marijuana Menace," and terrible crimes were attributed to marijuana and the Mexicans who used it.

During the Great Depression, massive unemployment increased public resentment and fear of Mexican immigrants, and certain individuals used the crisis to escalate public and governmental concern about the problem of marijuana. This instigated a flurry of questionable “research” which linked the use of marijuana with violence, crime and other socially deviant behaviors. By 1931, twenty-nine had outlawed marijuana.

A chief proponent for the crimination of marijuana was Harry J. Anslinger, who beginning in 1930, served as the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Some critics claim that, sensing the nearing end of Prohibition, Anslinger turned against marijuana to strengthen his position and the stature of his department.

Supporting that argument were Anslinger statements like this: “Tons {of marijuana are} coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms. ... Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man.”

In large part due to Anslinger’s continued efforts, mandatory sentencing was eventually passed by the United States Congress, making a first-time cannabis possession offense a minimum of two to ten years with a fine up to $20,000. Today one can’t help but mourn the tens of thousands of lives that were subsequently wasted in incarceration thanks to one man’s maniacal craving for power and attention.

Part 2 coming soon

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