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April 29th Marks 100th Anniversary Of First Marijuana Prohibition


By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town

Friday marks an unhappy anniversary in hemp history. On April 29, 1911, Massachusetts enacted the first state law making it illegal to sell or possess cannabis without a prescription, becoming the first U.S. state to institute marijuana prohibition.

Violators of the new law were subject to a $100 fine and up to six months in jail, and just being present in the same room with marijuana could get you three months, according to cannabis historian Dale Gieringer of California NORML.

Ironically, marijuana was merely collateral damage of the Massachusetts law, which was aimed primarily at other “hypnotic” drugs such as opium, morphine and heroin. Abuse of opiate painkillers had become a concern among reformers and temperance advocates in the early 20th century, and cannabis was added to the list “for the sake of completeness,” since it was also a hypnotic palliative commonly found in pharmacies.

“This incidental decision would turn out to have far-reaching consequences, aptly illustrating the dangers of governmental misjudgment in matters of drug regulation,” Gieringer said.

Interestingly, the Massachusetts law specifically permitted medicinal use of cannabis with a prescription; the medical value of “Indian hemp” was widely acknowledged at the time.

“Only in 1937 was medical cannabis suppressed at the insistence of federal narcotics boss Harry Anslinger, whose last-century ‘Reefer Madness’ policy sadly remains with us today,” Gieringer said.

It didn’t take long for other states to hop onto the moralistic anti-drug bandwagon. California, Maine, Indiana and Wyoming all prohibited marijuana in 1913, despite the fact that, just as in Massachusetts, there was no public concern about cannabis at the time.

?Officials admitted that marijuana was not a problem, but warned that “it might become one” unless “steps were taken” to prevent it.

“Ironically, only after being prohibited did cannabis become widely popular,” Gieringer said. Marijuana use spread in the 1920s from Mexican and Caribbean immigrants to jazz musicians and hipsters; so, predictably, did the laws against it, since its use was popularly associated with minorities, fringe elements, and strange-seeming subcultures.

More than 30 states had outlawed marijuana by 1937, when Congress passed the first federal prohibition law, and penalties got stiffer and stiffer through the 1950s and into the 1960s.

“None of this did anything to prevent an explosion in marijuana use in the late 1960s and 1970s,” Gieringer said. “The result was to leave marijuana firmly established as America’s second most popular intoxicant after alcohol, a status it seems destined to enjoy for the foreseeable future.” (Actually, in my opinion, it’s fixin’ to leave alcohol in the dust.)

“In practice, prohibition has served as a crime-creation program, criminalizing otherwise innocent Americans, promoting a criminal market, and generating disrespect for the law,” Gieringer said. “Americans would be well advised to reject their bankrupt paternalism and reclaim their historical freedom to use cannabis.”

Article From Toke of the Town and used with special permission.


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  1. Charles Queen on

    It all started whith Hearst.He was afriad that hemp would destroy his his wood pul paer making indutry of which he sunk mega millions bying up acres of woods so he complained to his Washington friends and thus started marijuana prohibition.I find it very pathetic that this country is still so far behind the times.Country’s all around the world have and are legalizing marijuana for adult use.They se the massive tax revenuse to be made from it which will take care of the vast majority of their financil woes.They have all also seen very significant drops in drug relared crims as well as very significant drops in the nummbers of teens using it as well not to mention is valuable medicinal propery’s which are second to none.So why are we not foloowing siut?Our country and our people are no diferent that the people in these other country’s so it stands to reason that we too would benefit from all of the same positive reults these other country’s have and are.It would wipe out our naitional deficit within 2 years easily and woul put every single state back in the black again within 1 year.Many peope who drink would make the switch from alcahol to marijuana as polls showed that adults said they prefer the feelings the get from marijuana over that of alcahol products sothats another plus,It’s for all practical purposes pretty harmless to the users,does not cause death from using it nore does it cause any life threatening deseases like all alcahol and al tobaco products do.It’s medicinal property’s are second to none in treating everything from cancer to pain to mental problems.It is not physically addictive but rather only mentally so.It is the most intelligent and the most logical thing our country could do right now at this point in time

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