Why Was Marijuana Made Illegal in the USA?

Why Was Marijuana Made Illegal in the USA?
Because of the fight led by desperate millionaires whose empires were at the mercy of the wonder-plant image and cost-effective uses of hemp--dubbed "marijuana" by it detractors--the plant became effectively illegal to possess, cultivate or transfer ownership of in 1937. That's when the Marijuana Tax Act levied taxes on its sellers but refused to accept the revenue it generated. Penalties for marijuana's use and trade vary widely by jurisdiction. Considered a sacred, magic plant with protective qualities by many south-central Africans, cultivation of hemp in the U.S. of the mid 1900's was booming, but its vilification on racial and moralistic grounds has been perpetrated in an ongoing fight to keep it illegal.


Marijuana's potential for producing inexpensive paper made the timber industry nervous, and budding technologies--which put hemp into the competition for synthetic fibers, cellophane, methanol, super-strength plastics, paint, medicines, textiles, ship sails and foods--prompted tycoons who faced billions of dollars in subsequent losses to initiate fear campaigns (spreading claims of insanity and murder) and to lobby for the plant's prohibition.


In the 1920s and 1930s, marijuana was attacked by spreading fears of falling of collapsing barriers between blacks and whites. The federal narcotics division leader, Harry Anslinger, initiated a campaign to put marijuana at the center of interracial dating and dancing, citing marijuana's popularity in racially mixed jazz clubs.

Prejudice against Mexicans was also exploited by connecting Mexican immigrants--representing cheap labor during the Depression--to the marijuana scene and by renaming hemp as marijuana.


Many Americans believed that marijuana was a violent narcotic in the company of opiates, and people feared that it fomented criminal acts and psychosis. Harry Anslinger was pivotal in proliferating stories of brutal crimes and sexual predation resulting from marijuana use.

Renewed Legalization of Alcohol

Many careers existed to maintain Prohibition, and banning marijuana provided the hope of continuing employment when it was repealed. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, established in 1930, represented this job security, particularly if widely-used marijuana was added to the list of illegal substances.

Article Written By Barry Truman

Barry Truman has published many outdoor activity articles in the past five years with International Real Travel Adventures, the Everett Herald and Seattle Post Intelligencer newspapers, Backpacking Light Magazine and Trails.com. He has a forestry degree from the University of Washington.

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