How Marijuana became Illegal – by Mark Stout

How Marijuana became Illegal – by Mark Stout

In 1976, as a political science/public administration major at California State University at Chico (Chico State), I did my student internship at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in San Francisco at the office then located on the corner of Union and Fillmore. I worked for NORML’s west coast coordinator Gordon Brownell.

At the time NORML was helping San Francisco Assemblyman Willie Brown introduce Assembly Bill AB 367 before the California legislature which proposed the decriminalization of cultivation for personal use. I recall the major arguments at the time were that: 1) Marijuana prohibition was fundamentally irrational, unjust and a violation of constitutionally protected civil rights and equal protection, and that 2) decriminalization of personal cultivation would allow an individual safe access to cannabis and break the connection between the user and the underground black market economy which had incentive to sell harmful more profitable and addictive drugs. I don’t recall the argument of the medical value being a part of the early days of marijuana reform movement in California. That powerful argument came later.

Important to know, but unfortunately long forgotten, is the genesis of how marijuana became illegal in the first place.

Marijuana was not made illegal for any legitimate or valid reason. It was criminalized at the end of alcohol prohibition when a government agency faced with obsolescence and led by a man named Harry Anslinger who argued on behalf of his own self-interest, that there was a connection between marijuana use and crime, mostly in the minority communities. There was no scientific evidence to support this association, but there were some powerful special interests who backed Anslinger’s unsubstantiated claim for their own reasons.

Anslinger’s allegation was trumpeted by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. Anslinger was supported by Dupont whose nylon business was at the time being threatened by hemp products. In 1937 Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act effectively criminalizing cannabis and establishing the war on weed which over the years since its creation has sent many people to prison, ruined countless lives and has called into question our nation’s very idea of justice and fairness under the law.

Today I live in the state of Tennessee where even medical marijuana is still a crime to possess. Hopefully in my lifetime I see the day when such injustice is finally rooted out and replaced by reasonable laws based on truth, not ignorance.

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