Schaffer Library of Drug Policy

The Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California

by Dale H. Gieringer
Early History Of Cannabis In California
The First Stirrings Of Cannabis Prohibition
The Advent of Marijuana
Conclusion: Prohibition a Bureaucratic Initiative
State & Local Marijuana Laws, Pre-1933
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Page 16

Not until the anti-dope campaigns of the 1920s and 30s did marihuana become familiar to the general public. By this time, pharmaceutical cannabis had fallen into disuse, and the myth of reefer madness gained ascendancy thanks to such able propagandists as William Randolph Hearst, Colonel Richmond Hobson, and Harry Anslinger. Nonetheless, it was never fully accepted by the medical profession, which would repeatedly voice skepticism over the vaunted dangers of marijuana in the Panama Canal Zone report (1925), the Marihuana Tax Act hearings (1937), the LaGuardia report (1945), and elsewhere.65

As of 1910, however, "marihuana" was still so obscure that it played no role in the original debate over federal drug legislation. Instead, the initial debate was focused on its more familiar manifestations as cannabis indica, alias Indian hemp or hashish.

The First Stirrings Of Cannabis Prohibition

The first laws against cannabis were byproducts of the broader national anti-narcotics movement. Fueled by Progressive Era faith in governmentsupervised moral reform and growing prohibitionist sentiment, the movement reached critical mass in 1906, when the U.S., British, and Chinese governments came to a consensus on the need to control the opium traffic. This would culminate in international conferences in Shanghai (1909) and the Hague (1912), where the groundwork for international drug prohibition would be laid.

The year 1906 also saw the passage of the first federal drug legislation, the Pure Food and Drugs Act. Essentially a truth-in-labeling law, the Pure Food and Drugs Act was the first federal law to mention cannabis indica, including it with alcohol, opiates, cocaine, and chloral hydrate on a list of intoxicating ingredients whose presence was required to be noted on the label.

In response to the federal lead, California's new Governor, James Gillett, proposed in his inaugural address that the state adopt drug legislation of its own. The legislature duly responded by enacting not only a pure food and drugs law, but also a little-publicized amendment to the state poison law, drafted by the Board of Pharmacy, prohibiting the sale of opium, morphine, and cocaine

views on marihuana is absent from documents of the revolutionary period, according to Prof. Friedrich Katz (personal communication). Lurid tales of marijuana-crazed Villistas were published later, after the “reefer madness” era had commenced, e.g., Haldeen Braddy, Cock of the Walk: Qui-Qui-Ri-Quí ! The Legend of Pancho Villa (Kennikut Press, Port Washington NY 1970; orig. ed 1955) pp. 113, 119-20, 148-9, and Pablo Osvaldo Wolff, Marihuana in Latin America (Linacre Press, Wash. D.C. 1949), pp. 22-3.

64 Marihuana use was reported among the rowdy and drunken troops of Villa's crony Gen. CheChe Campos, whereas order was said to reign among Villa's own troops, where liquor was banned: "Rapine in Wake of Rebel Army," Indianapolis Star, April 28th, 1914. p. 4. According to the Los Angeles Times, "A large proportion of Mexican officers as well as men are dope fiends. They smoke marihuana" ("Government of Carranza on Last Legs," Sep. 1, 1919, p. 12). President Huerta banned marihuana smoking in the army: "Edict Against Seductive Weed," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 28, 1920, p.IV 1.

65 The Canal Zone Report was not published, but may be found in the University of Virginia Law Library; the Marihuana Tax Act hearings may be found in Taxation of Marihuana, House Committee on Ways and Means, 75th Cong., 1st Sess. (April 27-30 and May 4, 1937); the La Guardia Report, by the Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana, was published as The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York (Jacques Cattell Press, Lancaster, PA, 1944).

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