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 27

Board’s agents launched a crackdown in the city’s Mexican Sonoratown neighborhood in 1914. In what may be the first U.S. newspaper account of a marijuana cultivation bust, the Los Angeles Times reported that two “dream gardens” containing $500 worth of Indian hemp or “marahuana” had been eradicated by Board Inspector Roy Jones.115 The paper explained:

Indian hemp is a plant having potent narcotic properties and was blacklisted under the poison law in the last Legislature. Surrounding it are sinister legends of murder, suicide and disaster....According to Inspector Jones and Detectives Leon and Rico, well acquainted with Sonoratown life, the weed is much used in the local Mexican colony. In out-of the-way nooks and corners small plants are nursed and often provide the bare livelihood of the cultivators.

According to the Los Angeles Examiner, it was police who “surrounded marihuana with a legend of murder and crime.”116 The Times furnished further details in a pair of marijuana bust stories published three weeks later:

Several years ago a number of Mexicans living on the east side made an industry of raising the Indian hemp, planning to get rich quick...Recently the tendency to use the stuff has reached alarming proportions, and it is the intention of the Marshal and other officials to adopt strong measures, if necessary, to stamp out the vice.117

A local police judge expressed similar views when, having previously heard two Mexican defendants charged with assault plead that they had been under the influence of marijuana, he handed down a tough, six-month sentence to another defendant arrested with enough marijuana to make 1,000 cigarettes: 118

The habit of taking this drug is increasing with such alarming rapidity that it is becoming one of the most menacing problems in police work.... More men are seriously injured by persons under the influence of marahuana tha[n] from any two causes.

Evidently, there was an incipient interest in suppressing marijuana in law enforcement circles, despite a lack of apparent broader public concern.

The Board capped its kick-off campaign with a dramatic flourish by burning one ton of marihuana along with confiscated opium, cocaine, and paraphernalia in a public bonfire at the Plaza in Los Angeles. 119

The Los Angeles Times ran the best early coverage about marihuana in the period before 1920. Included was an account of the state’s first medical marijuana

115 “Wagonload of Dreams Seized,” Los Angeles Times , Sep. 10, 1914, p.2. A possession case, in which an alleged “Mexican drug vendor” named R. Franks received a stiff sentence of 6 months and $250, was reported the previous day in the Los Angeles Examiner, Sep. 9, 1914, p.1.

116 “Marihuana Growers Placed Under Arrest,” Los Angeles Examiner, Sep. 10, 1914, II-1.

117 “Police Stop Sales of Drug in Tobacco Bags,” Los Angeles Times, Sep. 30, 1914, II-8.

118 “High Cost of Dope Smoking,” Los Angeles Times, Sep. 27, 1914, II-2.

119 "Drugs to Rise Like Incense," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 16, 1914 , II-1; "In Fanciful Forms Contraband Goes Up," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 17, 1914, II-5.

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