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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Cannabis was initially introduced to California in the form of hemp by the Spanish, who cultivated it as a fiber crop at the missions.3 Small scale experiments with hemp cultivation continued sporadically into the twentieth century in the Sacramento Valley and later Imperial County.4 There is no reason to suspect that either the Spanish or native peoples knew of its psychoactive or medical properties.5 American-grown cannabis sativa was thought to have negligible psychoactivity, being thereby distinguished from medical grade cannabis indica, which was imported from India via England.

advent of the searchable on-line newspaper databases of the L.A. Times and California Digital Newspaper Collection, though evidence is still sparse. Presently, the first known reference to Mexican "mariguana" [not indexed] appears in the Call in 1897; the LA Times published four more articles about marihuana from 1898 to 1911; followed by a flock more when the Board began its anti-marihuana campaign in 1914. "Marihuana” does not appear in Northern California until the 1920s.

Andrew Garrett's online library of early marijuana literature,, includes valuable references to early newspaper articles which are not indexed elsewhere, notably from the LA Times. The following indices were searched for this article: the San Francisco Newspapers Index (Call 1904-13; Examiner 1913-28; Chronicle 1913-28); San Francisco Call index 1894-1904; Sacramento Bee and Union index 1900-37; Los Angeles Times index 1912-27; Marysville Appeal index 1854-1967; San Francisco Bulletin index 1855-72; the Oakland Library Newspaper Index 1870s-1930s; the Stockton Library Newspaper Index 1870s-1920s; and the California Information File of the California State Library, which indexes several 19th-century periodicals and newspapers. The indices of the San Diego Herald and Union, and Fresno Bee turned out to be useless. The author also consulted the California newspaper drug index of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner for 1910-60 compiled by Pat Morgan for her Ph.D. dissertation, op. cit., and the newspaper clipping collection of Jerry Mandel compiled from research and systematic samplings. Also searched were the New York Times Index, the El Paso Library newspaper index, the New Orleans Library newspaper index, and Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, 1802 - 1906. Finally, an invaluable reference was Ernest Abel’s bibliography, A Comprehensive Guide to the Cannabis Literature (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1979).

3 Hemp culture was introduced to California at Mission San Jose in 1795 with the encouragement of Gov. de Borica. It prospered thanks to Spanish subsidies, but collapsed with their end in 1810. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California, Vol. 1, p 717 and Vol. 2, pp. 178-81, (The History Co., San Francisco 1886); reprinted as Volumes XVIII and XIX of tbe Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft (Wallace Herberd, Santa Barbara CA, 1963). Hemp was also cultivated by the Russians at Ft. Ross during the early nineteenth century: R.A. Thompson, The Russian Settlement in California. Fort Ross. Founded 1812, Abandoned 1841. Why the Russians came and why they left. (Oakland, Biobooks, 1951) pp. i-iv from Foreword (cited in personal communication by Michael Aldrich). A comprehensive report on hemp at the California missions may be found in U.C. Berkeley's Bancroft Library: J.N. Bowman, "Notes on Hemp Culture in Provincial California," (Berkeley, 1943).

4 Hemp cultivation experiments were proposed by Gov. Bigler in 1850 and Gov. Stanford in 1863, but foundered: Theodore H. Hittell, History of California, Vol. 4 (N.J. Stone & Co., San Francisco 1897), pp. 171, 369. Nevertheless, hemp continued to have boosters into the twentieth century ("California Should be Big Grower of Hemp," San Francisco Call, Apr. 1, 1907, p. 8). As of 1909, some 300 acres of hemp were under cultivation in Butte County, according to the Statistical Report of the California State Board of Agriculture for 1916 (Appendix to Journals of the Assembly and Senate, 1917, p.66). The Imperial Valley became a center for experimentation with new hemp decortication equipment developed by George W. Schlichten in 1917: Don Wirtshafter, “The Schlichten Papers,” in Hemp Today, ed. Ed Rosenthal (Quick American Archives, Oakland, CA 1994), pp. 47-62. 5

Cannabis is absent from Andrew Garriga’s Compilation of Herbs and Remedies Used by the Indians and Spanish Californians together with some Remedies of his own Experience, ed. Msgr. Francis J Weber (Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 1978). Father Garriga (1843-1915), who served at various missions in the Central Valley, compiled his collection around 1900-5 based on a manuscript by Fr. Doroteo Ambris, who died in 1883.

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