EARLY 20ST CENTURY (1900 AD – 1949 AD)


It was in the early 20th Century that the medical use of cannabis began to decline. It became outlawed in the US followed closely by countries around the world. Many believe it was politics, scaremongering and industrial greed that caused this rather than hard scientific fact.

It was in 1911 that the first US state to outlaw cannabis passed prohibition laws, this was in Massachusetts. It is thought that in this early instance, the persecution was mainly fueled by faith – ironic when you think the use of cannabis has always traditionally played a massive role in religion. America was going through a moral cleansing that involved the prohibition/criminalization of anything deemed wrong such as prostitution, prize fighting and oral sex, this included the more famous alcohol prohibition as well.

In 1915, President Wilson signs an act which would lay the foundations for future drug law. The Harrison Act came into effect, regulated the home growth of opium as well as international trade. It required every doctor to assign serial numbers supplied by the Internal Revenue Dept to each prescription.

Though the use of medical marijuana was still legal around the rest of the US, each state began to fall inline with Massachusetts. In 1915 Utah outlawed cannabis, quickly followed my 9 other states over the next 12 years. These included Wyoming (1915), Texas (1919), Iowa (1923), Nevada (1923), Oregon (1923), Washington (1923), Arkansas (1923), Nebraska (1927) and the State of New York (1927).

Things were not going to getter better, on February the 19th, 1925 the League of Nations (a precursor to the UN) signed a multilateral treaty limiting the use of cannabis to research and medical use only. In 1928 the UK added cannabis to the “Dangerous Drugs Act”, making it illegal in all forms.

Medical cannabis was still hanging on though in western society. It was still used in US states that had not decriminalized it yet, and demand was high. Even this was not to last though. Through what is thought to be political motivation and financial gain, two very prominent figures set out to see cannabis banned outright. Harry Anslinger was appointed commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. A notorious racist, Anslinger blamed marijuana for the crimes of ethnic groups. His efforts were combined, and some people say, motivated by William Hearst. At the time hemp was used in the mainstream production of paper. Hearst had a lot of forest that he wanted to use for paper instead. As a result he set out on a smear campaign to make sure that he did not lose potential financial gain from the deforestation of his land. Along with Anslinger, he publicly denounced marijuana and lobbied for its outlaw. Both coming up with blatant lies, with no scientific grounding, to scare the affluent white population into backing its prohibition.

This marked the beginning of the end for marijuana in the US and the decline of marijuana in western culture as a whole. From here the international community began withdrawing from the use of cannabis all the way up until 1961 where it was effectively outlawed by the UN, (it was technically still allowed for medial use, but very few countries allowed it).

The start of this process began with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This tax saw a massive reduction in the amount of marijuana prescriptions within the US. As it became less mainstream, propaganda continued to demonize the use of marijuana, even for medical purposes – it was eventually removed from the US Pharmacopeia in 1942.

As you can see, the politics of early 20th Century North America marked the beginning of the end for the use of medical cannabis in the west. It should be noted that during this era, only recreational and unregulated use was made illegal, it could still be used in certain places medically – but the ground work was laid, it would not be long. The prominence of the US as a world player would lead to the criminalization of medical marijuana for all UN member countries, and the situation we are in today. Since its worldwide criminalization science has gradually begun to undo the work of politicians, taking back the reigns of control. With the work of real science, and the ease and freedom with which we can gain information, people, and as a result their governments, have begun to realize that medical marijuana is not the work of the devil and may actually have genuine use.