The History of Cannabis Prohibition By Conley Rose

Image by © Michael Melford/National Geographic Society/Corbis

By Conley Rose 

The lack of understanding around the legality of medicinal cannabis for St. Vincent and the Grenadines begs the question…Why is a plant with many known historical and medical uses ever illegal in the first place?

It is therefore imperative, that as the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines approaches the issue of passing the Medicinal Cannabis Bill, 2018 in the House of Parliament on November 20th, 2018, it is important that we dig into the history of cannabis prohibition.

Cannabidiol (CDB) can come from medical marijuana plants or industrially grown hemp, and as the laws governing both plants differ greatly from country to country it can understandably cause confusion. CDB is legal in many nations and is generally grown under licence. It is THC – the psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants that is the illegal component of cannabis, with CDB having no psychoactive effects.

Hemp was used extensively in the manufacture of clothing, rope, medicine and candles amongst a variety of other products. Yes, it was being smoked recreationally but nobody was uncomfortable at the time to the thought of anybody “smoking herb”.

It was around this time that Hemp was being touted as a viable and more sustainable alternative to paper. This caused issues for some businessmen who felt their interests threatened, and who set in motion the drive for marijuana prohibition which still reverberates to this day.

Talk of Hemp being a better, cheaper and more sustainable alternative posed a threat to commercial interests. This gave reason to attack Hemp; the easiest way to do this was by going after it’s recreational use and its association with Latin America.

Through his vast media empire, he had the ‘ear’ of much of the population. William Randolph Hearst launched a propaganda campaign that effectively demonized hemp but interestingly never called it Hemp. He instead used the more alien sounding name of Marijuana.

By focusing only on the recreational aspects of marijuana, Hearst was able to sway public opinion by labelling it as a ‘Mexican drug problem’. His propaganda consisted of outlandish claims about what Marijuana does, labelling it the “Devil’s Harvest”.

Hearts touted marijuana as being of the Devil which caused sin, degradation and insanity. This is a fluid situation with many states in America, which are currently decriminalizing the uses in various stages, But the Federal Government still declares cannabis illegal.

Canada is the first and only G7, country in the world to declare cannabis legal for both medical and recreational purposes.

Why was cannabis declared illegal in the world?

Before the 1920s there was no concept in the USA of anything called Marijuana. It was known as Hemp, which described the cannabis plant and was a farm crop in use for many years. At the start of the 1920s his campaign was successful and by the 1930s public perception of ‘marijuana’ was at a point where many Americans were scared of it paving the way for cannabis prohibition. He was successful in swaying public opinion, but this demonization of cannabis was taken to a whole new level…the political and legal level by Harry J. Anslinger, who in 1930 took the helm as the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

 He had a strong distrust of Mexicans and all recreational drugs with the FBN focused primarily on the fighting of opium and heroin smuggling. Anslinger made it his mission to rid the USA of all drugs including cannabis. Armed with Hearst newspaper stories from the 1920s, Anslinger took the fight political and in 1937 criminalized cannabis through the Marijuana Tax Act 1937.

It is worth noting that the FBN also over saw the prohibition of alcohol, which was repealed in 1933. One can say that there was a self-preservationist drive behind Anslinger’s decision to drive a policy towards cannabis prohibition.

Over seeing a major government department whose “work load” decreased with decriminalizing alcohol, Anslinger needed a new enemy to fill the void. He found it and nearly 100 years later we are still feeling the effects of one mans capitalistic greed. And the rest is now history.

The propaganda campaign initiated by Hearst and moved forward by Anslinger altered public opinion throughout the world and cannabis prohibition has remained through the ages and causes much of the lack of understanding of cannabis to this day in many countries of the world.

This series of articles is geared to further the discussions around medicinal cannabis, and its benefits to humanity, while we present facts and information to unravel the myths and misconceptions of cannabis.

1 Comment

  1. There is no lack of understanding whatsoever around cannabis my dear Conley Rose. This attempt by you at misinformation regarding the harm that smoking Cannabis can cause, is utterly unacceptable.

    Read: (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana ) by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

    (https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/marijuana ) It just will not do for you to push falsity in order to advance your cause. The science about Cannabis is quite well known, as a result of the various research that has been carried out over the years on this plant. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/cannabis-the-facts/ It is indeed quite well known that regular cannabis use increases one’s risk of developing psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia.

    Why not push the regular use of opium too, as did the opium dens of the 19th Cuntury: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_den

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