HONOLULU (KHON2) — Marijuana has become a major way for U.S. states and states around the world to make some extra tax money.

At first, a few U.S. states slowly moved to legalize medical marijuana while other international states like The Netherlands went on to open its legal doors to the naturally occurring plant.

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Then, there is Portugal. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in their country back in the aughts only to discover that addiction, crime, houselessness and cartel violence became virtually non-existent.

Most recently, the Hawai’i Cannabis Industry Association conducted an opinion poll amongst Hawai’i residents which found that 86% of residents are in favor of marijuana legalization.

So, what was it about marijuana, a naturally occurring plant that has limitless benefits for humans, that made it become such a pariah in U.S. legal and political culture?

Before the 20th century, marijuana, heroin and cocaine were all legitimate medicinal drugs. Addiction was not a major issue since these substances did not really have much taboo attached to them. This is not to say there was no addiction; it simply was not as rampant.

But, in the early 1900s, Mexico had lost lands to the U.S. Native tribes had been relegated to tiny pieces of land that were not their homelands, and the U.S. had begun to embark on a global mission to dominate.

It was during this time that immigrants south of the U.S. border began to migrate into the U.S. (One must keep in mind that the area that is northern Mexico and southwestern U.S. was traditionally a migration area for natives. The artificial borders that the U.S. created to make itself a state interrupted this natural population eb and flow.)

Anyway, xenophobia reared its ugly head. Political leaders believed that because Mexicans smoked marijuana, it must be bad and must be prevented from entering into the mainstream.

Despite the consistent protestations of the medical field, marijuana became the poster child for criminal elements and immigrants. For the medical industry, marijuana was a valuable treatment for so many ailments.

It was also during this time that the duPont family began developing synthetic materials that could be used in place of the entrenched hemp products that had been in use for centuries. For duPont, if marijuana/hemp was made illegal, they could corner the market on many, many products.

By, 1925, sixteen states had made various laws restricting the use, sale and growth of marijuana. The anti-alcohol prohibitionists craned their attention to something new, making marijuana a pariah. Their most vocal representative was Richmond P. Hobson.

Hobson embarked on a mission to turn Americans against marijuana. As luck would have it, William Randolph Hearst, the father of sensationalist journalism and close ally of the duPont family, began his own campaign against marijuana using his publications [Life, Time, etc…] to disparage the plant and anyone sympathetic to it.

With Hobson’s trot around the country to convince people to see the world the way he did and Hearst’s conveniently timed articles that coincided with Hobson’s appearances, it was not long before Americans began to see marijuana as a pretty nasty drug.

Of course, their work did make inroads; but as much as they wanted to eradicate marijuana, the fact that marijuana is not a drug that can cause schizophrenia made it difficult to maintain that foothold.

In the 1930s, even those who had been staunch advocates of marijuana and hemp had suddenly changed their minds and began vigorously campaigning against the use of both.

Harry J. Anslinger, who is famously known for saying that marijuana is the assassin of youth, was the former assistant commissioner of the Prohibition Bureau who went on to lead the U.S. Treasury Department’s Narcotics Bureau [1930-1960]. He was able to get the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 passed which heavily restricted and penalized the growth and sell of hemp and marijuana. 

Interestingly, the passage of the MTA went mostly unnoticed. The only witness during the discussions on it was a representative from the American Medical Association who testified that marijuana should not be made illegal due to its boundless medical possibilities.

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In an effort to discredit the AMA and the New York Academy of Medicine, which had published a report in 1944 demonstrating that marijuana at most is a mild intoxicant, Aslinger enlisted the help of the American Journal of Psychiatry to refute what medical researchers had discovered.

Check out more of this saga in Part 2.