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The History of Cannabis Prohibition and Its Legacy

The History of Cannabis Prohibition and Its Legacy


Cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. However, in the early 20th century, political and racial factors led to the criminalization of cannabis. This article will explore the history of cannabis prohibition and its legacy.

The Beginning of Prohibition

In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act criminalized cannabis at the federal level. This law imposed a tax on cannabis sales and required anyone who sold cannabis to obtain a license. However, the tax was so high that it effectively made cannabis prohibitively expensive.

The Role of Racism

One of the main drivers of cannabis prohibition was racism. Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, used racial slurs to describe cannabis users. He specifically targeted African Americans and Mexican immigrants, claiming that cannabis made them violent and promiscuous.

The War on Drugs

The 1970s saw a renewed focus on drug prohibition with the launching of the War on Drugs. Cannabis was heavily targeted, with harsh penalties for possession and drug-related offenses. This led to a significant increase in cannabis-related arrests and incarcerations, particularly among people of color.

The Legacy of Cannabis Prohibition

Today, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is considered to have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. This classification has hindered research into the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis. It has also contributed to the stigmatization of cannabis users and the continued criminalization of cannabis-related offenses.


The history of cannabis prohibition is marked by racism, political expediency, and misguided moralism. The legacy of this prohibition persists today, as it continues to impede access to an effective form of medicine and perpetuates an unjust system of criminalization and incarceration. It is time to reevaluate our stance on cannabis and move towards a more just and equitable approach to drug policy.


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