The History of Marijuana Prohibition

Why is marijuana illegal?

The hatred of cannabis did not arise from medical concerns.


Do you know the real reason cannabis is illegal? It doesn't have anything to do with health.


The Fear of Cannabis Didn’t Start In the US

In the 1930’s, the hatred of marijuana was mobilized by the US government and used as a method to discriminate against Mexican immigrants, black people, and the poor.

However, it’s worth noting that the fear of cannabis did not originate in the United States.  The fear of marijuana began in Mexico right around the same time the Catholic church took political control of the government.


Spanish Conquests

From 1519-1521 the Spanish Conquests occurred.

During this period the Catholic Church sent conquistadors from Spain. They murdered Aztecans, destroyed native civilizations, and force-evangelized the indigenous population.

Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztecan people, did not have a written history. Because of this the language and most of the original Aztecan culture was lost.


Attack on Native Healers

It’s unclear if cannabis had made it’s to Mexico before the Spanish Conquests. Hemp may have arrived with the conquistadors themselves.

However, even without marijuana, the indigenous people were well adept at natural healing and herbal use.

The Aztech people used a variety of intoxicating plants medicinally and ceremonially.

However, during this period of time, the Catholic Church determined that the use of plants in healing was the work of the devil. The penalty for it was death.

In Europe, during the Spanish Inquisition traditional healers were killed. At the same time, Spanish conquistadors were murdering native healers in North America.

Without a written history, much of their knowledge was lost.


The Word Marijuana Derives From Nahuatl

The word “marijuana” derives from Nahuatl. The English language has borrowed many words from other languages and we have a few bestowed upon us by the Aztecs.


Mexico’s Independence

In 1821, the Mexican people finally won their independence. But the Catholic Church formed a powerful political party and remained in control.

Until 1850, only Catholics could be Mexican citizens.


Fear Of Marijuana In Mexico

The book, Home Grown: Mexico’s War on Drugs, cites multiple headlines from Mexican newspapers that profess the fear of marijuana.

Those headlines are eerily similar to the ones appearing in the US during “reefer madness”.

Negative headlines targeting cannabis, appeared in Mexico significantly before the US campaigns began.


Marijuana Was Outlawed In Mexico Before The US

Marijuana was illegal in Mexico 17 years before it was outlawed in the US.


Fear Grew In The US

In a time of economic decline (the Great Depression), the population feared Mexican immigration.

The US copied the fear in Mexico and mobilized it as a tool to restrict immigration and deport Mexican residents.

In that way, cannabis prohibition was the first Mexican wall.  That wall that is still standing and negatively impacting all American people today.


Is the word “Marijuana” racist?

The word marijuana derives from the Nahuatl language, from the indigenous people of Mexico.

The word marijuana is not racist, but racism definitely catalyzed cannabis prohibition.  Cannabis prohibition, at its inception, targeted immigrants and blacks – especially Mexican immigrants.


Cannabis was common before 1937 – but it was not called marijuana.

Before 1937, cannabis was a common medication.   A variety of cannabis tinctures were available at the local pharmacy.  Doctors routinely encouraged use, but no one called it Marijuana.

Americans did not use the word marijuana; the plant was referred to as cannabis.  Most Americans didn’t even realize that marijuana and cannabis were the same plant.


Mexican Immigration Exploded Right Before The Great Depression

Before the Mexican civil war in 1910, about 20,000 people migrated from Mexico to the US each year.  After the war by 1920, that number skyrocketed to over 100,000 people each year.

Now, at first, the US welcomed Mexican workers, especially in the southern states.  Before 1929, businesses were booming.  Southern plantations and farms needed laborers and Mexican immigrants were perceived as hard workers for low wages.


Mexican Immigrants Brought A New Way of Using Marijuana – Smoking

With them, Mexican immigrants brought dried plants that they smoked for personal use.  The Mexican word they used to describe this plant was “Marijuana”.  The word comes from the Nahuatl, Mexico’s indigenous people.

Because of the affordability and ease of access (you could grow it in the yard), the practice of smoking marijuana spread to the lower socioeconomic classes.  Cannabis became popular among jazz communities which were predominantly black.

The Stock Market Crashed & The Great Depression Ensued

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the country entered The Great Depression.  Businesses were no longer booming and jobs were no longer in demand.

In fact, competition for the few existing jobs fanned racial tensions.  Mexican immigrants were no longer welcome.  Americans blamed the state of the economy on blacks & immigrants

Politicians were determined to stop immigration and send immigrants back to Mexico.

The government developed a variety of schemes to repatriate immigrants.  A free one-way train ticket to Mexico was offered to some.  Others were tricked or kidnapped and then returned to their home country.  At times, residents who weren’t even Mexican were deported, under suspicion they might be.

Politicians mobilized the fear of marijuana, as motivation to close the border and encourage deportation.

(I wonder why they didn’t just build a wall.)


The Fear Campaign Against Marijuana

Newspapers published outrageous accounts about a dangerous new substance being used.  They called it “marijuana”.  Read the headlines & quotes from

“There are total 100,000 marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

“…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”

“Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

“Marihuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing”

“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother.”

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”

Reefer Madness

The government implanted fear into America’s brain and America fell for it.

In 1936, the movie Reefer Madness came out.  Watch it and try to keep in mind that today this movie trailer looks like a comedy.  BUT, in the 1930s, Reefer Madness was considered an “important film”.  People took the “danger” very seriously.

Cannabis prohibition was NOT born from health concerns.

After the American Medical Association realized marijuana and cannabis were the same plant they fought against cannabis prohibition.

Here’s a 1937 letter from the American Medical Association, pleading for the government NOT to make cannabis illegal.

Their pleas and protests were ignored and in 1937 cannabis was made federally illegal.

Why is marijuana illegal?

Purists & Racism

Remember, in the 1930’s a large portion of the population were purists.  Purists are those who wish to purify the population by eliminating vices.

Purists had succeeded in briefly banning alcohol and were unhappy at the reversal of alcohol prohibition in 1933. notes that at the time, alcohol was considered by many as a “great evil to be eradicated — if America were ever to be fully cleansed of sin.”

Purists believed that mind altering substances were evil.  If alcohol was evil, marijuana was too.  The frightening headlines in the newspaper were proof.

In the 1930’s, people didn’t understand “alternate facts”. Exaggerated and inaccurate news was commonplace and people believed everything they read.

Marijuana is only illegal because of racism, fear, and ignorance.

If you suspect that there was a scientific health basis for making marijuana illegal,  PLEASE, read the transcripts of the congressional hearings yourself.

You’ll see that everything included in the hearings was poppycock & hearsay.

Why is marijuana still illegal?

Sadly, we still have purists controlling the government in 2017.

For example, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions said this week, “I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana sold at every corner grocery store.”

Now, selling marijuana in every grocery store is pretty extreme.  However, how does selling cigarettes in every grocery store make the nation healthier?

In fact, while we’re at it, let’s address the fact grocery stores are LOADED with products that do NOT contribute to the health of our nation.

How about Reece’s peanut butter cups – will the White House be taking those away too?  Sorry, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, we’re suddenly concerned about the health of the nation – you’re outlawed.

It’s Not About health.

We live in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  The Land of the Free.  If we’re free damage our bodies with alcohol, tobacco, artificial colors, and excessive amounts of sugar, then why can’t we grow our own medication?

Why can’t we grow medication for the dying and sick patients who are suffering?

Conclusion:  Question the Government

It’s been eighty years and cannabis is still illegal.  Doctors are still pleading with the government to reconsider their stance.  Yet the government is still using alternative facts to justify their position.

Recently, Sean Spicer appeared to pull a page from Anslinger’s playbook when he tried to link the opiate crisis to marijuana.

Marijuana has been repeatedly to a decrease in the use of opiates.  USA today discusses one study, “Opioid Use Decreases in States that Legalize“.

Additionally, in some patients, cannabis can actually help TREAT opiate addiction.

Question the government and learn the facts.


Visit to explore ways you can action and help end cannabis prohibition.  The White House is getting its wall.  It’s time to free the plant.

Do you know the real reason cannabis is illegal? It doesn't have anything to do with health.


Read: Cannabis Prohibition is Similar to Alcohol Prohibition

Read:  Marijuana Prohibition Was Racist From The Start. Not Much Has Changed.


Written by Jessie Gill

Jessie Gill, RN is a cannabis nurse with a background in holistic health and hospice. After suffering a spinal injury, she reluctantly became a medical marijuana patient then quickly transitioned into an advocate. Her site, combines science with personal insight to educate about medical marijuana. She’s been featured on Viceland and bylines include GoodHousekeeping, Cosmopolitan, MSN, and more.

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