The Messed Up Way Marijuana Was Made Illegal

In 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington became the first in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana, a move which started a trend that has only gained momentum throughout the rest of the country since then. According to Marijuana Moment, states from New York to New Mexico could very well make recreational weed legal in 2021. State legislatures in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are among those considering decriminalizing or legalizing the sweet leaf. And according to CNBC, the U.S. Senate is making moves to finally put an end to the federal pot prohibition, as well.

A British study reported by Reuters found that marijuana was nowhere near as dangerous as drugs that are generally legal and easily available, such as alcohol and tobacco. Yet, reefer is classified by the federal government as a Schedule I drug, the class of the supposedly most dangerous banned substances, such as heroin and LSD. (Fun fact: Cocaine and meth are actually Schedule II drugs, categorically "safer" than marijuana.) So with more and more dispensaries popping up across the country each year and the culture of weed smoking becoming more normalized, lots of folks might be asking how and why this plant was made illegal in the first place.

Marijuana is illegal because people are racist

According to PBS's Frontline, up until the end of the 19th century, Americans were actually encouraged to cultivate the cannabis plant, or hemp. It was used to make clothing, rope, and other products. Virginia farmers, in fact, were required to grow it in the 17th century, and several colonies used it as legal tender. Toward the end of the 19th century, it became a popular ingredient in medicines. You could find it in just about any pharmacy in the country back then.

Americans didn't have a problem with marijuana until migrant workers from Mexico began coming to states like Louisiana and Texas at the beginning of the 20th century, as noted by the Drug Policy Alliance. As Americans are wont to do, they grew antagonistic toward these immigrants, despite taking advantage of their labor. The Mexican workers called the plant marihuana, as it's called in Spanish, and even though most Americans had the drug in their medicine cabinets (listed as "cannabis"), the plant was demonized as a means to detain and ultimately deport the Mexicans. Unfounded and racist claims that weed made men of color violent and overtly sexual toward white women were presented in hearings on marijuana in the 1930s, and sale and use of the plant was made illegal by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Its place in the Schedule I category was made by the Controlled Substances Act in 1971.