By Joey Only | 14.12.2002

Who gets arrested? The history of pot prohibition; also makes links to other drug 'problems' in North America

�I give you all the seed bearing plants.� - Genesis 1:27


History of North American marijuana prohibition

Up to the 20th century, what�s now labelled illegal narcotics, was a socially accepted phenomenon. Addiction to drugs was considered to be a health issue for phycisians, and not a law matter for police. Hemp seed was in the Pharmacopia until pot�s prohibition in 1937. The Marijuana Tax act was pushed through cogress by a particularly ugly fellow named Harry J. Anslinger. A big bald man who resembled Mussolini. Marijuana was of no concern to Americans in the dirty thirties; economic hardship was rampant. It was up to Harry Anslinger to demonize the usage of marijuana.

Compiled were The Anslinger Files. These were cases throughout the 1930�s that Anslinger compiled and sensationalized. The most gruesome murder stories from across the nation were put to use; to trump up charges of mad Mexicans. These �Mexicans� according to Anslinger, went into a murderous rampage upon inhaling the marihuana cigarette. Looking through these files, it�s unbelievable that anyone bought these lies as they are so extreme.

File after file of brutal murders were put together. It was said that Marihuana was smoked by poor Mexicans and African American populations. This was largely true, in the Great Depression most people were poor. To this day most African and Mexican Americans are poor. It was largely the poor of the time who used pot, allthough it wasn�t all that common yet in white populations.

It was uncommon enough that the stories scared Congress into passing the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937. The plant that General George Washington said would make America rich, was crimminalized. The plant that the Pharmacopia said was a cure all, was considered evil because of a bumbling bald racist American politician. Ansligers sensational stories became the fuel of an international propaghanda campaign. Reefer Madness, and other unpopular movies, claimed that smoking marihuana was done in the practice of worshiping Molech. Molech is a pagan god in the Old Testament of the Bible. This campaign drove a great deal of fear into the religious and conservative communities of the time that exists to this day.

The Marijuana Tax Act was enforced by the Anslinger�s Tax Burreau, with very limited sources. Perhaps enough to make 300-400 arrest a year for the first decade. The enforcement of the drug laws was very discretionary, as there wasn�t the resources to nab everyone. It is unclear from my research what the requirements were for who got targetted and who didn�t. It is very evident that the Tax Burreau�s primary targets were Mexicans and Black populations.

Anslinger became the chief marijuana killer in the United States until the 1970�s. There are a world of woes he can be attributed too.
Into the 1940�s Anslinger had to keep the momentum going. The most progressive crowds tended to smoke marijuana at the time. Cab Calloway and other jazz musicians sang about it in songs, as did other more progressive singers. Jazz music was largely a black cultural phenomenon in the 1940�s and 50�s.

Around this Anslinger made some startling claims to get some boosts in his departments funding. He pointed to the fact that the jazz culture was rampant with marijuana, and made the accusation that good white children would hear the songs and be perverted by them. They might want to smoke marijuana.

It became obvious by the late 1940�s, that marijuana didn�t make people murderous after all. At least not the whites who were using it more tha ever before. Anslingers next attack on North American marijuana production claimed the precise opposite. During the 1940�s there was war, Hot and Cold. Anslinger claimed that it was making people passive and unwilling to fight. Marijuana was called a tool that the communist was pushing into the United States. Large segments of the population bought this lie as fear of communism was a state sponsored sentiment, reinforcing the �American way of life�. In the same breath Anslinger said that smoking marijuana did not lead to further drug use. This is a claim that they would change in the 1950�s. Harry J. Anslinger changed nearly all of his opinions bar one, marijuana was from the devil.

It was at this time that McCarthy began to go on his Communist/Witch hunts. It is now known that social thinkers and actively outspoken people went missing. Those who dissented against the state were targets. Beatnicks, poets, and peace�nicks became smokers of the pot. Anslinger was able to continue pushing his line of how pot makes people passive during the Korean War, and into Vietnam. That passiveness was considered intolerable while America was in a seige of fear from Communist Russia.

Anslinger drew connections of marijuana to communists, activists, beatnicks, jazz culture, the working class, and in general; attacks on the status quo. He was able to receive more funding based on the classist and racist assumptions he had endorsed. What is shocking about this is a number of things. Until the 20th Century, the majority of opium addicts were middle to upper class housewives. Then it was considered a medical issue. But the turn of the century saw a growing Chinese population in North America that was looked upon unfavorably by the whites. Opium use was considered part of the immigrant Chinese culture.

Hemp and marijuana were grown throughout the United States as a principal farming economic resource. In the 1880�s a disease killed much of the American hemp crop, it ceased to be an economic staple again and was largely forgotten about. In the 1937 hemp seed oil was still acreditted by doctors to have vast medicinal purposes. But much of the marijuana that was for smoking was being smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

However considerable persecution regarding certain stimulants has a history with First Nations people. Europeans considered the native practices of taking peyote, mushrooms, jimson, or other hallucinogens as part satan worship and banned all religious practices in Native communities that involved these things. The beauty of the shamanic tradition was eradicated by fundamentalists, colonialists, whites, and Christians. In return for hallucinogens that made them wise by their traditions; the Natives were given alcohol which made the culture die to the new tradition. An apparently legal drug was given to them freely; which has proven to have more devastating effects on society than possibly imagineable. After the �Great� War, and into the depression people were probably drinking heavily. The wild roaring twenties challenged the class behaviour of the ruling elite.

The prohibition of marijuana came after the failled attempt to prohibit alcohol. The Marijuana Tax Act was past in 1937 clearly because of racist and classist overtones. By the 1960�s there was a full out attack on the classes. America was in turmoil during that decade. The Black Liberation movement was in full force, and a lot of its people were smoking pot. Thanks to vast spending increases, Anslinger was able to target broad cross sections of the population. The police, as they do now still, used drug charges to jail liberationists. During the race riots of the 1960�s one person said,�the air smelled of pot everywhere.�

Harry J. Anslingers bestfriend, J. Edgar Hoover began to play some nasty tricks. This is no conspiracy theory. The FBI did two things to seriously disrupt the Black Panther, and Black Liberation movement. The FBI began to pour drugs into Black Ghetto�s. Mummia Abu Jamal speaks of this well in Live From Death Row. Filling the black communities with heroin and cocaine destroyed a lot of lives, and took the momentum out of the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of fighting, people were dying on the streets. An effective way to keep the Black population powerless and poor. It also led to a massive increase of their ability to imprison black populations.

The other thing the FBI did, and I won�t talk about it much, was called the Counter Intelligence Program. Commonly called COINTLPRO, and it was designed to tear into the radical left movement. COINTLPRO is credited for dismantling the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement and the Anti War Movement (along with others). The perception generated against the anti-war and hippy movements was that they were total fuck ups. The crimminalization of drugs and dissent went hand in hand. Richard Nixon was able to intensify the war on drugs through the 1960�s, and did so with racist reasoning, and with will to break the growing revolution.

On January 17th 1972, the official War on Drugs began. Anslinger and Hoover were both to be out of the picture soon. Good riddance you old fat fascists! Nixon�s aid had written in his journal what Dick Nixon�s reasons for the war on drugs would be. It was because of the unrest in the blacks. Nixon wanted to target them, without saying that they were being targetted. Drugs could do just that.

He was a racist war mongering pig. His administration killed millions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and who knows where else. As if insult to injury, Nixon put the fight against drugs into the forefront of American internal oppression.


The last thirty years has been a total intensification of the War on Drugs, and its classist and racist implications. The dynamic of the last thirty years is the horrible icing on their green cake. Police officers have a lot of discretion on how they make drugs busts. 90% of the busts made in the United States are for small street amounts of whatever drug they catch. For the most part, it has been the people that have no where to use drugs, that are most vulnerable to arrest. Homeless people are charged often with drug possession, and don�t have the means to pay bail. Police also target the people that will lead to the easiest convictions, which is much easier with the poor.

People who have shelter and security, stand a much greater chance of not being caught. When one looks at the social dynamic of the United States and largely Canada, they see who generally has the most money disproportionately are white people. People who have money go to Drug Treatment, while those who don�t go to prison. People with wealth have the money to hire lawyers, go to treatment programs, and pay bail. People without wealth do not have this opportunity. It has become blaringly obvious that the majority of those going to jail on drug related charges in the United States are people of colour.

While 74% of illegal drugs consumed in the United States are by white populations, the statistics reflect the opposite in terms of incarceration percentages. Only 20% of the people in jail on drug charges are white, while 57% are black. Yet at high quality treatment centres 58.3 percent of users are white, and 23.9% are of African origin.