We can all see that on a daily basis the global perspective towards marijuana is changing, in a positive way, but where did all the negativity first start?
In 1923, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to criminalize marijuana, 14 years before the United States. There are no records of parliamentary nor public debates, and no paper trail to what led to the criminalization. The only possible connection can be found in Emily Murphy’s book, The Black Candle, released in 1922, however, it could also merely be coincidence. Murphy called marijuana the “new menace,” and referred to marijuana users as “raving maniacs [who] are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons using the most savage methods of cruelty without… any sense of moral responsibility.”
In 2014, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a congressman from the United States, wanted to remind everyone the number of people who had died from pot, saying “Spoiler alert: it’s zero”.
The U.S. faced a similar route to illegalization, mostly based on fear, propaganda and unfortunately, racism. In a fairly similar timeline, in the early 1900’s, after the Mexican Revolution, many migrants came into the States. As it always happens with immigrants coming into new lands, they bring with them their culture, and in this particular case, that included marijuana. At the time, they were traditionally using marijuana as a relaxant and as medicine. In the U.S., cannabis was common since the majority of tinctures and medicines contained it for it’s healing properties, similar to how Mexicans were using it, but in a different form. Propaganda against the influx of the immigrants quickly began to grow and the easiest way to induce fear was claiming that their cultural practices of smoking marijuana was disruptive to society, playing on the fact that most of the nation didn’t know that marijuana and hemp(cannabis) are a part of the same family. The idea behind demonizing marijuana was to spread these negative feelings to the people who brought it, the Mexican immigrants. Putting a chokehold on cultural practices has unfortunately been a great way for the U.S. to keep an eye on population migrations. To make matters worse, in the 1930’s propaganda came out saying that marijuana would make African American men violent and sexually aggressive towards Caucasian women. These unjustly fueled fears eventually led to the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which fully banned all uses and sales.
At the time of criminalization, marijuana in Canada had almost zero users. In the U.S. it was used by the majority of the population without them being fully informed. Today when people ask for legalization of marijuana, the government gives its opposing reasons, yet ask them why it was criminalized in the first place, and they may be hard-pressed to give a single clear explanation that doesn’t create an image of a fear-mongering government.