Why Did Cannabis Become Prohibited in the First Place?

Cannabis leaf and handcuffs
The history of cannabis prohibition is filled with bureaucratic betrayal, political scandal, corporate greed, and zero science.


Cannabis reform has been arguably the biggest public policy topic of this decade. Cannabis reform touches on law, social justice, economics, and a number of other areas in public policy.

You will be hard-pressed to find a public policy topic that is as dynamic as cannabis reform. A recent poll from April of this year found a record level of support for ending federal cannabis prohibition – 61%!

This record level of support is not surprising given cannabis’ ability to help treat a number of conditions, and the fact that cannabis is safer than many legal substances.

With so many obvious reasons to end cannabis prohibition in America, it begs the question, ‘why was cannabis ever prohibited in the first place?’

Racist origins

Harry Anslinger, the father of cannabis prohibition, was a well-known racist who built a career from outright lies.

Cannabis was legal in America for a long time. It was not uncommon for cannabis to be found in products that were in homes across America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Cannabis was a common ingredient in medicines that were widely distributed all over the country, and it was seen as being a safe substance to use.

That changed during the 1910’s and 1920’s when America saw an influx of immigrants from Mexico and the growing popularity of genres of music that were associated with minority communities.

Authorities were looking for a way to search, and/or detain and/or deport immigrants and people of color, and they found exactly what they were looking for via cannabis prohibition.

Harry Anslinger, the driving force behind federal cannabis prohibition in the 1930’s, was quoted as saying at the time, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., 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 Hearst and DuPont theory

Even today, corporations and entire industries benefit immensely from cannabis prohibition.

In his groundbreaking book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, legendary cannabis activist Jack Herer offered up the theory that cannabis prohibition was also driven by the financial interest of William Randolph Hearst and the DuPont company.

The theory certainly has some validity, as Hearst (newspapers made from timber) and DuPont (petrochemical products) definitely had a financial Continue reading “Why Did Cannabis Become Prohibited in the First Place?”