Omaha Defense Lawyer: How US Marijuana Attitudes Have Changed (Part 1)

As a seasoned Omaha defense lawyer, Daniel Stockmann has seen a major cultural and legal shift in how marijuana cases are addressed. While it seems like the wheels of change have been turning slow, it’s important to recognize that these changes are spurred by public attitudes about the leafy green substance. Moreover, public attitude has been greatly influenced by a number of things, from false propaganda to misinformation. In order to understand why the country got where it is today, you’ll have to go back to the start. Part one of this two-part series on our Omaha defense lawyer blog explores how the stage was set for marijuana prohibition.

1700s and Prior: Hump Products Were a Mainstay

Cannabis grown for its durability and functional uses, which subsequently happens to have low THC, is referred to as hemp. Before cotton became the primary crop for fabrics, hemp was used for virtually everything, from creating clothing to the manufacturing of ships. It has been confirmed that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it, and that John Adams supported the use of hemp as a cash crop. Other claims, such as Ben Franklin using hemp to make paper, early drafts of the constitution being drafted on hemp paper, and Betsy Ross’ first flag being made with hemp have not been proven, but there is an air of believability to the stories because they’re historically plausible. Because the cannabis plants were grown specifically for utilitarian purposes, and were low in THC, it’s unlikely anyone at the time was actively smoking or ingesting it, but cannabis plants were very much a part of daily life.

1800s: Medicinal MJ Emerged

Eli Whitney’s short-staple cotton gin was patented in 1793, though not validated until 1807, and Fones McCarthy’s long-staple cotton gin was patented in 1840. These devices made cotton separation a much simpler task, exponentially increasing cotton production over a period of decades and replacing hemp in many applications. However, cannabis also began being used for medicinal purposes at about this time. Although it has a rich medicinal history throughout the world, some of the first uses in the US come from a psychiatrist’s reports in the 1840s indicating that “marijuana suppressed headaches, increased appetites, and aided people to sleep.” By 1850, an official annual publication dedicated to setting standards for medications, known as the United States Pharmacopeia, listed marijuana as a treatment for more than a dozen issues, ranging from opioid addiction through cholera, dysentery, gout, and excessive menstrual bleeding. Even the Lancet, a notable medical journal, covered how it could help opioid addicts cope with withdrawal.

Early 1900s: Recreational MJ Boomed & Prohibition Began

The Mexican Revolution, which ran from 1910-1920, caused a major influx of Mexican immigrants to the US, bringing recreational marijuana with them. Like many other groups before them, the Mexicans were blamed for an uptick in crime, but there’s no evidence to suggest crimes actually increased. However, the newcomers were often given treatment similar to what the Native Americans experienced; young students were often “Americanized,” immigrants were stripped of their culture, and racial stereotypes began emanating about the so-called “lesser class,” and because the Mexicans were linked with the marijuana they brought, the leafy green substance soon became associated with bad behavior and illegal activity. While Mexican Americans often took jobs in farming and mining, jobs dried up during the great depression. Not only did hostility toward the immigrants grow, but the US government actually “began a program of repatriating immigrants to Mexico.” Many were offered free train tickets to leave the country, while others were tricked and coerced into leaving, some merely suspected of being Mexican, with no actual proof. This further solidified marijuana as being associated with “undesirable” people. We obviously know better now, but at the time, this was a typical mindset for many Americans. The racism didn’t end there, though. Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration, constantly called for outlawing marijuana using blatant racist remarks. “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,” he said.

With all this going on in the background, the US also began an era of prohibition, both as it related to alcohol and marijuana. From 1911-1933, 29 states criminalized cannabis. After a long campaign to ban alcohol, the US eventually created an amendment to prohibit the sale and manufacture of it, which remained in effect from 1920-1933. Yet, while the federal, and later state, bans on alcohol slowly diminished, campaigns against marijuana continued. William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul, began running outlandish stories which linked marijuana to violent behavior. His articles are now typically seen as propaganda used to eliminate hemp paper as a threat to his financial interests in the paper and lumber industries, but at the time, people very much believed them. The New York Times published odd stories as well, including coverage of mothers and children who had been driven mad by the plant. “A widow and her four children have been driven insane by eating the Marihuana plant, according to doctors, who say that there is no hope of saving the children’s lives and that the mother will be insane for the rest of her life,” the 1927 article read. The film “Reefer Madness,” which dramatized marijuana as an addictive substance used by drug dealers to hook innocent teens and turned them into sex-crazed murderers, was released in 1936. It was yet another nail in the coffin of public opinion on marijuana. In 1937, The Marihuana Tax Act passed, despite opposition from the American Medical Association. While the law didn’t outright ban marijuana at a federal level, it only permitted it for specific medicinal and industrial uses, with heavy taxation, of course. The first arrest was made by the FBI and Colorado police on the very day the law passed.

If you’re interested to learn more about how public policy was shaped and see what caused the changes or nation is seeing today, pop back in for the second part later this month.

Retain an Experienced Omaha Defense Lawyer

Omaha defense lawyer Daniel Stockmann dedicates his firm to helping those accused of marijuana-related crimes. His keen eye for details and personalized strategies result in successful outcomes in court, and often stop cases before they get that far. If you or a loved one is battling a legal issue, get an Omaha defense lawyer with a proven track record on your side. Call (844) 906-0641 or complete the form on this page to schedule your free consultation with Mr. Stockmann today.