Throughout its history, the plant has been a prime scapegoat for everything from financial strife to criminalizing immigrants and people of color. But this wasn’t always the case. In the colonial days, hemp was widely grown for hundreds of years — even encouraged by the government. It was used for textiles, foods, medicine, paper, and more.
In the early 1900s, as Mexican immigration flourished, so did the recreational use of cannabis. People were wary of the newcomers and had special economic interests in suppressing hemp production, especially as more affordable textiles became available. By the 1920s, anti-drug groups began associating the term “marijuana” with the plant to stir anti-immigrant sentiment.
The Great Depression exacerbated those problems, and by 1936, the now cult classic Reefer Madness was released to horrified parents. In 1937, Harry Anslinger led the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and wrote the Marijuana Tax Act. This increased taxes on hemp, included possession penalties, and fueled further restrictions and mandatory sentencing in the 1950s.
By the late 1900s, these early moments of division and turmoil created the perfect storm. As negative public perception grew, it set the stage for the infamous War on Drugs.
Toward the turn of the century, Dennis Peron and the LGBTQ community largely helped fuel a turn in policy. Peron was a vocal proponent of medical cannabis use to help patients during the AIDS epidemic. In 1996, California passed Prop 215, which allowed the medical use of cannabis within the state.