California’s ban on weed is 100 years old this month. And it’s an open question how much longer it’ll last.
It’s been exactly a century since the state enacted a law banning what was then known as loco-weed, according to the Contra Costa Times. Massachusetts was the first state to prohibit pot, in 1911, but California was the first Western state to follow suit.
Dale Gieringer, California coordinator for NORML, told the Times loco-weed was added to the state’s Poison Act on Aug. 10, 1913.
“They began launching raids,” said Gieringer, a pot historian. “Law enforcement would pose as addicts who needed a fix but didn’t have a doctor’s note, then arrest the druggist.”
Marijuana has a long history in the United States, during most of which it was perfectly legal. It’s believed the colonists who settled Jamestown, Va., in the early 1600s were ordered to grow hemp. For a time it was even legal tender. George Washington grew it at Mount Vernon, and Thomas Jefferson planted it at Monticello.
Cannabis was first used as a medical agent in 1839, and was sold in pharmacies across the country starting in the 1850s. Early regulations appeared around the same time, including labeling rules and prescription requirements.
But it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the prohibition scare took hold and states began banning weed. California was one of the first when it added marijuana to the Poison Act and made possession of “extracts, tinctures, or other narcotic preparations of hemp, or loco-weed, their preparations and compounds” a misdemeanor. Prior to this law, there was no evidence of any societal problems caused by cannabis.
The anti-marijuana movement continued, until more states prohibited pot and the federal government became involved. First a church group released a terrible movie titled “Tell Your Children” (better known now as “Reefer Madness”) that claimed weed turns teenagers into psychotic killers.
Around the same time, the federal government enacted the first nationwide ban on cannabis. From that point on, pot would be illegal everywhere in the United States until the first medical marijuana law – in California – passed in 1996.
That initiative, approved by voters, opened the door to medical marijuana in other states, a number that now stands at 20. And two of those, Washington and Colorado, went a step further last year and legalized pot completely.
California shares many of the libertarian traits of those Western states, so it remains to be seen what will happen to weed law in the future. Federal and local governments have clamped down on dispensaries throughout the state, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a successful legalization campaign.
A similar ballot measure was defeated in 2010, but advocates plan to try again in 2016. Recent polls suggest most Californians want to see pot legalized.
“We should respect Americans’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Gieringer told the Times. “This is a country where people are free to do what they want in their private lives – use alcohol, cigarettes, guns, do all sorts of bizarre sex practices.”