Police in California launched their first-ever raid on the marijuana industry 100 years ago in September.
As the San Francisco Weekly observed, Inspector Joy Jones, who worked for the State Board of Pharmacy, busted two small cannabis gardens in Los Angeles in September 1914. It’s believed to be the first marijuana raid in California history – and one of the first in the country.
California first banned cannabis, also known at the time as “Indian hemp” and “loco-weed,” in 1913. It joined a growing number of states that sought to crack down on the drug starting in the early 1910s.
The driving force behind the raids, like the motivation for bans and busts elsewhere, was racism. The two gardens that Jones raided were found in Sonoratown, a “Mexican colony” in L.A.
Pot was usually associated with Latinos in those days, especially the Mexican immigrant communities that lived near the border. Authorities claimed the drug gave smokers “pleasant sensations and hallucinations [that] sometimes lead to murder.”
Weed sold for $1 an ounce at the time, and the L.A. Times reported it was “much used” by Latinos. White people used it too, of course, but they weren’t much targeted at the time.
The raid marked the start of the drug war in California. It’s not certain it was the first such raid, but there are no reports of earlier cannabis busts. And the raid came just months after the drug was banned in the state.
Things got much worse for tokers as time passed. The first laws against weed were relatively loose. It was still allowed in patent medicines, for example, and they were easy to get.
But once the drug was banned, it quickly became the most popular illegal recreational substance in the country. Its underground status made it a staple of the Jazz Age.
California weed arrests started to climb into the triple digits in that era. The feds joined the state in 1937, when they passed the Marihuana Tax Act and banned all cannabis anywhere in the country.
The war on drugs got progressively worse until the Nixon administration pushed through the Controlled Substances Act. That law lists marijuana as an especially dangerous, addictive, and useless drug, along with heroin and ecstasy.
Most states, including California, use similar laws to ban marijuana for recreational use. Many other states also prohibit medical pot. But the state is likely to change that and legalize weed in 2016.