Where it Began:California, Opiates, and the Poison Act of 1907

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The negative reputation that surrounds Cannabis has been consistent in America for as long as anyone can remember. The inaccurate comparison of Cannabis to schedule one narcotics, has only impeded the reform of Cannabis law. Even with the constant research regarding Cannabis, this reputation is still quite prevalent today. But where did this anti-Cannabis culture stem from?

We can trace a lot of this culture back to the state of California in the late 19th to early 20th century, where at this time, California was “pioneering one of the nation’s earliest, most aggressive anti-narcotics campaigns.” (Dale Gieringer,2) It began in 1875, when the first anti-narcotic law of the United States was implemented by San Francisco. The law was created to address the growing issue of opium dens, however its establishment had to do with the rising anti-Chinese sentiment within the U.S., and was therefore made national law by 1881.

The combination of racism and lack of information which caused this prohibition of opiates is the same formula which gave rise to the prohibition of Cannabis. Furthermore, it is actually due to the prohibition of narcotics such as opiates and amphetamines which caused Cannabis to be prohibited in the U.S. At this time, most of the Cannabis within the U.S. was either being imported from India, or was being grown by immigrants on U.S. soil. Due to this, as well as the oriental aspect granted to opium, the racist correlation between minorities and narcotics began to thrive.

There was little concern towards Cannabis consumption in the U.S. because of the overshadowing opium issue, but as concerns for opium began to rise, legislations began to tack-on Cannabis prohibition laws. “Most likely they (anti-Cannabis laws) were included for the sake of logical completeness, rather than out of any public concern.” (Dale Gieringer,7).  By 1907, the Poison Act had been passed throughout the state of California, outlawing consumption or sale of cocaine and opiates without a prescription. By 1913, Cannabis was added to this list of narcotics, however it was not recreationally prohibited nationally until the implementation of The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act officially stated Cannabis as a full blown illegal drug.

There is some irony to be found in the fact that opiates were the foundation for the prohibition of Cannabis, considering Marijuana is now being used to combat opioid addictions; And there is even more irony found in the fact that one of the first states to prohibit the consumption of Cannabis, was also one of the first to advocate for its legalization. From this we can see that the history of Cannabis in the United States greatly reflects the overall issues of racism and narcotics regulations that are still two majors issues of our society today.

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