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Marijuana Law's U.S. History


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Since the earliest settlers, marijuana has long been a cash crop in the United States. Many people, however, don't know how it became illegal. This is a brief history of the infamous weed.

1619: The first American law pertaining to marijuana, passed by the Virginia Assembly, required every farmer to grow it. Fibers from hemp, which is much less potent than the smokable kind, were used to make ship sails and rope.

1900-1930: Sailors and West Indian immigrants smoked marijuana in port cities along the Gulf of Mexico. In New Orleans, newspaper articles associated the drug with jazz musicians, prostitutes and the underworld. Police officers in Texas said marijuana "aroused a lust for blood" and gave its users "super human strength."

1931: Twenty-nine states had outlawed marijuana, generally with little fanfare or debate.

1936, "REEFER MADNESS": This propaganda film, originally financed by a church group and made under the title "Tell Your Children," is about what happens when teens try marijuana: a hit-and-run accident, manslaughter, suicide, rape and even a descent into madness. Soon after the film was shot, however, exploitation filmmaker Dwain Esper purchased the film, cut in several salacious shots and repackaged it under its now famous title.

1937, FEDERAL GROWING BAN: The Marihuana Tax Act passed, prohibiting Cannabis sativa -- the genus for the species of plant designated by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 -- from being grown. The legislation did not criminalize the use or possession of pot, but required anyone looking to grow marijuana to seek a tax stamp from the government. Failing to pay the tax resulted in fines up to $2,000 and five years in prison. The bill sailed through Congress, and only three lines were written on its passage in the New York Times.

BIRDSEED BROUHAHA: The one group to balk at the marijuana-growing ban was birdseed makers. They used hemp seeds in their bird feed, and to this day, because of an exemption, they are allowed to use sterilized seeds.

BEFORE 2000: Drug agents became better at spotting hidden crops from helicopters and planes. They combed through national forests and wetlands, known to be a fertile ground for illegal marijuana. Wildfires scorched growers' lands and sent their crops up in smoke. Poachers were such a problem that mild-mannered farmers placed punji boards, planks with upward facing spikes, around their fields. Criminal organizations installed armed guards.

POST-2001, TOUGH TO SMUGGLE: Smugglers found their jobs more difficult after Sept. 11 when the government beefed up its border patrol. Seizures mounted to more than 1 million kilograms. So, growers packed up their plants and hauled them inside because it was a good way to avoid detection, and produce, in controlled conditions, a more profitable product.

2005: According to a White House survey, there were more than 25 million marijuana users in the United States.

-- Compiled by Seth Robbins with News Researcher Karen Duffy contributing

News Mod: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: The News-Journal (FL)
Contact: seth.robbins@news-jrnl.com
Copyright: 2007 News-Journal Corporation
Website: newsjournalonline.com
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