Did You Know Cannabis Lobbying Isn't New? Early 1900s Pharmacies Pushed To Sell 'Marijuana Cigarettes' For Fifty Cents

In their book “From Criminalizing to Decriminalizing Marijuana,” Nikolay Anguelov and Michael P. MacCarthy explain that the cannabis lobby in Congress serves to advocate for legalization, medical research and financial regulations. However, did you know that cannabis lobbying is not a new phenomenon?

In the late 19th century, laboratories and companies faced the looming threat of prohibition. The outcome, as we know, led to widespread criminalization, but who were the early champions of the cannabis lobby?

The Economic And Medical Landscape In The Early 1900s

Based on research from Anguelov and MacCarthy, in the early 1900s, cannabis was sold in pharmacies, typically in one-ounce packages, dried for smoking.

By the 1910s, the average marijuana cigarette was available at two for a dollar. As a medicinal product, it was used to treat ailments such as asthma, gonorrhea and childbirth-related pain.

American doctors and pharmacists prescribed marijuana for its pain-relieving properties, highlighting its medicinal value.

Political opposition to cannabis criminalization was vested with the economic interests of medical and pharmaceutical groups.

Progressive Northeastern reformers, for example, advocated for marijuana to be classified as a narcotic, which would enforce a “prescription for sale” requirement.

This meant marijuana would remain available in local pharmacies, albeit under stricter regulations. The goal was to balance public health concerns with economic interests.

Racism, Nativists And Progressives

By the early 20th century a fierce debate was underway between two significant ideological groups: nativists and progressives, which shaped drug policy. Nativists aimed to preserve what they saw as traditional American values by viewing immigrants, particularly non-Caucasian ones, as sources of foreign vices like recreational drug use, thus targeting them as morally inferior and harmful to society​.

In contrast, progressives sought to address the problems caused by industrialization and urbanization, advocating for social reforms to protect vulnerable populations from the temptations of vice and addiction, which led to stricter regulations

Racism played a significant role in the push for marijuana prohibition. The association of drug use with racial minorities provided a convenient scapegoat for societal ills, fueling the drive for stricter laws. Immigrants who used marijuana for non-medical issues were portrayed as threats to American society; similar attitudes prevailed among the medical aristocracy in Mexico as well as the U.S. These shared beliefs helped align prohibition narratives in both countries, creating a unified front against marijuana.

Early Champions Of Cannabis Lobbying

The early champions of cannabis lobbying included medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies who recognized the economic potential of maintaining access to cannabis.

Their efforts were rooted in the dual goals of preserving medical autonomy and ensuring economic benefits from the sale of cannabis-based products. This early lobbying laid the groundwork for the complex legal battles and regulatory frameworks that would follow.

Understanding the historical context of cannabis lobbying provides valuable insights into the current legislative landscape. The early 20th-century efforts to balance public health with economic interests continue to echo in today's debates over cannabis legalization and regulation.

The research by Anguelov and MacCarthy highlights the enduring influence of these early lobbying efforts and the ongoing struggle to define the role of cannabis in society.

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Early Prohibition Milestones

  • 1875: San Francisco passed the first anti-drug law in the U.S.,
  • targeting Chinese opium dens as a response to increasing anti-Chinese sentiment and the perceived moral threat they posed​.
  • 1914: The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was enacted, which regulated and taxed the production, importation and distribution of opiates and coca products. This act laid the foundation for future drug control policies in the U.S. by criminalizing non-medical use of these substances​.
  • 1929: Congress passed the Narcotic Farms Act, which was the first federal legislation to categorize marijuana on par with other illicit drugs, although it did not criminalize its use.
  • 1934: The Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act was developed by a committee including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). This act encouraged states to regulate and criminalize drug use uniformly across the country​.
  • 1937: The Marijuana Tax Act was passed, imposing strict regulations and taxes on the sale of cannabis. This act required sellers to obtain a tax stamp, which was nearly impossible to get, effectively making marijuana illegal. It banned the cultivation of cannabis by also requiring growers to purchase a tax stamp, which was never actually issued​.
  • Now read: $1 Trillion And 50 Years Later, Is The DEA's War On Drugs A Failure?

Photo: AI-Generated Image. 

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