The history of cannabis prohibition is a complex tapestry woven with social, political, and cultural threads. Cannabis, used for centuries for its medicinal, recreational, and industrial properties, saw a shift in perception and legal status in the early 20th century, leading to widespread prohibition.
The early 1900s marked the beginning of cannabis prohibition in the United States, largely influenced by social and political factors. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 led to an influx of Mexican immigrants into the U.S., bringing with them the practice of smoking marijuana. This coincided with a period of rising xenophobia and racial prejudice, leading to negative perceptions of cannabis as a harmful substance associated with so-called “undesirable” groups.
In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established, with Harry Anslinger as its first commissioner. Anslinger played a pivotal role in demonizing cannabis, associating it with crime, mental illness, and moral decline. His efforts culminated in the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which effectively criminalized cannabis, imposing heavy taxes on its sale and possession.
This trend of prohibition was echoed globally, influenced in part by U.S. policy and international agreements like the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Over the following decades, cannabis was widely classified as a Schedule I substance, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
However, the late 20th and early 21st centuries have seen a gradual shift. The recognition of cannabis’ medicinal properties and the failure of the war on drugs have led many countries and U.S. states to decriminalize or legalize cannabis, marking a significant shift in the narrative of cannabis prohibition.
In summary, the history of cannabis prohibition is a testament to how social, political, and cultural dynamics can shape drug policy, often disconnected from the scientific understanding of the substance in question. The recent trend towards legalization and decriminalization reflects a more nuanced understanding of cannabis and its effects.

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