Although many places around the world are now starting to legalize the use of marijuana, there are still countless people who are vehemently opposed to its use and even demonstrate against its legalization. Yet with the glorification in popular culture of cannabis use and celebrities frequently flaunting their use of weed in public, the juxtaposition of this clash of cultures is more confusing than ever, especially since recent medical evidence has proven the many health benefits of marijuana. So, why is weed such a demonized substance, and where did this negative mindset come from?
Weeds Early Days
The term marijuana was barely in existence in the 17th century when the cultivation of hemp was widespread, and indeed was actively encouraged, with the plant being essential in the manufacture of fabrics and rope. By the 19th century, cannabis began to be used frequently in medicines, and in the west it began to be used for recreational purposes. The Hashish fad became common among upper and middle class society, with its use being considered as fashionable and exotic. New York City was just one place which boasted hundreds of hashish parlors for using the drug in public.
The 20th Century Turnaround
Most ordinary people remained unaware of marijuana until the first part of the 20th century at which time Mexican immigrants flooded into America, bringing their customs and culture with them including, of course, their use of marijuana. The drug became linked irrevocably with the new immigrants who were already unpopular following the 1898 Spanish American war, and this natural distaste for Mexicans was harnessed by those who were against use of cannabis. During the 1930s, the Great Depression set in and with unemployment on the rise, the fear of Mexican immigrants committing crimes and taking jobs was exploited by those who were against weed use, with the Federal Bureau of Narcotics going so far as to claim that marijuana actually made Mexicans more dangerous. It was unsurprising that public opinion was swayed against its use and it was then only a short step to pressurizing the government to do something about the perceived menace of the drug. Only a year after the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, cannabis had been made illegal across 29 states and when the movie Reefer Madness was released in 1936, panic became even more widespread. In 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act criminalized all unauthorized possession officially.
The Ups And Downs Of Cannabis
Throughout the 20th century, the laws surrounding marijuana use were under constant change. Legislation passed in the 50s demanded mandatory sentences for all crimes involving drugs, however in 1970 many of these were repealed after evidence showed that they had not worked in reducing drug use. During the 1960s, marijuana use became incredibly popular, especially among college educated white liberals. President Nixon used this to his advantage by instigating his “War On Drugs”. By persuading the public to connect marijuana with hippies and then criminalizing its use, he was able to vilify his enemies, raid their properties and arrest their leaders for his own benefit.
A Threat To Family Values
By the 1980s, interest groups and conservative parents expanded on the move against cannabis, coming from the angle that family values were being threatened since marijuana was only used by those who were considered to be deviants. Mandatory sentences were reinstated for crimes linked to drugs and harsher penalties were introduced under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. Repeat offenders were given life sentences and those who were believed to be kingpins could even face the death penalty.
These days, there is a dual attitude towards marijuana use. Many people are still holding on to the outdated views that it is a harmful and damaging drug, while others who are more enlightened have been swayed towards the positive health benefits that its use can bring. Medicinal cannabis is now a lucrative business, with many retailers expanding their product range to accommodate the demands of users, and increasing numbers of e-commerce companies (yes, you can buy weed online!) are setting up all the time. It seems likely that, as more benefits are recognized and as the medical community beings to advocate its use, its use will once more become mainstream and the public will begin to disassociate the drug from its negative connotations. However, those days may still be some way off, and for the moment, there is likely to be a split in the way that marijuana use is received by the public.