The Harlotization of a Dame Named Mary Jane (गांजा)

In honor of the upcoming 4/20 holiday and the unfortunate passing of Jack Herer. I decided to explore the origins of Cannabis, its illegalization and the beloved subculture holiday that celebrates it all.

“The use of Cannabis been found to have occurred as long ago as the third millennium B.C. In modern times, the drug has been used for recreational, religious or spiritual, and medicinal purposes. The United Nations (UN) estimated that in 2004 about 4% of the world’s adult population (162 million people) use cannabis annually, and about 0.6% (22.5 million) use it on a daily basis.”


Baby Jane.

Cannabis is indigenous to Central and South Asia. Charred cannabis seeds have been found in a ritual brazier at an ancient burial site in present day Romania.Cannabis is also known to have been used by the ancient Hindus and Nihang Sikhs of India and Nepal thousands of years ago.”

The psychoactive properties were first discovered by the Aryans who introduced the plant to  the Scythians and Thracians/Dacians, “whose shamans (the kapnobatai—”those who walk on smoke/clouds”) burned cannabis flowers to induce a state of trance.”

“Cannabis has an ancient history of ritual use and is found in pharmacological cults around the world. Hemp seeds discovered by archaeologists at Pazyryk suggest early ceremonial practices like eating by the Scythians occurred during the 5th to 2nd century B.C.”

One writer has claimed that cannabis was used as a religious sacrament by ancient Jews and early Christians.

Coming to America…

In the United States the plant was well known from the early 1600’s, but did not reach public awareness as a recreational drug until the early 1900’s.

“America’s first marijuana law was enacted at Jamestown Colony, Virginia in 1619. It was a law ‘ordering’ all farmers to grow Indian hempseed. There were several other ‘must grow’ laws over the next 200 years (you could be jailed for not growing hemp during times of shortage in Virginia between 1763 and 1767), and during most of that time, hemp was legal tender (you could even pay your taxes with hemp — try that today!) Hemp was such a critical crop for a number of purposes (including essential war requirements – rope, etc.) that the government went out of its way to encourage growth.”

“The United States Census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp ‘plantations’ (minimum 2,000-acre farm) growing cannabis hemp for cloth, canvas and even the cordage used for baling cotton.”

Abraham Lincoln, one of the many American politicians known for past use of cannabis, has been quoted saying:

“Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica.”

Although it wasn’t known as marijuana in those days (“Marijuana” is a Chicano slang name for “hemp” and wasn’t brought into use, as propaganda, in the United States until the 1900s.), Hemp was a common commodity.



Menacing Mexicans?

I was watching a documentary some time ago on the History channel about the illegalization of marijuana and I was surprised to find out that the disdain of Mexican immigrants was one of the driving forces behind the crusade against hemp.

“In the early 1900s, the western states developed significant tensions regarding the influx of Mexican-Americans. The revolution in Mexico in 1910 spilled over the border, with General Pershing’s army clashing with bandit Pancho Villa. Later in that decade, bad feelings developed between the small farmer and the large farms that used cheaper Mexican labor. Then, the depression came and increased tensions, as jobs and welfare resources became scarce.”

“One of the ‘differences’ seized upon during this time was the fact that many Mexicans smoked marijuana and had brought the plant with them, and it was through this that California apparently passed the first state marijuana law, outlawing “preparations of hemp, or loco weed.”

A legislator commented:

When some beet field peon takes a few traces of this stuff… he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico, so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.

In Texas, a senator said on the floor of the Senate:

“All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff [marijuana] is what makes them crazy.”

This allowed Mexicans to be racially profiled and harassed by local law enforcement.

Mormon Mayhem!

The outlawing of marijuana was also driven by mormon usage. Mormons who traveled to Mexico in 1910 came back to Salt Lake City with marijuana. “The church’s reaction to this may have contributed to the state’s marijuana law.”

After Montana, “other states quickly followed suit with marijuana prohibition laws, including Wyoming (1915), Texas (1919), Iowa (1923), Nevada (1923), Oregon (1923), Washington (1923), Arkansas (1923), and Nebraska (1927).”

And All That Jazz…

On the eastern front, the scapegoats were Latin Americans and black jazz musicians.

“Marijuana and jazz traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where marijuana became an indispensable part of the music scene, even entering the language of the black hits of the time (Louis Armstrong’s “Muggles”, Cab Calloway’s That Funny Reefer Man”, Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag”).”

Again racism was a common factor as newspapers in 1934 editorialized:

“Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”


Will You Mary Me?

Forbidden Love Affair.

It’s said that human beings always tend to want what they can’t have. Well a man by the name of Harry J. Anslinger made sure that marijuana would always be our guilty pleasure; our misunderstood mistress.

Anslinger headed the freshly constructed Bureau of Narcotics and came to a conclusion that cracking down opiates and cocaine yield little results. So along with DuPont and various pharmaceutical companies he turned his attention to marijuana.

“Dupont had patented nylon, and wanted hemp removed as competition. The pharmaceutical companies could neither identify nor standardize cannabis dosages, and besides, with cannabis, folks could grow their own medicine and not have to purchase it from large companies.”

“Anslinger immediately drew upon the themes of racism and violence to draw national attention to the problem he wanted to create.” He demonization was successful; Jane was outlawed, forced to underground and so were her lovers.

The Big Day.

In 1971 a group of  San Rafael High School students met in front the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 p.m. to smoke pot and search for an unguarded stash of cannabis rumored to be growing near Point Reyes.

The group never found the stash but they did give birth to the drug culture ritual 4/20… and smoked a lot of dope while doing so.

The Honeymoon.

Since then “4/20 has evolved into a counterculture holiday, where people gather to celebrate and consume cannabis.” Frequent users have adopted a more authentic approach by using  cannabis not only on 4/20 but at the actually time of day (4:20 p.m.). 4/20 is observed by many countries including the United States, Canada & New Zealand.

“Attempts to decriminalize cannabis in the United States began in the 1970s. The decriminalization movement supports efforts ranging from reducing penalties for cannabis-related offenses to removing all penalties related to cannabis, including sale and cultivation.”

Despite right-wing opposal Marijuana has worked its way into mainstream culture. From Cheech & Chong to Dr. Dre‘s The Chronic and most recently Pineapple Express. Forms of decriminalization can be found in 11 of the 50 states.

I leave you with the cult classic Reefer Madness: