|Photo: The Weed Street Journal
|Interestingly, the 1911 Massachusetts law specifically permitted medicinal use of cannabis with a prescription
Friday marks an unhappy anniversary in hemp history. On April 29, 1911, Massachusetts enacted the first state law making it illegal to sell or possess cannabis without a prescription, becoming the first U.S. state to institute marijuana prohibition.
Violators of the new law were subject to a $100 fine and up to six months in jail, and just being present in the same room with marijuana could get you three months, according to cannabis historian Dale Gieringer of California NORML
Ironically, marijuana was merely collateral damage of the Massachusetts law, which was aimed primarily at other “hypnotic” drugs such as opium, morphine and heroin. Abuse of opiate painkillers had become a concern among reformers and temperance advocates in the early 20th century, and cannabis was added to the list “for the sake of completeness,” since it was also a hypnotic palliative commonly found in pharmacies.
“This incidental decision would turn out to have far-reaching consequences, aptly illustrating the dangers of governmental misjudgment in matters of drug regulation,” Gieringer said.
Interestingly, the Massachusetts law specifically permitted medicinal use of cannabis with a prescription; the medical value of “Indian hemp” was widely acknowledged at the time.
“Only in 1937 was medical cannabis suppressed at the insistence of federal narcotics boss Harry Anslinger, whose last-century ‘Reefer Madness’ policy sadly remains with us today,” Gieringer said.