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Unveiling the Origins of Marijuana Prohibition: Part 1 – Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst

While the failures of alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s are well-documented, there is another chapter in American history that often goes unexamined—the prohibition of marijuana. In the first installment of our series, we delve into the origins of marijuana prohibition, shedding light on the key figures responsible for the “Reefer Madness” era that gripped the nation nearly a century ago. This historical exploration serves as a foundation for understanding the complex evolution of cannabis laws and their impact today.

Harry Anslinger: The Moral Crusader with Prejudices

Harry Anslinger emerged as one of the principal architects of marijuana prohibition during the 1930s. He portrayed himself as a moral crusader on a mission to protect America from the perceived scourge of marijuana. However, Anslinger’s stance on marijuana was deeply rooted in racial prejudice and xenophobia. To evoke a sense of foreignness and “otherness” for the drug, he promoted the term “marijuana” over its prior name, cannabis.

Anslinger’s efforts culminated in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively criminalized marijuana at the federal level across the United States. While Anslinger played a pivotal role in marijuana prohibition, another influential figure contributed to the negative portrayal of the drug.

William Randolph Hearst: Media Mogul and Propagandist

William Randolph Hearst, renowned for his sensationalized journalism, held significant sway in the media landscape during the prohibition era. His vested interests lay in maintaining low marijuana production due to his ties to the timber industry. Hemp, a close relative of the cannabis plant, had the potential to disrupt his paper production business, and he sought to prevent its growth.

Hearst embarked on a campaign to vilify marijuana, blaming Mexicans for its usage and disseminating false accounts of its effects. His newspapers propagated stories of insanity, a complete lack of inhibitions, brain deterioration, reefer madness, and even violent tendencies—all fabricated claims that enriched him and furthered his agenda.

Corporate Interests in Marijuana Prohibition

Anslinger and Hearst found support in their efforts from corporate entities with vested interests. Dupont, a major chemical company, aimed to prevent hemp from becoming a competitor to its nylon invention. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies sought to maintain dominance in the pain relief market without competition from marijuana-based products.

These interconnected interests and prejudices converged to create a climate conducive to the prohibition of marijuana in the United States.


The origins of marijuana prohibition in the United States are rooted in a complex web of racial prejudices, corporate interests, and sensationalized journalism. Figures like Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst played pivotal roles in shaping the public perception of marijuana, ultimately leading to federal prohibition in 1937.

While Colorado has emerged as a trailblazer in ending marijuana prohibition, the historical context underscores the importance of seeking legal counsel when facing marijuana-related offenses, such as DUI. In the upcoming installments of our series, we will further explore the ramifications of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and the subsequent evolution of cannabis laws in the United States. Suppose you find yourself in legal predicaments related to marijuana. In that case, the experienced legal team at Thomas & Ahnell, LLC, is ready to provide expert guidance and support tailored to your specific needs.

Do you have further questions or concerns? Call us or contact the attorneys at Thomas & Ahnell, LLC, and we will be happy to help.

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