October Marks Eightieth Anniversary of Cannabis Prohibition

The feds have had their paws on the cannabis plant for more than eighty years.
The feds have had their paws on the cannabis plant for more than eighty years.
The federal government hasn't been very cool about this whole marijuana thing for a while now, but have you ever wondered how long these squares have been at war with the plant? Sunday, October 1, marked the eightieth anniversary of House Bill 6385: the Marihuana Tax Act becoming law, allowing federal penalties to be levied against the possession, production and sale of cannabis.

The law forced anyone dealing or producing marijuana to pay excise and sales taxes, as well as to register and record their dealings with the federal government. That registry was virtually unavailable to the public, however, with only a handful of people registered by 1967, as reported by President Lyndon. B Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, October 1, 1937, was the beginning of the end of legal marijuana in America, and the first tangible proof came in Colorado. The day after it was enacted, on October 2, 1937, Denver's Samuel R. Caldwell was arrested for selling Moses Baca two joints, making them some of the first felons under the new federal law.

“The ongoing enforcement of marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of color,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri says in a statement noting the anniversary. “It makes no sense from a public-health perspective, a fiscal perspective or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco.”

In recent years, Colorado has chosen to defy federal prohibitions against cannabis. Residents voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2000 with the passage of Amendment 20, and approved recreational marijuana twelve years later with Amendment 64.

For an in-depth history of the state's relationship with the plant, see former Stoner William Breathes's feature "The History of Cannabis in Colorado...or How the State Went to Pot," as well as a decade's worth of Colorado cannabis coverage in the Westword archives.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell