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While cannabis has been used medicinally for centuries, it was only at the beginning of the 20th century that it became a target for regulation and thus a topic in the media. Not coincidentally, cannabis prohibition followed the emancipation of African Americans from traditional forms of slavery.

Cannabis prohibition, like all drug prohibition, began as one of a series of state laws designed to control former slaves (and other poor minorities) via “legitimate” legal punishment. The success of these new laws (in this capacity) and acceptance by the public depended largely on images of cannabis being used by Mexican immigrants, African Americans and poor white laborers, combined with claims that cannabis exaggerated their already murderous and psychotic behavior. Quotes such as “all Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff (marijuana) is what makes them crazy” were commonplace in newspapers and served as ample justification for harsh regulations. In the South, cannabis was connected to “boogiemen” (black musicians) and subversive “others” and blamed for the seduction of white women.  In 1934, a widely circulated editorial reported, “Marijuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.”

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