A review of the antecedents of restrictive public policies on narcotics and alcohol begins with the temperance movement and then describes State and Federal laws enacted prior to 1914, with particular attention to the Harrison Act which required that legitimate handlers of opiates register all transactions with the Government. State prohibitions on cannabis passed between 1914 and 1931 are then detailed. In this era, legislators assumed that cannabis was similar to opium or cocaine and was only used by the lower class and Mexican immigrants. Although public opinion remained uninformed about marijuana and use was slight, passage of the 1932 Uniform Narcotic Drug Act and the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act resulted in nationwide prohibition of marijuana. The development of these laws, their provisions, media coverage, and medical opinions available at the time are examined. Public interest in narcotic drugs first appeared in the 1950's, and congressional furor was aroused by Federal Bureau of Narcotics propaganda that marijuana use led to addiction to harder drugs. The discussion of legislation passed during the 1950's covers the trend to harsher penalties for all drug offenses and enforcement patterns. The fate of marijuana users in hostile courts between 1930 and 1965 is also considered. After 1965, the public began to question marijuana laws, middle class parents and children became familiar with the drug, and medical research finally initiated research into its effects. Judicial response to the increasing prosecutions for marijuana use between 1965 and 1970 are examined, along with the constitutional challenges to the marijuana laws. The pressures for legislative reform at both State and Federal levels are analyzed, using a recently enacted Virginia law to illustrate current legislative responses. The article concludes that marijuana laws are inconsistent with the cultural values that have emerged in the last decade and suggests statutory revisions to decriminalize marijuana use. A chart showing laws and penalties for marijuana offenses in each State is appended. Footnotes and a bibliography of over 70 citations are included.


Richard J. Bonnie & Charles H. Whitebread, The Forbidden Fruit and the Tree of Knowledge: An Inquiry into the Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition, 56 Virginia Law Review, 971–1203 (1970).