Criminalization is the process of making something or someone criminal. It starts with the formal process of making actions and behaviors illegal, and then it proceeds by observing, identifying, observing, capturing, and punishing people who commit those actions and behaviors.

Criminalization of cannabis/marijuana/hemp occurred throughout the 20th century in the United States.

In California and in the United States generally, cannabis went from a medical and recreational drug to a medical-only drug to a banned drug. The drug and its use and distribution were increasingly criminalized over this period of time.

First the Pure Food and Drug act of 1906 identified cannabis as a drug that required a prescription.

In 1907, California passed The Poison Act, with emendations in 1909, 1911, and 1913, which eventually made possession of “extracts, tinctures, or other narcotic preparations of hemp, or loco-weed, their preparations and compounds” a misdemeanor. It was corrected in 1915.

In 1914, one of the first cannabis drug raids in the nation occurred in the Mexican-American neighborhood of Sonoratown in Los Angeles, where police raided two “dream gardens” and confiscated a wagonload of cannabis.

In 1925, the International Opium Convention was an agreement that “Indian hemp” would not be exported to countries that banned it.

Shortly after came the U.S.’s proposed Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act (1925-1932), and the government encouraged states to adopt their own laws to regulate narcotics.

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed and sought to outlaw drugs.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made possession or transfer of marijuana illegal throughout the United States under federal law, excluding medical and industrial uses, through imposition of an excise tax on all sales of hemp.

In 1968 the United States Department of the Treasury subsidiary the Bureau of Narcotics, and the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare subsidiary the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control, merged to create the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs as a United States Department of Justice subsidiary.

In its 1969 Leary v. United States decision the U.S. Supreme Court held the Marijuana Tax Act to be unconstitutional, since it violated the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In response, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which repealed the Marijuana Tax Act. Although the new law did officially prohibit the use of cannabis for any purpose, it also eliminated mandatory minimum sentences and reduced simple possession of all drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Under the CSA cannabis was assigned a Schedule I classification, deemed to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use – thereby prohibiting even medical use of the drug.

In 1973 President Richard Nixon’s “Reorganization Plan Number Two” proposed the creation of a single federal agency to enforce federal drug laws and Congress accepted the proposal, as there was concern regarding the growing availability of drugs.

As a result, on July 1, 1973, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) merged to create the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

During the Reagan administration the Sentencing Reform Act provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 created the Sentencing Commission, which established mandatory sentencing guidelines.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 reinstated mandatory prison sentences, including large scale cannabis distribution.

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