Everyone knows that there has always been a stigma to marijuana and its users. Not too many years ago, it was even considered a taboo to speak openly about the herb. Although times have changed and the world has become slightly more liberated and accepting of cannabis, the stigma seems to still follow it around in many parts of the world. But where did that stigma originate?

Well, the answer is actually quite simple. It all started with one man who is largely responsible for the negative way many still view the plant. His name is Harry Anslinger and he was the first appointed commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics which was the foundation for the modern day DEA.

Harry, and elitist and power seeker, had fairly neutral views on cannabis until after he was appointed in his rile at the FBN. Since the majority of his work focused on heroine and cocaine, drugs that had been outlawed decades before he came into power, he realized that it wasn’t enough for him since the drugs weren’t used by many. Instead of sitting back and enjoying his role, he created what was known as the “devil weed”; or more aptly he created the stigma that would get cannabis banned thus creating a more powerful role at the FBN.

Having read a handful of articles of crazed or violent behavior after cannabis use, he latched onto those stories to incite fear and portray the plant as a dangerous drug. Some of the tales he had latched onto in order to form his own narrative were later disproved, but the damage had already been done.

To further his narrative, he also created a racial aspect to the use of cannabis. Firstly he claimed that the majority of users were black and hispanic. Instead of referring to the plant as cannabis, its scientific name he began calling the plant ‘marihuana’ because it was a Spanish word that was more likely to be associated with Mexicans. He also claimed that certain musicians and artists used the drug in order to create “satanic” music, creating even more of a stigma around users of the drug. According to him the drug also influenced white women to seek sexual encounters with black and hispanic men.

In the 1930’s when Anslinger first began stigmatizing cannabis, racist rhetoric was an incredibly powerful weapon. His attitude towards marijuana soon became the norm and Americans all over began to fall in line with his point of view. Users of the drug were seen as lesser humans; deplorables if you may.

Although the legalization of cannabis has made huge strides towards eliminating these stigmas, there’s still a lot of work to be done.