How the weed was won

This stuff will make you see hippos.

This stuff will make you see hippos.

Whatever your stance on Proposition 19, the history of marijuana and legalization has been a long, strange trip. A little while ago Capital Public Radio aired an interview with Julie Holland, author of the The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis.

In the interview, Holland touched on marijuana’s strange back story. For one, she said part of the initial federal crackdown on cannabis in 1937 was related to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. According to Holland, after Prohibition, federal agents needed jobs. Also, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was looking for a political platform, and Bogarted that joint, so to speak.

So did Hollywood, making a number of hide-the-kids morality movies about cannabis in the 1930s, notably Reefer Madness, though the movies have the unintended effect of making one want narcotics.

As part of that anti-cannabis campaign, marijuana was also alleged to fuel jazz-era hedonism (particularly by black jazz musicians) and to be smoked by Mexican migrants as the supposedly crazy-making “loco weed.”

Other random marijuana facts:

• Early slang for marijuana may have been a deliberate attempt to stigmatize the drug. Holland calls the word marijuana, or marihuna, a “slur” based on its Mexican Spanish origins. Pot is also based on a Mexican Spanish word.

George Washington, the first—ahem—POTUS, grew hemp, probably for agriculture, but given his bad teeth and spotting of hippos in the Potomac, maybe he hemped himself.

• Reflecting the knee-jerk fear marijuana can inspire, the word assassin comes from the Arabic word hashshishin, or “hash smokers,” a word first recorded by Shakespeare in Macbeth. The jury is still out on whether the Bard inhaled, though it might explain the Weird Sisters and their line: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

Compiled from Cull-de-Sac.