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Texas marks 100 years of marijuana prohibition

An article from 1915 announcing the new El Paso city ordinance banning marijuana.
An article from 1915 announcing the new El Paso city ordinance banning marijuana.

June 3, 1915 marks the beginning of marijuana prohibition in Texas, and now 100 years later the cannabis plant remains illegal in the Lone Star State.

El Paso became the first city in the nation to outlaw the consumption of marijuana. At the time little was known about the plant, however rampant misinformation led people to believe that not only was it dangerous, but that it led white women to have sexual intercourse with minorities, and made people lust for blood.

A violent slaying blamed on the drug caused fear throughout the El Paso community in 1913 according to the El Paso Times. Two years later, the City Council passed an ordinance declaring marijuana, known in the early 1900s as marihuana, dangerous and making it illegal.

“El Paso is the first city in the country to take a stand against the traffic in marihuana, known to be the deadliest drug on the market,” stated an article published June 4, 1915, in the El Paso Morning Times. “Marihuana is known to create a lust for human blood in the users and some of the most atrocious crimes committed in the city and elsewhere have been attributed to these fiends.”

The path to the prohibition began Jan. 1, 1913, after a man who law enforcement claimed was high on marijuana killed a Juárez police officer and stabbed another as he chased an El Paso couple on the street, according to an article in the El Paso Morning Times.

The El Paso Morning Times reported that police said the man, who is referred to throughout the article as a “maniac,” had been smoking marijuana all day.

The ordinance, which went into effect June 14, 1915, made El Paso the first city in the nation to ban the drug, according to the El Paso Morning Times. Several states including California and Utah had already passed state laws criminalizing marijuana. Two decades later, the federal government also classified marijuana as an illegal and dangerous drug.

Today we have a lot more science, despite still having an abundance of propaganda. Knowledge is slowing winning over, and people are coming around to the idea that this non-toxic plant is at the very least, not as bad as legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Many have also begun to conclude that it does in fact have legitimate medical uses.

Despite four states plus the nation’s capital having legalized marijuana, with an additional 23 states recognizing medical recommendations, Texas remains a battleground where politicians still loudly proclaim that this plant is simply too dangerous, so much that even reductions in penalties for possession cannot be considered. That however did not stop 11 marijuana related bills from being introduced this legislative session.

One of those bills did manage to make it through, a CBD-only medical cannabis bill, though it is widely acknowledged that due to its language, no doctor can ever actually prescribe the substance because it is still federally illegal, and what could be dispensed would largely be ineffective due to its lack of THC content, the component which produces a high. Both CBD and THC are needed together in order to obtain the full medicinal benefits of the plant. Doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal merely recommend the plant, rather than prescribe it.

As Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed this bill into law recently, he made it clear that there would not be any reforming of marijuana laws so long as he is in office, which is until 2018 at the very least, meaning that there likely will be no changes made until 2019 at the earliest unless Texans speak out on the subject en masse.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

“I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes,” Abbott said. “As governor I will not allow it.”

United States Congressman Beto O’Rourke, a representative from El Paso, has taken a different tone on the matter, and has openly supported marijuana legalization. O’Rourke said the news articles focused on a man from Mexico committing the crime and the violence of drugs coming from Mexico, which he said he believes are still the same fears that fuel debates in Congress on legalizing marijuana.

Medical marijuana has definitely been a driving factor for progress around the country as people listen to the stories of how patients can and have benefited from the plant.

After the passing of the ordinance, El Paso physicians came out against it and spoke of the medical benefits of marijuana.

“It is stated by local physicians and druggists that marihuana has legitimate uses,” said an article published in June 1915 in the El Paso Herald. “It is put up by the foremost drug manufactures in the country and is frequently prescribed, as it is a sedative of value.”

The ordinance made it a felony crime for drug stores to sell marijuana.

O’Rourke said the signing of the bill by Abbott is a small step forward.

“I think it is a rational step in the right direction,” O’Rourke said. “I don’t think it moves far enough and if we are serious about being effective and efficient with taxpayer dollars, serious about keeping marijuana away from kids and if we are serious about focusing on other more significant threats, then we need to move forward with a more rational policy when it comes to marijuana.”

He added, “Let’s hope 100 years after El Paso’s decision (to ban marijuana), this country comes to its senses, does the rational, humane thing and regulates and controls the sale of marijuana — and turns its focus to more dangerous threats to this country.”

A recent Texas Tribune poll shows 76 percent of Texans want to see marijuana laws change.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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