On this day in 1917 Colorado's legislature passed a bill that criminalized marijuana. The act passed on this date stated:
An act to declare unlawful the planting, cultivating, harvesting, drying, curing, or preparation for sale or gift of cannabis sativa, and to provide a penalty therefore.The bill was in part inspired by the civil war in Mexico. It was being asserted that Pancho Villa funded his Division del Norte in part through the sale of cannabis. Whether this is true or not, marijuana was not unknown by any means in Mexico and it shows up even in music of the period at least to the extent that it features in the Mexican Revolution ballad La Cucaracha. The bill was introduced in Colorado by a Hispanic legislator from one of Colorado's southern counties which were and are predominately Hispanic in culture and where there was strong desire to disassociate themselves from Mexican refugees, including any assertion that they might approve of the use of the drug.
Section 1. Any person who shall grow or use cannabis sativa (also known as cannabis indica, Indian hemp and marijuana) that he has grown shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be punished by a fine of not less than ten nor more than one hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail not more than thirty days, or by both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court.
Colorado was not the first state to address marijuana statutorily. At least California (1907), Massachusetts (1911), New York (1914), Maine (1914), and Wyoming (1915) had. Colorado was one of the states that enacted the prohibition of alcohol by that time and therefore not acting on marijuana would have been odd under the circumstances. It had already been addressed by Federal law to some extent at that time.
There's a certain irony in this, I suppose, in that Colorado is now a pioneer in a national movement that has seen several states decriminalize marijuana, although the irony would be diminished if the entire matter is considered in the context of its times. It remains subject to Federal penalties, something that has seemingly been lost in the discussion of this topic, and there is no sign that this will change any time soon. The Federal government, however, seems to have basically stopped enforcing the law on the Federal level for the time being, although that could change at any moment.
Circling back to Colorado, while often not noted in the discussion on this, Denver Colorado has provided a big test of the impact of the change in the law, and not in a good way. Almost any casual observer who is familiar with Denver over time has noted the impact of the change and Denver, which has had a fairly large homeless population for decades now has a larger, but rather weedy one. Open begging downtown for cash for marijuana is now common, and encounters with stoned younger people who are part of a marijuana culture will occur at some point if a person spends any time downtown at all. All of this is the type of discussion that does not tend to occur, for some reason, in discussions over the monetary impacts of the change or on the degree to which the substance itself is dangerous or how dangerous it is.