You Won't Believe Which State Banned Cannabis First


Though it seems hard to believe today, considering they've pioneered much of the decriminalization of marijuana in the United States, California was the first state to make possession of weed a crime! In 1907, the Poison Act was passed, making possession of "extracts, tinctures or other narcotic preparations of hemp, or locoweed, their preparations and compounds" a misdemeanor. However, there's no evidence to suggest that medicinal marijuana was intended to be outlawed by the state—and, in fact, a 1915 amendment to the Poison Act clarified that Californians were forbidden to possess Cannabis sativa without a prescription. These bills were both drafted and supported in state legislature by the California State Board of Pharmacy.

Sonoratown, a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, was the victim of the first cannabis-related drug raid in California. In 1914, police raided two grow gardens and confiscated "a wagon load of cannabis." By the mid-1920s, prohibitive laws had only grown stronger, transforming illegal sale from a misdemeanor into a maximum of six years behind bars. The laws only worsened by 1927, now a part of the umbrella laws created to target opium usage and distribution.

By 1932, over half of all narcotics arrests in Los Angeles involved cannabis in some way, and by 1954 possession was hiked up to a minimum of one to 10 years in prison, while distribution was punishable by five to 15 years—with a mandatory three years before parole eligibility. If you'd incurred two prior felonies, distribution constituted a third, and you would be sentenced to life in prison.

During the 1950s and '60s, however, marijuana's popularity was on the rise. The beatnik and hippie cultures were fond of experimenting with narcotics, and the ease with which cannabis could be produced and distributed made it a popular choice among the youth of the era. In 1964, Lowell Eggemeier of San Francisco was arrested for possession, and his lawyer established the first legalization group in the United States: LEMAR, or Legalize Marijuana.

Finally, in 1975, state legislature passed Senate Bill 95, the Moscone Act. It made possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor, punishable by a $100 fine. It wasn't the end of criminalized marijuana, but it was a step in the right direction—much like Proposition 36, passed in 2000, which required first and second offense drug violators be sent to a treatment program instead of incarcerated.

In September of 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law State Senate Bill 1449, which reduced the charge of possession of one ounce or less to an infraction, not unlike a traffic violation. This removed the possibility of an appearance in court or a criminal record for possession of marijuana, and changed the fine to a maximum of $100, rather than a flat $100.

Then, in 2016, Proposition 64 passed in a 57% vote, legalizing the sale, distribution and possession of cannabis for recreational use. Now, adult Californians are allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, and can grow up to six live plants in their own homes.

It's been a long, crazy ride for weed in California, despite how blue the state's roots run—but, in the end, sanity prevailed, and now every adult in the state can feel free to smoke to their heart's content... as long as it's under one ounce at a time, of course.


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