Master's Theses

Document Type


Date of Award

Winter 2018

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Dr. Kim Perez


Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act on August 2, 1937, which officially made it illegal to handle any form of Cannabis sativa L. without adhering to mandatory taxes and registration forms. The American cultivation of industrial hemp (fibrous, non-psychoactive C. sativa L.), became non-existent by 1958 due to the strict penalties associated with the 1937 Tax Act. Industrial hemp served as a staple of American life from the arrival of the first English colonists in North America up until the textile conquest of King Cotton in the early-nineteenth century. Despite the rise of cotton and the importation of cheap foreign fibers like manila, jute, and sisal, American hemp still proved useful, especially in times of war. What ultimately dealt the final blow to the U.S. hemp industry was the resurgence of American nativism in the early-twentieth century. This thesis examines how powerful bureaucrats and businessmen used nativist rhetoric to alter the American public’s perception of cannabis over the first half of the 1900s. Nativists feared that internal foreign threats would cause the collapse of the U.S. by spreading immorality throughout the country and corrupting the values of “native” Americans (typically, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Capitalizing on these fears, Harry J. Anslinger and his Federal Bureau of Narcotics emphasized the growing dangers of immigrants and minorities who supposedly became violent after consuming “marihuana.” The lack of scientific information on cannabis during the 1930s allowed Anslinger to include hemp in the Marihuana Tax Act, thereby transforming industrial hemp into a casualty of mass hysteria.


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