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The nation's first marijuana raid likely happened in Los Angeles




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The "marihuana" hysteria depicted in this 1935 flier came decades after the first arrests and raids.
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Photo by Mark/eggrole via Flickr Creative Commons


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As California and the rest of the nation ponder how government should handle marijuana, an important anniversary came and went recently: 100 years ago this month, the nation's very first marijuana raid took place here in Los Angeles.

In 1914 not many Angelenos had heard of marijuana and probably even fewer were aware the state of California outlawed cannabis just the year before. 

When the Los Angeles Times reported a raid on two “dream gardens” on September 10, 1914, they had to explain exactly what this drug was to its readers.

This article was dug up from the newspaper's archives by Dale Gieringer, Director of California NORML, an organization that lobbies for marijuana legalization. He organized a press conference on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on the 100th anniversary of what was likely the nation's first marijuana raid.

"We’re actually here to celebrate, or commemorate, the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first known marijuana bust, which happened here in the then-Mexican district of Sonoratown of Los Angeles, on New High Street, not that far from City Hall," says Gieringer.

"Hardly anybody had heard of marijuana outside of the Mexican community when this happened. In fact, the law did not even mention marijuana. The law mentioned 'Indian hemp.' Marijuana is a Mexican word that specifically refers to cigarettes of cannabis," says Gieringer. "That had not been the way cannabis was usually used prior to then in California."

Marijuana was outlawed the year before the first raid. And according to Gieringer, it doesn’t seem like anyone really noticed.

"They did it very quietly in a technical amendment, and that was not reported anywhere in the press — that happened in 1913. The first arrests though were actually here in Los Angeles. And this is the first time you see marijuana on the front page," says Gieringer. "They had to explain what it is."

Even though few seemed to be using marijuana as a recreational drug at the time, it got swept up in the beginnings of the temperance movement.

A 1913 amendment to an earlier law called The Poison Act made possession of “extracts, tinctures, or other narcotic preparations of hemp or loco-weed” a misdemeanor. A year later, Inspector Roy Jones of the State Board of Pharmacy confiscated a $500 “wagonload” of Indian hemp from two “dream gardens” in downtown Los Angeles.

Inspector Jones explained to Los Angeles Times readers what it might feel like to smoke marijuana, saying “one cigarette of the stuff puts one in a dreamy state of beatitude.”

"And of course, the entirety of the public experience and awareness and use of marijuana came after the law that was intended to prevent it," says Gieringer.