The southern states of Mexico include Chiapas, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Morelos, Tabasco, Guerrero, Michoacan, Veracruz and Oaxaca. Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo profit from tourism, while the rest of the southern states, because of vast tracts of arable land, depend upon agriculture for their economic health. For the most part, the people of this region are hardworking and poor, despite the fact that they live on some of the most fertile land in the world.
Corn is the primary crop grown in the drier regions. The regions with more water grow avocados, citrus fruits, coffee and melons. In the years leading up to World War I, enterprising individuals in the southern states of Mexico recognized a simple economic truth: they could make more money growing a more desirable crop. Marijuana.
Marijuana originated in southern and central Asia. It arrived in North America with the influx of Chinese migrant workers, who were hired by the railroad companies as common laborers. The workers not only brought marijuana with them, but opium, too. Like most immigrants, the Chinese established enclaves, Chinese communities inside the larger cities in which they resided. These enclaves were called Chinatowns. Each Chinatown had its own rules, customs and system of government. Outsiders traveled to Chinatown to obtain opium. Once there, the outsiders were introduced to marijuana, which was readily available.
At first, marijuana was not popular with Americans, who preferred opium. Besides, marijuana had a bad reputation; supposedly, it made users lazy. This reputation resulted in certain parts of Canada and the United States passing laws restricting its use. However, these laws were not rigidly enforced. In fact, for the most part, authorities simply looked the other way. Then in 1875, opium was outlawed in San Francisco for its corrupting influence.
Among non-white ethnic groups, the use of marijuana became more and more popular. Mexican immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution entered the U.S., bringing their habitual use of marijuana with them. And of course, the Chinese immigrants used marijuana extensively as did many African-Americans in the southern cities of the U.S. To most Americans, marijuana use was indicative of the lower classes.
During the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover established the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which later became the Drug Enforcement Agency. So-called recreational drugs were becoming more of a problem. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was Hoover’s response to what he believed to be an insidious disaster looming just over the horizon. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was Harry Anslinger, who was a hard-core reactionary. Anslinger ran the Bureau with an iron hand and wanted draconian laws enacted against drug users. To this end, Anslinger supported a bill called the Marihuana* Tax Act. The bill imposed a tax on the sale of marijuana. Violation of the law carried a fine of $2000 or five years in prison. Legal sale or possession of marijuana required the purchase of a Marihuana Tax Stamp from the state government. Purchasing a Tax Stamp was next to impossible. Anyone making application for a Tax Stamp was viewed as a potential criminal and could undergo criminal investigation.
*The government preferred the spelling ‘Marihuana’ over ‘Marijuana.’