LA national supplement about la bruja marihuana that appeared in the <em>Seattle Daily Times</em>, 1928.
A national supplement about la bruja marihuana that appeared in the Seattle Daily Times, 1928. Courtesy of historylink.org.

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The first known reference to cannabis in a Seattle newspaper was published on March 16, 1913, in a Seattle Daily Times story with the clickbaity title: "Evil Mexican Plants That Drive You Insane."

"The revolution in Mexico has brought with it not only the ravages of war, but also the degradation of the social conditions of soldiers and prisoners," the story begins. "One of the latest forms of dissipation in the ranks of federals and rebels alike is the habit of smoking marihuana, a deadly native plant of Mexico." The story claims that prisoners of war in Belem smoke weed, get headaches, and fall into "terrors" as "troops of ferocious wild animals march before the vision of the smoker" before he is "attacked by hosts of devils and monsters of unheard-of shapes." Users are then "possessed of superhuman strength" before going "wildly insane" and killing people.

As noted in this week's back-to-school pot column, Seattle and western Washington have been cannabis-friendly for decades before the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2013. In 2003, Seattle voted to make marijuana possession the city's "lowest law-enforcement priority." Hempfest, which now attracts hundreds of thousands of attendees, was founded in 1991. In 1968, a citizens' committee on crime organized by the state attorney general recommended liberalizing pot laws (as well as abortion laws).

Clearly, we weren't always that weed-happy—in fact, Washington outlawed marijuana in 1923, nine years before the US Congress passed the Uniform Narcotics Drug Act.

On Sept 1, 1923, a story in the Daily Times—which later changed its name to the Seattle Times—reports the state's first cannabis bust under the new law: "Charged with violating the state antinarcotic law by having in their possession marijuana, a Mexican narcotic herb, Mr. and Mrs. John Kraft were arrested last night in the Idaho Hotel by Patrolmen N.P. Anderson and H.B. Williams and taken to the city jail." Alan Stein, staff historian at historylink.org, found the story and said the Idaho Hotel used to stand at 5th and Jackson.

This 1913 Seattle Times article is the first known mention of marijuana in a local newspaper.
This 1913 Seattle Daily Times article is the first known mention of marijuana in a local newspaper. Courtesy of historylink.org.

The early articles ethnicized the drug as Mexican—and when actual Mexicans were involved, the prose, as Stein put it, got "purple." (Stein also wishes the old Seattle P-I archives were easier to access. "That was a Hearst paper," he laughed. "Their old propaganda would've been even crazier.")

Here's the lede from a 1927 Daily Times article: "Liquid Castilian and staccato Mexican patois crackled and sparkled in the court of Presiding Judge Malcolm Douglas yesterday afternoon when eleven Mexicans were arraigned on charges of possession and sale of narcotics, an aftermath of the recent raids by federal agents by marijuana peddlers 'below the line.'"

First, let's take a moment to savor the old-timey overwriting in the phrase: "liquid Castilian and staccato Mexican patois." Second, what's "the line"?

In the early 1900s, Stein explained, proponents of an "open town" policy—notably Mayor Hi Gill and Times publisher Alden Blethen—thought the city should tolerate "vice" but corral it south of Yesler, which became known as "the dead line."

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Subsequent Blethens tended to take a dim view of recreational marijuana. In 2003, the Times editorial board called Initiative 75, which makes cannabis the city's lowest law-enforcement priority, "a dopey idea." (Voters passed it by a 58 percent majority; pot arrests, prosecutions, and jail sentences dropped 67 percent over the following year.)

But in 2012, 99 years after the "Evil Mexican Plants That Drive You Insane" headline, the Times editorial board completed its 180-degree turn and supported legalization and regulation.

"If marijuana killed people, or if smoking it made people commit violence and mayhem, prohibition might be worth all its bad effects," the editorial board wrote. "But marijuana does not kill people; there is no lethal dose. Marijuana befuddles the mind and stimulates the appetite, but it does not make people commit arson and brigandage."

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