It may sound silly, but in an odd twist of cannabis history, the actual words “Loco Weed” appear in the state of California’s first attempt to ban cannabis. The law also protected the interests of the corn and pharmaceutical industries. While the legal semantics have gotten more professional through the decades, some things clearly haven’t changed.
According to Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the 1913 law was accidentally misworded. Instead of adding cannabis to Section 8 of the Pharmacy Board’s Poison Act restricting the sale of opium, cocaine and other narcotics, it took the curious form of an amendment to Section 8(a) that specifically outlawed the possession of “flowering tops and leaves, extracts, tinctures, or other narcotic preparations of hemp, or loco-weed, their preparations or compounds (except corn remedies containing not more than fifteen grains of the extract or fluid extract of hemp to the ounce, mixed with not less than five times its weight of salicylic acid combined with collodion).”
Gieringer, says this language effectively banned all medical uses of cannabis drugs, with the exception of corn remedies, which were exempted because they had negligible potency and were a popular, if medically dubious, application by proprietary drug manufacturers.
Although the law’s passage attracted little attention, the Board’s enforcement of it did. After agents launched a crackdown in a predominantly Mexican Los Angeles neighborhood, a 1914 Los Angeles Times account reported the eradication of two dream gardens” containing $500 worth of Indian hemp or “marihuana” (although no mention of “loco weed”). California NORML commemorated this historic event with a press conference on the steps of the Los Angeles City hall in 2014.
Gieringer notes, however, that the state never did much to actually enforce its medical marijuana ban until the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. After the initial crackdown, interest in recreational marihuana subsided. Ironically, it took until the 1920s, after marijuana had been outlawed, for it to start to become popular recreationally.