Abstract

During the first half of the twentieth century in the American West, Mexican and Mexican American farm workers grew and used Cannabis, the marijuana plant, to help navigate the physical, mental, and economic struggles they faced as exploited itinerant laborers. Their stories show that, while the capitalist framework of the agricultural landscape kept workers pinned to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, the landscape itself provided spaces where they could use traditional knowledge of Cannabis to climb that ladder, albeit illegally. The ensuing interactions between workers, plants, and the agricultural landscape gave birth to an illicit trade that remains culturally, economically, and environmentally relevant in the West today

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Notes

1.
“$60,000 Marijuana Confiscated and Alleged Wholesaler Arrested,”
Rocky Mountain News
, June 13, 1946;
“A father of ten children will be arraigned Thursday …”
Denver Post
, June 13, 1946, 4.
2.
“A father of ten children will be arraigned Thursday …”
;
“$60,000 Marijuana Confiscated and Alleged Wholesaler Arrested.”
On the growing conditions of
Cannabis
, see, Chris S. Duvall,
Cannabis
(
London
:
Reaktion Books
,
2015
),
31
; Robert C. Clarke and Mark Merlin,
Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany
(
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
, 2012), 31. For discussion of how the irrigated landscapes of the West attract many plants besides the ones they were built for, see, Mark Fiege,
Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West
(
Seattle
:
University of Washington Press
, 1999). In 1946, sugar beet growers could expect to earn an average of $13.50 per ton of their crop, while moments before he was arrested, Hernandez sold a pound of marijuana to a customer for $100; see,
“Sugar Beet Growers May Be Guaranteed $14.50 Ton in 1947,”
Farmers Weekly Review
, Nov. 11, 1946, 3; “$60,000 Marijuana Confiscated and Alleged Wholesaler Arrested.”
3.
“$60,000 Marijuana Confiscated and Alleged Wholesaler Arrested”
; The
Rocky Mountain News
reported $60,000 and The Denver Post reported $40,000;
United States v. Manuel Hernandez
(F., 10th Cir., Aug. 13,
1946
).
4. Benny J. Andrés, Jr.,
Power and Control in the Imperial Valley: Nature, Agribusiness, and Workers on the California Borderland, 1900–1940
(
College Station
:
Texas A&M University Press
,
2015
); Robert R. Crifasi,
A Land Made from Water: Appropriation and the Evolution of Colorado’s Landscape, Ditches, and Water Institutions
(
Boulder
:
University Press of Colorado
, 2015); Amanda Van Lanen,
“‘Where Dollars Grow on Trees’: The Promise and Reality of Irrigated Farming in Central Washington, 1890–1910,”
Agricultural History
88
(Summer
2014
):
388
406
; Earl Pomeroy,
The American Far West in the 20th Century
, ed. Richard W. Etulain (
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
2008
),
46
52
; Douglas Sackman,
Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden
(
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
, 2005); Mario Jimenez Sifuentez,
Of Forests and Fields: Mexican Labor in the Pacific Northwest
(
New Brunswick
:
Rutgers University Press
, 2016); Jennifer Bess,
“The New Egypt, Pima Cotton, and the Role of Native Wage Labor on the Cooperative Testing and Demonstration Farm, Sacaton, Arizona, 1907–1917,”
Agricultural History
88
(Fall
2014
):
491
516
; Cecilia M. Tsu,
Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Agriculture in California’s Santa Clara Valley
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
, 2013); Don Mitchell,
They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California
(
Athens
:
University of Georgia Press
, 2012); Linda Nash,
Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge
(
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
,
2006
),
96
102
; Ian Tyrrell,
True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform, 1860–1930
(
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
, 1999); Frank P. Barajas,
“Resistance, Radicalism, and Repression on the Oxnard Plain: The Social Context of the Betabelero Strike of 1933,”
Western Historical Quarterly
35
(Spring
2004
):
29
51
.
5. See Mark Fiege’s discussion of the hybrid agricultural landscape in
Irrigated Eden
,
42
80
; see, also, Linda Nash’s discussion of agricultural development inviting malaria-ridden mosquitoes in
Inescapable Ecologies
,
108
14
. John Brinckerhoff Jackson,
Discovering the Vernacular Landscape
(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
1984
),
149
50
.
6. Inna Punda, Dmitry Prikhodko, et al.,
“Agribusiness Handbook: Sugar Beet White Sugar,”
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (
2009
),
7
; Duvall,
Cannabis
,
27
28
; Clarke and Merlin,
Evolution and Ethnobotany
,
16
,
51
54
.
7. Jim Norris,
North for the Harvest: Mexican Workers, Growers, and the Sugar Beet Industry
(
St. Paul
:
Minnesota Historical Society Press
,
2009
),
7–8
,
19
22
; Kathleen Mapes,
Sweet Tyranny: Migrant Labor, Industrial Agriculture, and Imperial Politics
(
Urbana
:
University of Illinois Press
,
2009
),
4
; Leonard J. Arrington,
“Science, Government, and Enterprise in Economic Development,”
Agricultural History
41
(Jan.
1967
):
1
17
; Sierra Standish,
“Beet Borderland: Hispanic Workers, the Sugar Beet, and the Making of a Northern Colorado Landscape”
(MA thesis, Colorado State University, 2002). By 1900, Americans’ rate of sugar consumption was sixty pounds per capita and was increasing by 12 percent per year; see, Mapes,
Sweet Tyranny
,
15
16
. US Department of Agriculture,
“Field Crops and Vegetables,”
US Census of Agriculture
, Vol.
2
: General Report (
1945
),
443
; Paul S. Taylor,
“Hand Laborers in the Western Sugar Beet Industry,”
Agricultural History
41
(Jan.
1967
),
19
26
; Elizabeth S. Johnston,
“Wages, Employment Conditions, and Welfare of Sugar-Beet Laborers,”
Monthly Labor Review
46
, no.
2
(US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Feb. 1938), 324. For discussion of the development of irrigation in the West, see, Pomeroy,
The American Far West in the 20th Century
,
46
52
; David G. Gutiérrez,
Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity
(
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
, 1995), 41; Marc Reisner,
Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water
, rev. ed. (
New York
:
Penguin Books
,
1993
).
8. Cannabis speciation is still debated. Cannabis geneticist John McPartland argues that the varieties are not genetically different enough to be categorized as separate species; see, John M. McPartland and G. W. Guy,
“A question of rank: using DNA barcodes to classify Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica,”
Proceedings of the 24th Annual Symposium on the Cannabinoids
(
Research Triangle Park, NC
:
International Cannabinoid Research Society
,
2014
),
54
. Other scholars argue that the genus contains at least two species:
Cannabis sativa
(fiber and seed, hemp) and
Cannabis indica
(drug, marijuana); see, Duvall,
Cannabis
, 7, 21–28; Jason Sawler, et al.,
“The Genetic Structure of Marijuana and Hemp,”
PLOS One
(Aug. 26, 2015); and Karl W. Hillig, “Genetic Evidence for Speciation in Cannabis (Cannabaceae),”
Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution
52
(
2005
):
161
80
. Clarke and Merlin,
Cannabis
, 16, 51–54; Laura M. Borgelt, et al.,
“The Pharmacologic and Clinical Effects of Medical Cannabis,”
Pharmacotherapy
33
(Feb.,
2013
),
200
203
; Mitch Earlywine,
Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence
(
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
2002
),
124–25
,
186
25
; Sumner H. Burstein and Robert B. Zurier,
“Cannabinoids, Endocannabinoids, and Related Analogs in Inflammation,”
The AAPS Journal
11
(Mar.
2009
),
109
19
. The anti-inflammatory properties of
Cannabis
were well known in China, India, and Egypt before the rise of Western medicine, as discussed in Clarke and Merlin,
Evolution and Ethnobotany
,
242
,
245
46
.
9. Isaac Campos,
Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs
(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
2012
),
53
,
90
94
. An 1895 report from the territorial prison in Yuma, AZ, notes the punishment of two Mexican prisoners for
“smuggling marihuana inside walls”
(Arizona Sentinel
, Jan. 12, 1895); in 1897, prisoners working on a building in downtown Yuma tried to smuggle
“six two-ounce sacks of ‘mariguana’”
into the prison (Tombstone Prospector, Sept. 15, 1897); a 1909 article about a failed jailbreak notes,
“Indian hemp of cannabis indica which is in much favor with Mexican prisoners who call It ‘miriwana’”
(The Arizona Republican, June 17, 1909); an anti-Mexican editorial in 1919 described the murder of an American shopkeeper in Sonora:
“in June 1918, a Carranza soldier, in uniform, walked into the Pilares store. He was under the influence of marijuana, a weed of the Mexican desert that, when smoked, sends the smoker amuck”
(San
Antonio Evening News
, Sept. 17, 1919). For a discussion of white Americans’ attitudes toward Mexicans in the turn-of-the-century Southwest borderlands, see, Katherine Benton-Cohen,
Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands
(
Cambridge, MA
:
Harvard University Press
,
2009
),
83–92
,
106
109
,
183
86
. For the 1919 editorial, see, Kent Hunter,
“‘Diez-Y-Seis’ is Observed: Juarez and El Paso Stage Big Parades; Correspondent Reviews Old Cases,”
San Antonio Evening News
, Sept. 17, 1919, 7. W. W. Stockberger,
“Drug Plants under Cultivation,”
Farmers’ Bulletin
No.
663
, US Department of Agriculture (
1915
),
19
.
10. Pomeroy,
The American Far West in the 20th Century
,
48
49
.
11. The Pharmacopoeia of the United States (
Philadelphia
:
Lippincott, Grambo & Co.
,
1851
),
50
. For turn-of-the-century discussions about the medical application of Cannabis, see,
“Alcohol Must Go! Drugs That are Being Used as Stimulants. New York Druggists on the Subject—Habitual Users Grow Secretive as Regards Their Vice,”
Sausalito
(CA)
News
, Dec. 5, 1890; and A. A. Stevens,
Modern Materia Medica and Therapeutics
, 5th ed. (
Philadelphia
:
W. B. Saunders
,
1909
),
101
. For a discussion on the role of Progressive-Era politics in
Cannabis
prohibition, see, Richard J. Bonnie and Charles H. Whitebread,
The Marijuana Conviction: A History of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States
(
1974; reprint, New York
:
The Lindesmith Center
,
1999
),
48
49
; and Dale H. Gieringer,
“The Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California,”
Contemporary Drug Problems
26
(Summer
1999
):
237
88
. Nonmedical traffic in opium and cocaine was heavily restricted by the federal Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, but the drug industry lobbied for the exclusion of Cannabis in the new law.
12.
“Declares American Diplomacy is Laughing Stock of the World; Commends El Paso Herald’s Stand,”
El Paso Herald
, May 14,
1915
.
13. On the racist overtones of drug restrictions, see, Bonnie and Whitebread,
Marijuana Conviction
,
14
15
. See, also, the following reports:
“Grand Jury Recommends That Steps Be Taken To Stop Sale of Marihuana,”
El Paso Herald
, Oct. 4,
1913
;
“Hop and Dope Fiends Fast Being Recruited From Better Families: Juarez Has a Hellhole of Temptation,”
El Paso Herald
, June 15, 1912;
“Marihuana Sale Now Prohibited: Council Passes Emergency Ordinance to Stop Sale of Mexican Drug,”
El Paso Herald
, June 3, 1915;
“Marihuana Smokers Shut Off From Their ‘Makins,’”
El Paso Herald
, Sept. 13, 1917; and
“New Mexico State News,”
The Clovis News
, Sept. 27, 1917. On Denver, see, for example, the plea from a Colorado lawmaker to strengthen anti-Cannabis laws in 1927:
“Smuggling of Mexican Drug Into Pueblo Schools Charged—Representative Ray Talbot Exposes Sale and Use of Marihuana in Liquid Form in Speech in House, And Attributes Death of Youth to Traffic,”
The Denver Post
, Feb. 18, 1927, 21. See, also, Bonnie and Whitebread,
Marijuana Conviction
,
70
78
,
152
53
. For discussion of how Denver authorities used vagrancy laws to control the city’s Latino population, see James Walsh,
“Vagrancy Laws in Colorado History: Targeting and Removing Undesirables,”
Colorado Heritage
(Mar.–Apr.
2016
),
28
29
.
14. See Duvall,
Cannabis
,
91
92
,
162
64
; on the working class and landscape modification, see, Mart A. Stewart,
“Rice, Water, and Power: Landscapes of Domination and Resistance in the Lowcountry, 1790–1880,”
Environmental History Review
15
(Autumn
1991
):
47
64
; Michael V. Angrosino,
“Rum and Ganja: Indenture, Drug Foods, Labor Motivation, and the Evolution of the Modern Sugar Industry in Trinidad,”
in William Jankowiak and Daniel Bradburd, eds.,
Drugs, Labor, and Colonial Expansion
(
Tucson
:
University of Arizona Press
, 2003), 105; see also individual essays on coca,
Cannabis
, and khat by Stephen Hugh-Jones, James H. Mills and Axel Klein, and Susan Beckerleg, in
Consuming Habits: Global and Historical Perspectives on How Cultures Define Drugs
, eds. Jordan Goodman, Paul E. Lovejoy, and Andrew Sherrat, 2nd ed. (
London
:
Routledge
,
2007
),
46
64
,
178
93
,
238
54
. Mexicans and Mexican Americans were the largest group of
Cannabis-using
laborers in the West, but not the first. In 1895, for example, Syrian immigrants operated a hemp farm near Stockton, California that produced for themselves and for the local population of Southwest Asian immigrants
“large quantities of hashish”
; see,
The San Francisco Call
, June 24, 1895, 7; Gieringer,
“The Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California,”
7
8
. Paul Taylor notes that
“No aspect of labor management to keep costs down was too small to be overlooked by the beet industry,”
and mentions several instances of companies bringing in one group of immigrants to undercut the rising labor costs of another; Taylor also notes that
“Between 1891 and 1907 ‘white laborers’ were employed in a number of California beet-growing districts but ‘they never formed a large part of the force in any district’ …. The immigration Commission attributed their disappearance to the ‘disagreeable’ nature of the work”
; see, Taylor,
“Hand Laborers,”
22
23
. A member of the California Agricultural Legislative Committee argued in 1930 that
“American whites have been educated away from hard, physical labor, particularly common labor”
; see, Gutiérrez,
Walls and Mirrors
,
48
.
15. For a discussion of the various immigrant groups who worked beet fields in California, Colorado, and other states throughout the West, see, Taylor,
“Hand Laborers,”
21
22
, and Standish,
Beet Borderland
, 36. On the Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924, see, Michael E. Parrish,
Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920–1941
(
New York
:
W. W. Norton
,
1992
),
110
13
. On the displacement of workers in south Texas and Mexico, see, Norris,
North for the Harvest
,
27
29
; Gutiérrez,
Walls and Mirrors
, 44. For discussion of the sugar industry’s role in the debate surrounding the Immigration Act of 1924, see, Norris,
North for the Harvest
,
26
27
; and Mapes,
Sweet Tyranny
,
143
45
. For statistics on the Mexican-born population’s involvement in sugar beet and other industries of the Southwest, see, Gutiérrez,
Walls and Mirrors
,
45
; Taylor,
“Hand Laborers,”
22
23
.
16. Norris,
North for the Harvest
,
34
; Johnston,
“Wages, Employment Conditions, and Welfare of Sugar-Beet Laborers,”
325
28
; Standish,
Beet Borderland
,
26
. Arthur Sherman,
“Marijuana,”
Letter to the Editor,
Oakland Tribune
, Aug. 17,
1938
.
17.
“Have ‘New Booze,’”
Billings Gazette
, Oct. 7, 1926;
“Jags at Sidney Laid on Weeds,”
Billings Gazette
, Sept. 25, 1926;
“Rosebud Authorities Discover Marijuana,”
Billings Gazette
, Sept. 25, 1931, 6;
“Wyoming Officers Root Up Marijuana,”
Billings Gazette
, Aug. 8,
1935
,
7
.
18. Sherman,
“Marijuana.”
On violence and marijuana, see, Campos,
Home Grown
,
155
80
; on the role of Mexican marijuana folklore in US prohibition, see, Campos,
Home Grown
,
203
23
; on the succession of anti-marijuana laws enacted by states prior to federal prohibition in 1937, see, Bonnie and Whitebread,
Marijuana Conviction
,
32
52
. Depictions of marijuana and Mexican violence in the American press between 1900 and 1930 are almost too numerous to count; for several examples, see,
“Narcotic Weed Believed Cause of Fatal Shooting,”
The Denver Post
, Nov. 18, 1921;
“Slayer of Farm Hand Victim of Drug, Coroner’s Witnesses Aver,”
Bakersfield Californian
, Jan. 22, 1927;
“Mexican Slain In Salt Lake Warfare Over Narcotic Sale,”
Montana Standard
, Oct. 31, 1929;
“Police Blame Marihuana For Majority Of Murders and Sex Outrages in Valley; Belief That Lee Fernandez Was ‘Doped Up’ May Start Investigation of Narcotic,”
Alamosa (CO) Daily Courier
, Aug. 31,
1931
.
19. Norris,
North for the Harvest
,
23
26
; Johnston,
“Wages, Employment Conditions, and Welfare of Sugar-Beet Laborers,”
325
.
20. Lisa Knopp,
What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte
(
Columbia
:
University of Missouri Press
,
2012
),
203
204
; US Department of Labor, Children’s Bureau,
Child Labor and the Work of Mothers in the Beet Fields of Colorado and Michigan
, Bureau Publication no. 115 (
Washington, DC
:
Government Printing Office
, 1923); see, Standish,
Beet Borderland
,
50
.
21. Erik B. Oleson and Joseph F. Cheer,
“A Brain on Cannabinoids: The Role of Dopamine Release in Reward Seeking,”
Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine
2
(Aug. 2012); Earlywine,
Understanding Marijuana
,
192
.
22.
“Marijuana is Found on Mexican Worker,”
Las Animas Leader
, Oct. 13, 1937;
“Marijuana Good For Rheumatism, He Says But Police Doubtful,”
Yuma Morning Sun
, Aug. 1, 1925; Duvall,
Cannabis
,
91
92
.
23.
“Federal laws are necessary to get marijuana user,”
Las Vegas
(NM)
Daily Optic
, Feb. 16, 1934. By
“drink”
he is referring to a tea-like preparation of
Cannabis;
see,
“Mexican Confesses Growing Marijuana,”
Helena Independent
, Nov. 20, 1928; and Duvall,
Cannabis
,
41
43
. On the use of
Cannabis
to aid gastrointestinal problems, see, Angelo A. Izzo and Keith A. Sharkey,
“Cannabinoids and the Gut: New Developments and Emerging Concepts,”
Pharmacology & Therapeutics
126
(Apr. 2010), 29; Daniele De Filippis, et al.,
“Cannabidiol Reduces Intestinal Inflammation through the Control of Neuroimmune Axis,”
PLOS One
6
(Dec.
2011
).
24.
“Jury Frees Mexican in Marijuana Case,”
Greeley Tribune
, Feb. 19,
1958
,
2
.
25. Mapes,
Sweet Tyranny
,
143
50
; Gutiérrez,
Walls and Mirrors
,
46
51
; Standish,
Beet Borderland
,
70
75
.
26. Norris,
North for the Harvest
,
34
; Michael M. Smith,
“Beyond the Borderlands: Mexican Labor in the Central Plains, 1900–1930,”
Great Plains Quarterly
1
(Fall 1981), 245. For example, a carpenter in Denver, Colorado in
1927
1928
earned about $50 per forty-hour work week; if a beet worker found twenty weeks of carpentry work (nearly the entire beet offseason), he could earn about $1,000. See, US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Bulletin 604,
“History of Wages in the United States from Colonial Times to 1928”
(1934; reprint,
Detroit
:
Gale Research Company
,
1966
). The average net income reported by Americans in 1920 was $3,269.40; in 1925 it was $5,249.16. See, US Department of the Treasury,
Statistics of Income from Returns of Net Income for 1920
, Internal Revenue Service, 1922, 2; US Department of the Treasury,
Statistics of Income from Returns of Net Income for 1925
, Internal Revenue Service,
1927
,
2
.
27.
“Marijuana Ring Is Broken By Arrest of Five At Longmont,”
The Denver Post
, Nov. 24,
1933
,
28
.
28.
“Blanket Order In Drug Battle,”
Albuquerque Journal
, Aug. 8, 1925, 1;
“Marijuana Grove Seized at Wasco,”
Bakersfield Californian
, Nov. 8, 1923, 9;
“Yolo Marijuana Field Raided,”
Woodland Daily Democrat
, Sept. 7, 1934, 1;
“Officers Raid Two Marijuana Farms, Man Held,”
Woodland Daily Democrat
, July 19, 1933;
“Officers on Guard Against Smuggling Of Drug in Valley,”
Alamosa Daily Courier
, Sept. 4, 1936. The sixty reported cases of
Cannabis
cultivation resulted from a survey of newspaper reports conducted by author; for discussion of methodology, see, Nick Johnson,
“Mapping Cannabis Cultivation Across the American West, c. 1895–1950,”
Hempirical Evidence
, Mar. 8, 2015, http://hempiricalevidence.blogspot.com/2015/03/mapping-cannabis-cultivation-across.html (Accessed Apr. 17,
2017
).
29. “Officers Raid Two Marijuana Farms, Man Held”;
“Mexicans Ordered From U.S.—Brothers Escape Prison By Agreement,”
Woodland Daily Democrat
, Oct. 23, 1933, 1. This occurred in the context of ongoing deportation of Mexicans during the 1930s, when nearly 350,000 people of Mexican origin were expelled from the country; see, Brian Gatton and Emily Merchant,
“Immigration, Repatriation, and Deportation: The Mexican-Origin Population in the United States, 1920–1950,”
International Migration Review
47
, no.
4
(Winter
2013
).
30.
“Dope Raiders Jail 15 Colorado Suspects,”
The Denver Post
, Jan. 12, 1941, 1, 8. For similar cases on a smaller scale, see,
“Bail in Narcotic Case Is $1,000,”
Montana Standard
, Oct. 15, 1940;
“Marihuana Grower’s Bond Fixed at $2,000 By Justice A. Ford,”
Davis County
(UT)
Clipper
, June 18, 1937;
“Mountain Hunt Fails for Hidden Mystery Field of Marijuana; Tomas Refuses To Aid Search,”
San Mateo Times
, Sept. 20,
1939
,
11
.
31. For discussion on gardens and other features of the geography of slave resistance on cotton plantations, see, Stewart,
“Rice, Water, and Power,”
56
; and Stephanie Camp,
Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South
(
Chapel Hill
:
University of North Carolina Press
,
2004
).
32. On the counterculture and the marijuana trade, see, Jim Rendon,
Super Charged: How Outlaws, Hippies, and Scientists Reinvented Marijuana
(
Portland
:
Timber Press
,
2012
); Martin A. Lee,
Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical, Recreational, Scientific
(
New York
:
Scribner
,
2012
),
174
80
. On the effects of environmental change, see, Ray Raphael,
Cash Crop: An American Dream
(
Mendocino, CA
:
Ridge Times Press
,
1985
).