Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico's War on Drugs

Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico's War on Drugs

Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico's War on Drugs

Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico's War on Drugs


Historian Isaac Campos combines wide-ranging archival research with the latest scholarship on the social and cultural dimensions of drug-related behavior in this telling of marijuana's remarkable history in Mexico. Introduced in the sixteenth century by the Spanish, cannabis came to Mexico as an industrial fiber and symbol of European empire. But, Campos demonstrates, as it gradually spread to indigenous pharmacopoeias, then prisons and soldiers' barracks, it took on both a Mexican name--marijuana--and identity as a quintessentially "Mexican" drug. A century ago, Mexicans believed that marijuana could instantly trigger madness and violence in its users, and the drug was outlawed nationwide in 1920.
Home Grown thus traces the deep roots of the antidrug ideology and prohibitionist policies that anchor the drug-war violence that engulfs Mexico today. Campos also counters the standard narrative of modern drug wars, which casts global drug prohibition as a sort of informal American cultural colonization. Instead, he argues, Mexican ideas were the foundation for notions of "reefer madness" in the United States. This book is an indispensible guide for anyone who hopes to understand the deep and complex origins of marijuana's controversial place in North American history.


This story begins with a little-known Spaniard who, in the sixteenth century, introduced a plant called cannabis to the Americas. It ends with Mexico’s prohibition of that plant, by then called “marihuana,” in 1920. There is a lot of ground to cover in between. Thus, I would like to begin, by way of introduction, with a brief outline of the plot.

Around the year 1530, a conquistador named Pedro Quadrado left his small village near Seville and traveled to the New World. After actively participating in the ongoing conquest of Mexico, Quadrado received a coveted encomienda, or royal tribute and labor grant, to undertake the cultivation of cannabis there. He thus became the first person to cultivate this species in the Americas. That, anyway, is what he himself claimed, and probably with justification, for it was not until June 1545 that the Spanish Crown first ordered its subjects to sow cannabis in the New World. For the Spanish, cannabis was first and foremost a fiber plant. They called it cáñamo. Tall, green, and gangly, of round seeds and “abominable smell,” this was an extraordinarily common cultivar whose strong fibers, or hemp, made clothing, rope, and the broad and sturdy sails that powered the greatest sea-borne empire the world had ever known. Thus began the long journey of cannabis through Mexican history, one that would eventually see its meaning and identity radically transformed.

The first signs of that transformation appeared in the 1770s. By then, cannabis had found its way into local medical-religious practice, and its seeds and leaves were sold by herb dealers under the name pipiltzintzintlis, or “the most noble princes.” Though still cherished by Spanish officials as an industrial fiber, there were growing rumors that, for Indians, it also facilitated visions, communion with the devil, and sometimes madness. Prohibitionist edicts briefly raised the profile of these noble princes, but the name pipiltzintzintlis would soon fade into obscurity, as would (temporarily) the drug use of cannabis in Mexico.

A new generation of nationalist botanists would rediscover cannabis drugs during the 1850s. These men become interested in cataloging Mexico’s “indigenous” natural wonders, and in the process they noted that “certain Mexicans” had begun smoking the stuff. The word pipiltzintzintlis was no longer in use, but two other local designations, both of which helped to reinforce the plant’s apparent indigeneity, had emerged: rosa maría and mariguana.

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