The History of Marijuana in the U.S.

Marijuana is a form of the cannabis plant that has a long history in the United States. As far as we know, humans have been using cannabis for thousands of years. While cannabis comes in many forms, the most popular types today are cannabis indica and cannabis sativa, which are used for marijuana.

Many marijuana lovers know plenty about weed already, but do you know the fascinating history of how it began in the United States? There is so much to know about weed. There’s where it came from, why it is even here in America, to begin with, and the journey to where we are now. There is even the story of why cannabis went from being a common household item to an illegal substance.

It has been a bumpy ride in the United States for cannabis. It’s gone from being a widely accepted means of healing to a controversial ‘drug.’ Come along with me on as we discuss this long history of marijuana adventures in the United States.

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    Where Did It All Start in America?

    Weed is one of the most popular used drugs in the United States despite not being legal for the last 75 years. It started off as legal in America, and many people were using it for medical purposes up until 1937. The first known arrival of cannabis in the Americas was in the mid-14th century when the Spaniards arrived.

    Considering the fact that hemp was one of the most popular cash crops in America for a good 150 years, this country wouldn’t be what it is today without it. In early America, hemp was almost running neck and neck with tobacco for exported cash crops.

    History shows that cannabis was grown in the state of Kentucky as early as 1776. As a fun fact, the Declaration of Independence was even prepared on hemp paper. It is said that Abraham Lincoln used hemp oil for his lamps at home and George Washington grew on his private stash of hemp and was knowledgeable about its medicinal abilities. Medical marijuana use grew rapidly, and hemp plantations were doing exceptionally well in the South.

    Cannabis became quite valuable in America due to hemp’s widespread use for just about anything you could think of. Clothes, rope, and textiles were even made using hemp, and in some part of the country, it was a form of currency.

    Why Is Hemp Important?

    Why Is Hemp Important
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    Hemp doesn’t take long to harvest at all, and in just four short months it can grow 10 to 20 feet tall. With having already been used as paper throughout history, continuing to cultivate this plant could greatly reduce the number of trees that get cut down every year. We can avoid destroying the soil and polluting our natural water sources. It is already light in color, and just one acre of hemp can mass produce four times the amount of paper made from one acre of trees. Plus to top it off hemp is far stronger and pure in comparison to wood.

    Medicine and Cannabis in the 18th Century

    Hemp has quite a long run; however, its popularity dwindled after the Civil War, and actual cannabis plant became the norm in American homes. Smoking pot turned into the trendy thing to do. In the 18th century, newer publications of American medical journals suggested hemp roots and seeds as a good way to treat venereal disease and issues with irritated skin.

    William O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor, was one of the people responsible for making marijuana popular in America. He raised awareness about marijuana’s ability to provide relief for rheumatism, rabies, tetanus, and cholera.

    19th Century Changes in Medicine

    19th Century Changes in Medicine
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    Changes in the way people saw weed took place towards the end of the 19th century as a result of a small percentage of Americans being addicted to morphine. Morphine was unknowingly added to patient medicines during that time. Due to this issue, the government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, which is where the Food and Drug Administration began.

    This is important because, after this, doctors were in charge of who was able to receive morphine and opium. This was the start of the how drugs were governed leading to a change in the American drug policy. The Pure Food and Drug Act enforced policies stating all medicines containing marijuana had to be labeled.

    In 1914, the Harrison Act regulated drug use by officially making it a crime. This act had a tax that controlled coca-based drugs and opium in such a way that it was able to maneuver around state legislation. It placed a heavy tax on the nonmedical use of drugs that superseded the price of the actual drugs while also ensuring every person who used the drug and didn’t pay the tax received punishment.

    Cannabis Medicine in the 20th Century

    During the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans entering the States popularized smoking dry cannabis which many of them brought to America on their own. At the same time, the Depression occurred, and many people began blaming marijuana for many of the day’s problems. The most substantial assault happened when the National Bureau of Narcotics led by Harry Anslinger was founded. America had become very vulnerable to sway in any particular direction because of The Great Depression. Plus, the uncertainty about people who had recently migrated to the U.S compounded fears.

    World War II was the exception to the rule, since the government gave tax waivers to anyone who was growing hemp to aid in the war, however much of the hemp was grown outside of the continental United States in territories like the Philippines. The government had large hemp farms to provide for naval rope requirements as well as make up for Asian hemp supplies owned by the Japanese. Outside of this, marijuana use and growing came with much stricter criminal charges and penalties.

    Tax on Marijuana

    In 1937, around 23 states prohibited the use of marijuana. Each state may have done this for different reasons, but generally speaking, it was to reduce the chances of morphine addicts finding a new addiction. In other cases, it was a way to show dissatisfaction with Mexican immigrants being in the country.

    Marijuana ceased to be a legal form of medicine as it once were before. The Marihuana Tax Act was established in 1937 by Harry Anslinger, with the intent to completely rid Americans of cannabis use, making it illegal in the United States. Harry Anslinger mainly targeted people of color such as African Americans and Hispanics. Because of this policy, anyone retaining hemp and cannabis was subject to heavy taxes.

    Tax on Marijuana
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    However, a small group of citizens were given permission to obtain and use marijuana. The birdseed industry believed that hemp seeds were instrumental in giving birds feathers a shiny glow, giving them the hemp stamp of approval. Even today, birdseed manufacturers are legally able to import hemp seeds that do not grow.

    The American Medical Association was entirely against this legislation. This group felt that marijuana serves a great purpose medically. Despite their efforts, the prohibitionist still succeeded in pushing their movement to ban cannabis. They used misleading and false information to accomplish this goal, making weed illegal for all Americans.

    The Marihuana Tax Act prevailed at stopping the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. You could no longer go to your local pharmacy and get marijuana. The pharmacies were forced to remove it due to the strictly enforced laws.

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      The Fight for Marijuana Continues

      Through the help of the government, many medical professionals still communicated the fact that marijuana was still beneficial. In an effort to disprove all the negative claims of cannabis being harmful, the New York Academy of Medicine (backed by New York City’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia) released their verdict.

      In 1941, this panel of professionals stated that people were making false claims about cannabis since they have found no evidence that it is addictive or a cause of other forms of drug abuse. Harry Anslinger was not happy with this at all and made every effort possible to get rid of this information.

      The Boggs Act in 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 began the process of legal action being taken against those who possessed marijuana. It introduced strict regulations for drug offenders and distributors.

      Marijuana for Medicine Temporarily Rebounds

      Marijuana for Medicine Temporarily Rebounds
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      Despite the legal pushbacks, the 1960’s experienced a surge in the recreational use of marijuana. Then, cancer patients began to claim that smoking weed reduced extreme nausea from chemotherapy. In the 1970’s Harvard researchers along with other studies were able to prove that marijuana is, in fact, useful in treating nausea.

      Increasing numbers of patients started reporting positive benefits from using marijuana to treat chronic pain, spinal injuries, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. During the 1970’s more than 35 states enacted laws that allowed medical marijuana research programs to exist. Eventually, all of these programs came to an end with the Reagan Administration, causing great difficulty for continuing proper medical marijuana research.

      Schedule 1 Drug

      In 1970 cannabis became a Schedule I drug with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act. This meant that marijuana was potentially dangerous, could lead to addiction and had no medical benefits. In order to use a schedule 1 drug, you would have to endure endless paperwork, and there was an extremely high chance of being denied by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. This process made it almost impossible for someone to use cannabis legally.

      President Nixon was involved in delegating the Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1971. Pennsylvania Governor William Shafer was at the head of this movement. However, President Nixon quickly rejected the group’s suggestion to void all laws forbidding mature adults from using cannabis.

      In 1972, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws made an appeal for the government to reclassify cannabis as Schedule 2 so that people can still obtain the curative properties of it. NORML ended up in a 20-year long lawsuit that they ended up losing. As a result, patients who could have benefited from marijuana had to find other options.

      Schedule 1 Drug
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      For Robert Randall, the weed Gods were on his side. In 1976, has was able to convince the government to give him marijuana for his glaucoma due to a new FDA code referred to as “Compassionate Use.” He had help from his medical doctor in presenting the case that of all the drugs he had access to, it was marijuana that helped him avoid vision loss. This worked favorably, and he won the lawsuit.

      Randall was given a free supply of marijuana from the government’s research farm locating in Mississippi. Over time, the number of patients who benefited from the Compassionate Use protocol increased. Physicians were tasked with very long gruesome paperwork to get this done. After the government experienced what they felt was too much of an influx of applicants due to a growing number of AIDS patients, they completely stopped any new patients from applying. A limited number of patients continue to receive cannabis from the government for illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, certain genetic diseases, and glaucoma.

      Patients fight back

      In 1982 more research was released by the National Academy of Sciences repeating the medical benefits of marijuana. Unfortunately, this landed on deaf ears with President Reagan since he had no interest in entertaining it.

      DEA administrative judge Francis Young made an attempt to open the doors for patients to have access to the curative properties of marijuana once again. In 1988, he testified that marijuana improves patient’s health stating, its benefits were “clear beyond question.” Without a shadow of a doubt, he believed it needed to be changed to a Schedule 2 drug. However, DEA chief John Lawn annulled this decision because he felt lowering it to Schedule 2 would give the wrong impression about marijuana’s dangers regardless of the fact that both cocaine and morphine were recognized as Schedule 2 drugs not long ago..

      In 1993, a federal appeals court eventually sustained the DEA ban after several years of legal schemes which is the reason why even now marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug. Despite it being banned, this has not stopped medical professionals and researchers from wanting to conduct studies on medical marijuana. The changes that occurred over the years and the AMA changing views did not prevent curiosity about this herb.

      California Legalizes Medical Marijuana

      California Legalizes Medical Marijuana
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      The California division of the AMA (CMA), voiced their desire for both scientific and legal studies to take place to create various rules for using medical marijuana. They weren’t the only ones making their points clear about legalizing prescription marijuana. Other organizations included The American College of Physicians, Consumer Reports Magazine, The American Psychiatric Association, The AIDS Life Lobby and The New England Journal of Medicine.

      An action to raise awareness of marijuana’s medical benefits was approved by California voters in 1996. The California Compassionate Use Act was passed to free patients who grew and were in possession of cannabis from any trouble with the law so long as its use was backed by a physician.

      California was the first state to start permitting marijuana and allow restricted medical marijuana legislation. In 2012 Colorado made its mark as the first state in the U.S. to make recreational marijuana use legal. Since then, many states have made advancements in legalizing cannabis. Altogether 29 states including DC have made marijuana legal for medical or recreational purposes. More states are following, as Americans reconsider how more people are benefitting from marijuana than people are being harmed by it.

      The Feds Push Back

      In response to the pushback from the people, the federal government with the help of Czar Barry McCaffrey made several efforts to condemn the movement and accused it of opposing the law. The government went so far as to use scare tactics warning they would arrest physicians who suggested marijuana to their patients. The federal court shut this activity down stating physicians are able to recommend marijuana and have protection due to the First Amendment.

      This didn’t stop the government from trying to destroy every attempt made to offer medical marijuana to patients. They immediately started targeting cannabis growers, dispensaries, and co-ops by sneak attacking them.

      In 1997, Drug Czar McCaffrey was responsible for authorizing the National Institute of Medicine (IOM) to study all evidence on the curative nature and risks of marijuana and any of its derivatives. As a result of this research, the IOM announced there was a possibility that cannabinoids could offer health benefits. According to the report, patients with appetite stimulation, anxiety reduction, nausea and severe pain would benefit the most.

      The Feds Push Back
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      In this report they did warn people that smoking weed could lead to respiratory problems; however, marijuana was still the one and only useful substitute that could help those who are suffering from chronic conditions. The IOM’s finding suggested the need for additional studies and clinical trials which incorporated non-smoking methods of use.

      This report did not do a thing to change the federal government’s stance on medical marijuana. They stood their ground and remained steadfast in rejecting all research presented on marijuana. But the government’s lack of support did little to stop the increased numbers of people interested in medical marijuana.

      After the passage of Prop. 215, medical marijuana laws were established in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Montana, Washington, New Mexico, Nevada, Hawaii, Vermont and Rhode Island. Even Canada experienced significant changes as their supreme court dismissed the laws on marijuana and forced the government to allow patients the right to use medical marijuana.

      Marijuana Today

      The United States government still refuses to acknowledge the potential benefits of marijuana including both recreational and medicinal use. The government maintains in the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that this substance is illegal.

      Angel Raich and Diane Monson, two patients living in California, stood before the U.S. Supreme Court and proclaimed their right to use and grow marijuana was untouchable by the government’s ability to control interstate commerce because of Prop. 215. However, their claims were dismissed entirely.

      Marijuana Today
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      Even though the federal ban on medical cannabis remained intact, this did not cause the court to intervene with laws set forth by the state. So as long as the patient resided in one of the 14 states, including D.C., with medical marijuana laws they had no threat of being prosecuted under state law. This, of course, does not include federal law.

      The DEA and Justice Department officials are unwavering in their decision to oppose helping patients and preferred to focus on what they considered bigger issues such as major drug trafficking. This meant that if patients are growing and possessing marijuana for personal use only, they should not have much to worry about in terms of harassment from the government. Patients just have to uphold their states medical marijuana laws and use discretion. The Obama administration deciding to adhere to state medical marijuana laws made it easier for patients since there was less of a chance that they would face any issues on the federal level.

      America: A Marijuana Friendly Country?

       A Marijuana Friendly Country
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      Thanks to Prop. 215, the changes over the last twenty years have led to an increase in recreational and medical use of marijuana. According to a 2002 Time Magazine report, 80% of Americans felt medical marijuana should be legal. To date, there are around 400,000 Americans who now consume legal cannabis for different purposes.

      With all the progress being made, there is a strong chance that America will see improvements in federal legislation which will give people full access to the health benefits medical cannabis offers.

      Despite all the strict policies in place, one thing that remained the same is the effects pot has on easing the mind and body. With California being the first state to make medical marijuana legal, several states have followed behind them. There is speculation that America also has an underground weed movement supplied by legal states in places where its use and cultivation is illegal.

      According to Los Angeles County district attorney Steve Cooley, there may be as many as 1,000 illegal marijuana shops in his district alone. This gives the Justice Department reason to target and prosecute those people who do not have proper marijuana prescriptions or aren’t following other applicable state laws. While America is growing more friendly towards marijuana, its citizens are not safe from legal action being taken against them, leaving many American pot smokers still in the danger zone.

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      Robert Bergman

      Robert Bergman is an Amsterdam-based marijuana grow expert who has years of experience from small grows to massive operations. His passion for growing lead him to develop his own Gold Leaf strain. Now, Robert is dedicated to sharing his knowledge with the world.... [Read full bio]


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        2 comments on “The History of Marijuana in the U.S.”

        1. It’s been a long journey achieving our goals , California is totally legal yay now you can grow legally pretty much. A question I just purchased the Indica mixed pack. Are there autoflowers in it,? Oh! Before I forget, I would love to try the brownie scout it sounds like something I love anyways you guys have a great time and on the brownie scout let me know what I need to do have a good day.