The history of cannabis in America has been fraught with criminal penalties, government-sanctioned production, and a whirlwind of other contradictory laws at the federal and state level.
In This Article
First Mentions of Marijuana in History
The history of marijuana dates to the earliest human contact, around 12,000 years ago in central Asia. According to the history of weed, cannabis seeds were discovered in the remains of migrating nomadic peoples. Archaeologists have uncovered paraphernalia relating to marijuana dating to the first millennium BC throughout Assyria, Africa, India, and china.
The history of weed can be found throughout the medicinal cannabis records of China, Egypt, and Greece. Herodotus mentions the use of medicinal marijuana in Ancient Greece. Galen, Dioscorides, and Pliny the Elder mention the use of medical marijuana throughout Ancient Rome.
Throughout the 19th century, when Western Physicians came into contact with Indian and Muslim cultures, they found the use of medical marijuana widely practiced. Many Western Physicians brought cannabis back to Europe for medicinal use. But the history of cannabis in the United States can be broken down into the original agricultural account involving hemp and the introduction of recreational marijuana around the same time in the 19th century.
Classical Records of the Medicinal and Psychoactive Properties of Cannabis
Throughout the history of cannabis, researchers have found classical records referring to the medicinal and psychoactive properties of cannabis.
- In the book of Exodus, the original Hebrew version indicates marijuana as one ingredient in holy anointing oil.
- Ancient Egyptians treated inflammation with marijuana.
- The ancient Chinese identified over 100 uses for medical marijuana. The Chinese emperor Fu Hsi stated that cannabis was a popular medicine in the year 2900 BC.
- Ancient Indians, around 1,000 BC, would mix marijuana with milk or other ingredients as an antithetic or anti-phlegmatic. It was purportedly used to cure fevers, dysentery, or leprosy. Cannabis was also used to improve sleep and improve cognition. In Indian culture, cannabis has many spiritual ties. Ancient Hindu scriptures state that the cannabis plant originated from a drop of heavenly nectar that fell to the sky. That drop led to the growth of the cannabis plant. Throughout the scriptures, cannabis was referred to as an anxiety treatment. It was stated that the Hindu god Shiva took refuge under a cannabis plant once, following a family fight, and consumed the leaves.
- Ancient Greeks used cannabis to treat swelling and earaches. Herodotus discusses the smoking of marijuana for recreational purposes and to improve emotional or spiritual health.
- Ancient Romans boiled cannabis roots for pain management and arthritis treatment.
- Ancient Arabian cultures used cannabis to treat migraines and syphilis, and general pain management.
- English cultures use medicinal marijuana for joint pain, sleep problems, rheumatism, and cramps.
The History Of Marijuana In The US
The history of cannabis in the United States dates back to the Colonial era. It wasn’t used medicinally or for recreational purposes at this time, but it was still a government-sanctioned crop. Colonists regularly grew the cannabis plant for economic purposes.
- The 1600s: The cannabis history timeline begins in the United States with the production of the cannabis plant or hemp plant encouraged by the government. Hemp was used for clothing manufacturing and the production of rope and sails for boats. Virginia passed a law in 1619 requiring every farmer in the Virginian Colony to grow hemp. It was so popular that hemp was a legitimate form of currency in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
- The 1800s: The history of cannabis in America grows weaker after the Civil War for material products, but the marijuana timeline around the 19th century sees marijuana as a popular medicinal ingredient sold in pharmacies for medicinal purposes.
- 1906: The Food and Drug Act required any cannabis-containing products to be labeled as such. At this stage in the history of cannabis, over-the-counter medicinal remedies were regularly sold.
- 1910: The marijuana timeline gets another boost after the Mexican Revolution, where recreational marijuana was brought into the United States by Mexican immigrants. Around the same time, weed history facts show that anti-drug campaigns started popularizing discrimination and attempts to criminalize marijuana, then called the “Marijuana Menace.”
- 1930: During the Great Depression, there was fear that unemployment and increased access to marijuana would result in a drug epidemic. So 29 states criminalized the use of the cannabis plant in any form. It was during this time that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created.
- 1932: In 1932, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics encouraged state governments to take individual control over marijuana use in their territories through the Uniform State Narcotic Act.
- 1936: “Reefer Madness” was a propaganda film that initiated a ban by the Motion Picture Association of America on any narcotics in Hollywood films.
- 1937: The Marijuana Tax Act was passed by Congress to criminalize marijuana throughout the United States. This statute criminalized marijuana and stated that anyone possessing marijuana for medical or industrial purposes had to pay an excise tax.
- The 1940s: The New York Academy of Medicine produced scientific reports concluding that marijuana was not addictive, nor did it induce violence or result in insanity. The US Department of Agriculture began to increase hemp production for military gear, parachutes, and cords. 375,000 acres of hemp were registered in the United States under the “Hemp for Victory” program.
War on Drugs
- The 1950s: Federal law puts into place criminal penalties for marijuana use.
- The 1960s: Presidents Kennedy and Johnson commissioned reports to investigate the effects of the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. These reports reiterated the findings by the New York Academy of Medicine.
- The 1970s: In Washington, DC, drug-related mandatory penalties were almost entirely repealed. The Shafer Commission determined that the recreational use of marijuana should be legalized. President Nixon rejected the idea. However, 11 states began decriminalizing the use of state Marijuana while others reduced the severity of the penalties for cannabis use. It was in 1973 that the US Drug Enforcement Agency was created after merging the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
- The 1980s: The War on Drugs began after a small parents’ movement changed the public view of cannabis. President Reagan enforced mandatory sentences. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics oversaw enforcement of a three-strikes policy which enacted life sentences for anyone convicted of a marijuana or other drug offense more than three times. Near the end of the 1980s, this War on Drugs was perpetuated by President George Bush.
Medical legalization throughout the history of cannabis in America began in the 1990s.
- The 1990s: In 1996, California began to legalize marijuana. They were the first state to legalize the sale and use of medical marijuana. Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington legalized medical marijuana use in 1998. Maine legalized medical marijuana use in 1999.
- The 2000s: Hawaii and Colorado legalized medical marijuana use in 2000. In 2004 Montana and Vermont legalized medicinal marijuana, followed two years later by Rhode Island and then New Mexico, Michigan, Arizona, and New Jersey.
Recreational legalization along the marijuana timeline didn’t begin until the 2000s.
- The 2000s: Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2012 and permit marijuana dispensaries in 2014. Alaska and Oregon followed suit on recreational use that same year. In 2016 California, Nevada, and Maine legalized recreational marijuana use.
- The 2010s: In 2011, Delaware and the District of Columbia legalized medical marijuana. The following year Connecticut and Massachusetts followed suit. Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, Minnesota, New York, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, West Virginia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, Mississippi, South Dakota, Virginia, and Alabama legalized medical marijuana use over the next decade. The District of Columbia legalized recreational marijuana use in 2015. In 2016 Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana. In 2019 so did Illinois.
- The 2020s: By 2020, Montana, Vermont, Arizona, and New Jersey had all joined ranks. Within a few years after that, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Virginia, Missouri, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland also legalized recreational marijuana use.
Brian Miller is a passionate advocate for the legalization of cannabis. He studied law and has a deep understanding of the legal and political landscape surrounding the plant. Despite being a recreational cannabis user himself, Brian's support for legalization goes beyond his personal enjoyment of marijuana. He firmly believes that legalizing medical marijuana will provide much-needed relief for millions of people suffering from various medical conditions.
In addition, Brian is a strong proponent of legalizing recreational marijuana as a means of regulating safe use. He recognizes that legalization would allow for a better understanding of the drug and its effects, leading to increased safety for users and reduced negative consequences.
Brian is also a huge fan of the current variety of weed products and the supportive community that has developed in recent years. He is grateful for the progress that has been made in terms of legalization and is eager to see what the future holds for the cannabis industry. Brian joined with Heather to found Concept420 in 2022.