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The history of Cannabis in America: A Timeline

Introduction

Cannabis has been around for longer than we might think.

Its use actually dates back as far as 2800 BC!

Since then, researchers have found the mention of cannabis in texts created by Indian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman cultures. Even then, weed was said to treat a wide range of health issues like arthritis, inflammation, pain, lack of appetite, and even asthma attacks.

Because of this, it quickly spread through all Central Asia. Since then people have discovered many other uses for weed. Eventually, trading routes connected Asia to America. Cannabis was introduced to the nation.

In 1910, cannabis was also brought in by Mexican refugees that were running away from the Mexican Revolution. 

However, while other cultures were quick to accept cannabis as a positive plant, in America it quickly became taboo. Cannabis was linked to the racial problems the nation was facing, given it was used by Mexicans and Afro-Americans. 

We are talking about the early 20th century, one of the most racially charged times in American history.

Weed was the perfect excuse to lock up minority groups. And thus began the war on drugs. 

In this article, we will take you on a walk through the history of cannabis in America. And all the hurdles we’ve had to endure to be able to enjoy a blunt today.

Table of Contents

A Summary Timeline

Figure 1. History of Cannabis Tmeline.
Figure 1. History of Cannabis Tmeline.

The History of Cannabis

Ancient History

Cannabis can be dated back to 2800 BC. Emperor Shen Nung even had it classified in his pharmacopeia. The emperor was well aware that marijuana had positive benefits. 

He would prescribe it as a tea to treat gout, rheumatism, malaria, and even memory loss. The emperor wasn’t the only one aware of cannabis, though.

Mentions of marijuana can be found in ancient texts belonging to Indian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman cultures. 

There is actually evidence that Hindus would offer the plant to their gods as tribute. It was even said to be God Shiva’s favorite food.

Since the use of cannabis in Chinese and Indian cultures prospered, it became common amongst Asians. 

When the trading routes from Asia to America were created, cannabis quickly made its way into the nation.

Although some state that Christopher Colombus brought the hemp plant with him, introducing cannabis to the New World. 

This isn’t such a crazy theory, though.  There was actually documented use of cannabis dating as early as 1619. The use of marijuana back then was for making cloth.

As for the recreational use of weed in America, that didn’t happen until 1910.

1910's

Cannabis started to gain traction in the United States in the early part of the 20th century.

Mexican refugees brought the drug with them when fleeing the Mexican Revolution. Soon it was all over the south.

However, it was concentrated in El Paso and New Orleans.

The use of weed in America dates back to 1619, when farmers grew hemp to make clothing and paper. But, people didn’t start consuming weed until this time.

When people started linking the drug to minority groups like Mexicans and Afro-Americans, they started to complain.

And in 1914, Congress created the Harrison Narcotic Act, stating that cannabis was prohibited. This was the first of many acts that would criminalize weed.

As we all know, this act stopped very few people from smoking weed. Cannabis use spread like wildfire through the nation. Before long, jazz musicians were promoting it left and right.

Figure 2. The history of Cannabis.
Figure 2. The history of Cannabis.

1930's

It wasn’t long before jazz musicians were promoting cannabis all over the nation. They are even responsible for most of the slang related to cannabis.

They would call weed “jive”, “reefer”, “toke”, etc. 

Snoop Dogg, musician and cannabis entrepreneur, stated in The Grass is Greener 2019 documentary: 

“Way back in the days, in the jazz era, they were speaking about the plant. Because the plant was a way of helping them find they grove, find they mind, to create some of the most classical music that was ever written, in these times. They found that cannabis only brought the best out of them.” (Snoop Dogg, 2019)

We can listen to a never-ending list of music about cannabis that was created in the 1930s.

These songs turned singers like Cab Calloway, Any Kirk and Duke Ellington into household names. Some examples are Reefer Man, All the Jive is Gone, You’re a Viper, and Muggles

Louis Armstrong was actually one of the biggest names in the game and a huge advocate for “jive”.

He was actually arrested for smoking a joint during one of his performances. The moment he got out of jail, he called his manager and told him the following: 

“I’m not so particular about having a permit to carry a gun. All I want is a permit to carry that good shit. You must see to it that I have special permission to smoke all the reefers that I want to, when I want. Or I will just have to put this horn down. I can’t afford to be tense, fearing that at any minute I am going to be arrested, brought to jail, for a silly little thing like marijuana.” (Armstrong, 1930) 

While cannabis was growing in popularity, the government was looking to make it illegal. See, white people were starting to integrate with Afro-Americans and Mexicans, and the government wouldn’t stand for a unified America. 

Another factor was that the Prohibition Era had ended. The bureaucrats were looking for another target and decided on cannabis. 

They started to create propaganda campaigns against cannabis, stating that it was a threat to the nation and had a high potential for addiction. We know today that this isn’t true.

But anti-weed propaganda was everywhere in the 1930s. 

Most people were convinced that weed was bad news. How could they not if they were being bombarded left and right about the negative and dangerous effects it could have on you? 

By 1931, marijuana was officially banned in 29 states. And in 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, making the plant illegal in America.

The man behind this Act was Harry Anslinger, Commissioner of the United States Narcotics Department. When releasing the act, he stated the following: 

“It is the duty of the Treasury Department to damm the harmful and malignant stream of narcotic drugs. The Treasury Department intends to pursue a relentless warfare against dopes who pray on the weakness of their fellow man.” (Anslinger, 1931). 

It was well known that Anslinger was a racist. So it came as no surprise that this was his posture.

The Act worsened the anti-weed propaganda campaign. News about marijuana-addicted serial killers and children dying from overdoses started plaguing the nation. 

In 1936, the movie Reefer Madness hit the movies, scaring the entire nation. It is, of course, complete nonsense from start to finish.

They depict that the use of weed can lead to killing, insanity, and suicide. 

At the same time the Marijuana Act of 1937 was being passed, Mayor La Guardia of New York City conducted a comprehensive study on cannabis.

The research showed that what was being advertised was completely false. 

La Guardia also found that, after the Act was passed, 78% of arrests for cannabis use were people of color. This racial disparity is still a huge problem in our country.

Bars Dreisinger, author and associate professor at John Jay College, says: 

“[The use of cannabis] relates to a lot of the cultural anxieties that existed at the time around the notion that too much of this music, which is also associated with too much of these drugs, was going to ‘blacken’ the American population in all kinds of ‘scary’ ways.” (Dreisinger, 2019) 

The government didn’t stop musicians and minority groups from smoking. And research on a scientific level continued in the hopes that maybe one day they could undo what had been done.

The people wanted the legalization of weed. 

1940's

Investigations carried through the better part of this decade. Thanks to the research that Mayor La Guardia had done on cannabis, scientists from all over the world started to do their own investigations.

 Adams and Todd independently actually isolated cannabidiol (CBD). Marking the birthplace of what is easily one of the most popular cannabis-derived products.

Figure 3. Weed. Vs. Narcotics. History of Cannabis in America
Figure 3. Weed. Vs. Narcotics. History of Cannabis in America

1950's

The hippie movement was starting to take form. Its predecessors, the Beatniks, or Beat Generation, were one of the first social groups to openly advocate for cannabis.

The Beatniks began to organize against conventional living and in favor of the bohemian way of life. Weed was more prevalent than ever among American youth.

As a countermeasure, the government released the Boggs Act in 1951 and the Eisenhower Narcotics Act in 1956.

These acts officially made marijuana an illegal substance. If anyone was caught carrying the drug, they would suffer a penalty punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

1960's

There weren’t enough acts or laws that the government could pass to appease the public. They wanted weed, and they wanted it now. 

During the 1960’s, the Beatnik movement and the Hippie movement really took off. One of the main advocates for cannabis legalization was Alan Ginsberg.

In 1965, he started publishing poems and manifestos speaking for the right to choose. 

Cannabis activism became the rage and the long process of legalization began. Was it because white people were smoking now too? Ginsberg wrote: 

“No one has yet remarked that the suppresion of Negro rights, culture and sensibility in America, has been complicated by the Marijuana Laws. The use of marijuana has always been widespread among the Negro population in this country. And suppressing its use with constant friction and bludgeoning of the law has been a major unconscious or unmentionable method of assault.” (Ginsberg, 1965).

Little did they know that they were nearly 40 decades from achieving their goal. And that the war on drugs was just beginning.

1970's

Although we collectively remember the 70’s as a time where cannabis was simply everywhere, the reality is a bit different.

Alsinger would soon become old news.

Nixon had risen to power, and the real war on drugs was about to begin. 

On October 27, 1970, Nixon released the Controlled Substance Act, declaring an all-out war on marijuana.

Nixon famously stated that America’s number one enemy was drug abuse. 

This Act took things to a whole other level. It created the DEA, asked for police reinforcement on the streets, and declared cannabis a Schedule 1 substance “with a high probability of addiction.”

Other drugs on the Schedule 1 list include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. 

Wanting to prove cannabis’s strong potential for abuse, Nixon issued the Shafer Report for further research on this plant. The results of that investigation proved him wrong on every account. 

His team of researchers from the Shafer report recommended decriminalizing marijuana and conducting further investigations into its possible therapeutic use.

Not only did he not listen, he also decided to go harder on his campaign against weed. 

Nixon added new penalties for drug users and people were being incarcerated on a daily basis. A political war broke out.

Why would Nixon cause such turmoil over a proven innocent drug?

Private recordings of Nixon surfaced decades later, where he stated the following: 

“I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana. I mean, one on marijuana that just scares the ass out of them. Funny thing, every one of the bastards out of legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? By God, we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss”. (Nixon, 1971).

That just sounds personal, if you ask me. See, this is the time in our history when integration was just beginning. A lot of people didn’t like this new black and white America, including Nixon. 

Since they could no longer mistreat people because of their race, they would just have to find a loophole. And cannabis was a godsend to them in that respect. 

There were some states, however, that didn’t follow the code. During the same decade, Oregon, Alaska, and Maine decriminalized marijuana use.

With prohibition and restrictive laws popping up all over, these states saw an opportunity to grow their population numbers.

This was due to the fact that demand for marijuana just kept growing despite the constant restrictions. 

This made it possible for some people to see for themselves that not only was cannabis non-addictive, but it could also help alleviate certain medical conditions.

Activist groups quickly united against the criminalization of cannabis. 

One of the most well-known advocacy groups of this time was the Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

They promoted and coordinated efforts to legalize medical marijuana at state and local levels throughout the country.

1990's

Legalization started to take shape in the country. In 1996, California approved Proposition 215, which legalized medical use of marijuana at a state level.

This was the first law to have a true impact on the future legalization of weed.

2000's

Since then, 22 other states have legalized the use of marijuana. In some of these states, recreational use of cannabis is already allowed. Some of the main states are Washington, New York and California. 

Legal sales of marijuana are expected to get to $33 billion by this year’s end.

According to a study done by MJBiz, a B2B cannabis industry leader, this number increased by 32% from last year’s numbers. By 2026, the weed industry is expected to make more than $52 billion a year! 

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. But, since then CBD, Delta-9 variations, and other compounds have dropped to lower level drug categories. 

Today it is possible to get CBD anywhere in the country. And other variations are also available.

If you are looking for a good retail store in the Miami area contact Hurcann!

Their stuff is amazing! 

Cannabis shop here.
Cannabis shop here.

Conclusion

It is clear we have come a long way from when weed was first brought to America.

But we still have a long way to go.

Though, activists and advocate groups are getting closer and closer to reforming marijuana laws to allow the use of this plant nationwide. 

We hope you enjoyed reading, if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment on the section below!


References
Freddy , F. 5 (Director). (2019). Grass is greener . Netflix .

Goldhaber, D. (n.d.). The History of Medicinal CannabisA (3).pdf.

Martin, S. C. (2016, April 20). A brief history of marijuana law in America. Time. https://time.com/4298038/marijuana-history-in-america/

McNearney, A. (2018, April 20). The complicated history of cannabis in the US. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/marijuana-criminalization-reefer-madness-history-flashback

Morris, C. (2022, April 11). Legal marijuana sales in the U.S. expected to hit $33 billion this year. Fortune. https://fortune.com/2022/04/11/legal-marijuana-sales-33-billion-2022/

The university of Sydney . (n.d.). History of cannabis. The University of Sydney. Retrieved April 19, 2022, from https://www.sydney.edu.au/lambert/medicinal-cannabis/history-of-cannabis.html

Thompson, M. (2013, July 22). The mysterious history of “marijuana.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/07/14/201981025/the-mysterious-history-of-marijuana

Why is marijuana illegal in the U.S.? (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/story/why-is-marijuana-illegal-in-the-us

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