The insane history of cannabis in the usa

The Wild (Yet Resilient) History of Marijuana Use in America

The Insane History of the Use of Marijuana in America

The history of marijuana use in America is nuanced. The legalization history of cannabis use is an ongoing tug-of-war. Since the beginning, medicinal and industrial marijuana use has been controversial and always disputed. It remains so with the current state of today’s medical cannabis industry. The evolution of the legality and social acceptance of cannabis use in the United States has been quite volatile.

Cannabis Use in American Indian Medicine

The American account of marijuana use starts with A. cannabinum (i.e., American hemp). Many Indians regarded hemp as the “sacred root.” The American Indians turned the medicine into tea or burned it as incense for a diuretic. They used it as a cathartic, diaphoretic, emetic, and coughing. Early settlers introduced its medicinal benefits. Hemp provided adequate relief for complaints and ailments of throat trouble, headaches, and whooping cough. Furthermore, it lessened the pain and discomfort from swelling and inflammation.

Colonial History of Cannabis Use in the United States

When the American colonists arrived in the “New World,” the first accounts of weed use began. Colonists encouraged the cultivation of cannabis seeds. Hemp was useful for making rope, clothing, sails, and other industrial products. Cannabis fibers were so crucial in fact that a 1619 Virginia law required hemp cultivation on every farm.

Hemp Fiber as Legal Tender

Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland used it as a legal tender. Cannabis was a significant source of revenue. Farmers in many states such as Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky took part. California, Nebraska, and New York saw hemp profits until after the Civil War.

Early Regulation

The mid to late 19th century saw medical interest in cannabis use began to grow. Americans discovered the cannabis plant's medicinal components. Generally, cannabis interest shifted from its ability to produce hemp to its therapeutic benefits of CBD and THC derived from cannabis.

Food and Drug Act of 1906

In the 20th century, marijuana became a significant component in medicinal products and was publicly available in pharmacies. The “Food and Drug Act of 1906” outlawed the sale of misbranded or impure food and drugs in interstate commerce. This Act was an early version of the Food and Drug Administration in regulating cannabis plants. As a direct result of the Act, any over the counter medication containing cannabis required labeling.

Impact of the Mexican Revolution

Our southern neighbors in Mexico discovered the use of marijuana for recreation far before Americans. The 1910 Mexican Revolution resulted in immigration to the United States with refugees bringing some form of cannabis. Mexican immigrants crossed the Mexican - U.S. border to work as laborers in the railroad, agricultural, or mining industries. Both recreational and spiritual cannabis use became negatively associated with them. This a cultural change for a plant otherwise known for practical purposes.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression saw high unemployment rates and the fear of immigrants increasing. Residents of Mexican descent experienced bigotry like what we see in society today. Consequently, recreational cannabis use correlated with immigration. Americans ostracized immigrants as behaving in opposition to presumed positive societal behavior. The broad hitting 1937 Marijuana Tax Act criminalized marijuana use. This even for many citizens who didn’t pay a tax for medical and industrial marijuana.

Cultural Stigma

Cannabis use has been liked with race and ethnicity since before the term "marijuana" was conceived. America primarily tied illicit cannabis use for its psychoactive properties to the African American hipster culture. Similarly, it was also tied to jazz musicians. Escalating cannabis use moved it into middle-class white America in the 1960s. It was during this time that the history of the use of marijuana took a tragic turn.

Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970

The 1960’s counterculture presaged the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This Act of 1970 became the legal framework for the fight against drug and substance abuse. The Act classified marijuana separately from other drugs. It also required mandatory penalties for those caught with small amounts of marijuana. The 1970s was an eventful time in marijuana history. During that time, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was founded in 1970.

Anti-Drug Abuse Act

In the late 1970s, President Carter led a failed attempt to decriminalize cannabis. Bureaucrats in Washington DC were desperate to combat the stigma related to the cannabis industry. The effects of marijuana were portrayed as having a high potential for abuse. President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, which categorized cannabis use alongside heroin. This Act reinstated federal minimum fines and raised penalties.

The War on Drugs

The ramping up of the War on Drugs was also seen at the state level during this time as well. In the 1980s, Florida, in particular, frowned upon marijuana and mind altering effects of other drugs. The state even becomes the first in the U.S. to spray marijuana fields with chemicals. This sentiment started changing in the late 1990s. California and Arizona both passed propositions in 1996. Legalizing medical marijuana officially designated cannabis use for people suffering from specific illnesses.

Cannabis Use Today & Recent History of Medical Marijuana Use

California and Arizona legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes in 1996. Since then, thirty-two more states have followed step. Cannabis industry laws as a whole are still in direct conflict with federal law. Federal law even prohibits both recreational and medical marijuana use and possession. Current trends point toward national decriminalization and possibly legalization of cannabis.

Illegal Possession

Some states have stringent laws when it comes to unlawful possession. Unlawful possession and use of marijuana in Florida, for example, carries substantial penalties. These include hefty fines, addiction treatment, and even jail time. Cannabis possession is illegal in Florida if you are not on the Medical Marijuana Use Registry. Also important is to have your MMID card on you when in possession.

Interstate Travel with Cannabis

You can not travel across the Florida state line with recreational OR medical marijuana. No method of interstate travel is legal: not by rail, road, air, water, or on foot. This because federal law still regulates cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. The illegal sale, purchase, or delivery of medical marijuana is also a no-go.

Smokable Flower

The legality of smoking marijuana bud (aka green, tree, herb, flower, reefer, etc.) is controversial. Its status is playing out at each state level and currently up in the air. Florida recently approved the use of flowers, and it is becoming more available at dispensaries.

Farm Bill: Giant Game-Changer

Congress signed the Farm Bill into law in 2018 to benefit tobacco farmers. The Bill evolved into the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry we see today. Both entrepreneurs and farmers race to grab a piece of the lucrative hemp plant market. Some argue, however, the farm bill has hastened the decline of the tobacco industry.

History of Cannabis Use Around the World

The storied human history of the medical use of cannabis goes back to ancient times. The first use of cannabis in history dates back to approximately 10,000+ BCE. Pottery made of hemp cord was located in the area of modern-day Taiwan. In Central Asia (c.2700 B.C.), the Chinese emperor Shen-Nung reportedly used hemp for medicine and many other staples. Cultures worldwide, the Middle East, North America, and Africa have all found therapeutic uses for cannabis. With this in mind, using cannabis Sativa or Indica is an accepted medical treatment of conditions that furthers our knowledge of CBD cannabinoid receptors. The therapeutic properties of these brain receptors create further medicinal advantages. Sooner or later, the broad legalization of cannabis cultivation seems more and more likely. Until then, what do you think about attempts to legalize marijuana and the future outlook of cannabis use in the U.S.?

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Looking for more information on the history of marijuana use in the world, check out our blog page.  For how to get a medical marijuana card for your pain, check out our related article, 'Can I Get High on Medical Cannabis?'

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