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History of Cannabis

Although the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) currently lists cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug (i.e. a controlled substance with high potential for abuse), it was once legal in the United States.


In 1619, well over a century before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed an act requiring all planters in Virginia to grow hemp on their plantations. Hemp, produced from the stalks of cannabis plants to make industrial strength rope and fiber, became a lucrative cash crop for European settlers in North America, who used it to create a wide variety of products, from canvas and paper to clothing. As recently as World War II hemp was being used to make military uniforms.

DEA Takes Control

In 1937 the United States passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, levying taxes on anyone that dealt in the commercial use of cannabis, hemp, or marijuana. These increased financial burdens, combined with the rise of other industrial fibers such as Nylon, effectively killed the hemp industry. Oversight was then given to the DEA, leading to the criminalization of marijuana possession.

Cannabis Use in Ancient Times

The history of cannabis use dates back almost 5,000 years to the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung who wrote of its healing properties in ritual ceremonies. In India, Ayurvedic practitioners have been promoting cannabis use to aid with sleep and appetite for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans, including Pliny the Elder and Galen, prescribed cannabis for various ailments, while warning that excessive use could hamper one’s sexual prowess.

Proposition 215

Despite the federal government’s ban on marijuana use, the state of California passed Proposition 215, also known as The Compassionate Care Act, in 1996, which allows residents to cultivate and consume medical marijuana for personal use. Proposition 215 paved the way for the modern medical cannabis collective system that has proliferated across the country.

Medical and Recreational Use of Cannabis

To date, twenty-three states, including the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana, while four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) have legalized cannabis for recreational use. Although the federal government still deems marijuana an illegal substance, advances in medical research have proven that cannabis is beneficial in the treatment of many illnesses, chief among them Cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and Epilepsy. With increased support from government officials across the United States, the tide is rapidly turning concerning views on marijuana use. It’s been almost 80 years since the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act, but it’s becoming apparent that the end of cannabis prohibition is near.

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