Marijuana has been propagated, for food, fibres, and medicine, for at least five thousand years. Neolithic archaeological sites in China include marijuana seeds and plants. The first known mention of marijuana is in a Chinese medical text of 2737 BC. It was used as medicine throughout Asia and the Middle East to treat a variety of conditions. In India particularly, marijuana was associated with Shiva.
In the history of man Marijuana was well known to the Scythians. Germans grew hemp for its fibres to make nautical ropes and material for clothes since ancient times. Large fields of hemp along the banks of the Rhine are featured in 19th century copper etchings.
The hemp plant has to be soaked to harvest the fibre. The resulting liquid may be drunk; in modern Germany, some bars serve hemp beer and hemp wine, but the hemp used is required by law to contain very minimal levels of THC.
Marijuana was used medicinally in the western world (usually as a tincture) around the middle of the 19th century. It was famously used to treat Queen Victoria’s menstrual pains, and was available from shops in the US. By the end of the 19th century its medicinal use began to fall as other drugs such as aspirin took over.
Until 1937, consumption and sale of marijuana was legal in most American states. In some areas it could be openly purchased in bulk from grocers or in cigarette form at newstands, though an increasing number of them had begun to outlaw it. In that year, federal law made possession or transfer of marijuana illegal without the purchase of a by-then incriminating tax stamp throughout the United States (contrary to the advice of the American Medical Association at the time); legal opinions of time held that the federal government could not outlaw it entirely.
The decision of the U.S. Congress was based in part on testimony derived from articles in the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, who was heavily interested in DuPont Inc. Some analysts theorize DuPont wanted to boost declining post-war textile sales, and wished to eliminate hemp fiber as competition. Many argue that this seems unlikely given DuPont’s lack of concern with the legal status of cotton, wool, and linen; although it should be noted that hemp’s textile potential had not yet been largely exploited, while textile factories already had made large investments in equipment to handle cotton, wool, and linen. Others argue that Dupont wanted to eliminate marijuana because its high natural cellulose content made it a viable alternative to the company’s developing innovation: modern plastic. Even more inflammatory and biased were the accusations by that period’s US ‘drug czar’ Henry (Harry) Anslinger. Anslinger charged that the drug provoked murderous rampages in previously solid citizens. Anslinger testified that marijuana “makes darkies feel equal to white men,” a complaint typical of much of the anti-drug rhetoric of the time, which for example emphasised opium’s role in promoting Anglo-Chinese miscegenation. He told the married men in the audience: “Gentlemen, it will make your wives want to have sex with a Black man!” Anslinger also popularized the word marihuana for the plant, using a Mexican derived word (believed to be derived from a Brazilian Portuguese term for inebriation) in order to associate the plant with increasing numbers of Mexican immigrants, creating a negative stereotype which persists to this day.
The 1937 federal marijuana tax act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1969. In a case brought by Timothy Leary, the Court held that the law’s requirement that a possessor of marijuana present the substance before receiving the stamp, thereby placing the possessor in violation of the law against unlicensed possession, violated the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made possession of marijuana illegal again, without the constitutional issues that scuttled the 1937 act.
Marijuana has a prominent role in the Rastafarian religion.
Although marijuana has been used recreationally throughout its history, it first became well known in the United States during the jazz scene of the late 1920s and 30s. Louis Armstrong became one of its most prominent and life-long devotees. Marijuana use was also a prominent part of 1960s counterculture.
Marijuana is currently the most widely used illegal drug in the world.
Why is Marijuana Illegal?
A brief history of the criminalization of marijuana
First woven fabric believed to be from hemp.
Jamestown Colony, Virginia passes law requiring farmers to grow hemp.
Hemp was the primary crop grown by George Washington at Mount Vernon, and a secondary crop grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.
Maine is the first state to outlaw alcohol.
Pure Food and Drug Act is passed, forming the Food and Drug Administration. First time that drugs have any government oversight.
Harrison Act passed, outlawing opiates and cocaine (taxing scheme)
Utah passes first state anti-marijuana law.
18th Amendment to the Constitution (alcohol prohibition) is ratified.
Harry J. Anslinger given control of the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics (he remains in the position until 1967)
21st Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, repealing alcohol prohibition.
Marijuana Tax Act
Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act
Boggs Amendment to the Harrison Narcotic Act (mandatory sentences)
Narcotics Control Act adds more severe penalties
Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. Replaces and updates all previous laws concerning narcotics and other dangerous drugs. Empasis on law enforcement. Includes the Controlled Substances Act, where marijuana is classified a Schedule 1 drug (reserved for the most dangerous drugs that have no recognized medical use).
Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act. Establishes federally funded programs for prevention and treatment
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Changes Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs into the DEA
1974 and 1978
Drug Abuse Treatment and Control Amendments. Extends 1972 act
Anti-Drug Abuse Act. Establishes oversight office: National Office of Drug Control Policy and the Drug Czar
ADAMHA Reorganization. Transfers NIDA, NIMH, and NIAAA to NIH and incorporates ADAMHA’s programs into the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
First of all, it’s important to realize that there is no legitimate reason why marijuana is illegal. Both in the establishment of penalties for marijuana and the continuance of them, there has never been a single true compelling government interest for making marijuana illegal.
Most of the history of marijuana’s criminalization has been based on lies. The actual reasons why marijuana is illegal are:
Protection of Corporate Profits
Ignorant, Incompetent, and/or Corrupt Legislators
Personal Career Advancement and Greed
For most of human history, marijuana has been completely legal. It’s not a recently discovered plant, nor is it a long-standing law. Marijuana has been illegal for less than 1% of the time that it’s been in use. Its known uses go back further than 7,000 B.C. and it was legal as recently as when Ronald Reagan was a boy.
The marijuana (hemp) plant, of course, has an incredible number of uses. The earliest known woven fabric was apparently of hemp, and over the centuries the plant was used for food, incense, cloth, rope, and much more. This adds to some of the confusion over its introduction in the United States, as the plant was well known from the early 1600’s, but did not reach public awareness as a recreational drug until the early 1900’s.
America’s first marijuana law was enacted at Jamestown Colony, Virginia in 1619. It was a law “ordering” all farmers to grow Indian hempseed. There were several other “must grow” laws over the next 200 years (you could be jailed for not growing hemp during times of shortage in Virginia between 1763 and 1767), and during most of that time, hemp was legal tender (you could even pay your taxes with hemp — try that today!) Hemp was such a critical crop for a number of purposes (including essential war requirements – rope, etc.) that the government went out of its way to encourage growth.
The United States Census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp “plantations” (minimum 2,000-acre farm) growing marijuana hemp for cloth, canvas and even the cordage used for baling cotton.
Cannabis Through the Ages
A timeline provided by High Times magazine.
Fitz Hugh Ludlow Hypertext Collection
Ludlow was an American libertarian who wrote books and essays on experiments and effects of cannabis and other opiates.
History of Hemp
Historical background on the production and usage of hemp. Washington, Jefferson, and other hemp head farmers.
Marijuana in The Bible
The Burning Shiva Hour presents a seven-part broadcast on references to cannabis in the Bible.