Originally, it is believed, the cannabis plant made its way to North America with some of the first European settlers to the Jamestown area in 1611, but there is also some strong evidence that cannabis may have played a role in some Native American cultures, which would place its arrival at a much earlier time period. The first law regarding cannabis was in Virginia in 1762, and the law stipulated that farmers would be punished by law if they did not grow the plant. Historically in this country, however, that would be the last pro-cannabis law for a long time.
In the beginning, everyone seemed to adore the cannabis plant and it was prized for all its myriad uses, often written quite positively about by well-respected leaders of the time. Indeed, historically prominent figures such as George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson expounded, in print, on the importance of hemp to the security and prosperity of the nation, and Benjamin Franklin could hardly stop talking about how wonderfully useful the cannabis plant was.
Alas, the freedom of this plant in America was to be of a much shorter lived prominence than these founders had suggested it should be, and California, of all places, passed the first law to control marijuana in America in 1913, just 7 years after the “Wiley Act” was passed, ushering in a new era of FDA drug approval. Shortly thereafter, spanning between the years of 1915-1927, 10 states passed marijuana prohibition laws.
The negative furor over the marijuana plant really began to take huge turns to the worse starting in 1930, when Harry J. Anslinger was appointed to lead a concerted, and propagandist effort to effectively demonize the marijuana plant in the eyes of the public. Eventually, through the use of fear-mongering propaganda, and vitriolic misinformation campaigns, the cannabis plant took a huge hit in the perspective of the general public. In 1937, just one year after the infamous propaganda film “Reefer Madness” was released, the “Marijuana Tax Act” was passed, effectively outlawing marijuana in the United States.
While to this day marijuana is still illegal in the U.S., there are currently 16 states that have adopted legislation to allow the doctor approved use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. California started the so-called “medical marijuana” movement with their landmark passing of citizen’s initiative Proposition 215 in that state. While general marijuana use is still legally outlawed in the United States, there are currently, as of early 2012, numerous states working on ballot initiatives which would outright legalize the sale and use of cannabis by adults over 21, similarly to the way that alcohol is currently regulated.