The history of cannabis in the US is a much complicated area and the laws underwent many changes over the years. In fact, American colonists were encouraged to grow hemp but things took a different turn after the therapeutic benefits of cannabis were discovered.
Cannabis history in the US is a dark area and the prohibition was in fact part of a racist war that destroyed millions of lives on both sides.
In this article, we explore the history of cannabis in the US.
Hemp: The Starting Point
The starting point of all events associated with cannabis was the hemp cultivation in Colonial Virginia. The Virginia Company was granted a charter for Jamestown in 1606. The charter was granted by King James I. But by 1619, the company required financial assistance from the colony. As a solution to the problem, the Virginia Company asked the landowners of Jamestown to grow and export 100 hemp plants.
About a century after that, George Washington famously recorded in his diary about sowing hemp seeds every day until the middle of April. At a later time, he recollected growing 27 bushels of hemp crop that year. When you check the history of colonial America, you will find many examples of hemp used in various ways, to make fabric, sails, rope, and many other items. The farming trend continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
The use of industrial-grade hemp continued until 1906. It was in this year that the Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act. This act limited the availability of medicinal cannabis. This legislation was aimed at bringing back the poison laws and the first state to regard cannabis as poison was California.
The Move To Cannabis Prohibition
The Beat generation emerged in the early stages of the 1950-60 period. They were a group of young people who commonly agreed upon the need for rejecting the conventional society and embrace the way of life preached by Bohemian ideals they believed in.
But from what is known from historical records, the Beats weren’t the first group of people that embraced weed. It started growing popular in the US in the 1910s when it was brought into the country by the Mexican refugees that fled the violent atmosphere created by the Mexican revolution.
Weed was quite popular among the hipsters, a community of black jazz lovers.
As the 1930s the period of Great Depression, cannabis prohibition was repealed. At that time, marijuana was mostly used by Mexican and black communities. The bureaucrats then shifted their focus to marijuana and depicted the drug and the communities that used it as a threat to the society after which they initiated the process of banning marijuana. By 1931, twenty-nine states outlawed marijuana.
Marijuana Tax Act was passed in the US in the year 1937. According to that, a tax was imposed on individuals who were involved commercially in hemp, marijuana and cannabis, which in effect, makes all of them illegal.
However, after the Philippines were defeated by Japanese forces in 1942, the US Army and the US Department of Agriculture encouraged the farmers in the country to grow hemp. They even issued tax stamps to the hemp cultivators. Although the Marijuana tax act wasn’t changed or revoked, more than 400,000 acres of hemp were cultivated in the three year period between 1942 and 1945. It was in 1957 that the last commercial hemp farms were planted in Wisconsin.
In the years after the end of the Second World War, marijuana, hemp and cannabis remained illegal, even though some attempts were made for revising the policies. In the year 1969, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the Marijuana Tax Act in the country was unconstitutional. In response to the declaration, the Nixon administration decided to formulate the Controlled Substances Act and place cannabis in its Schedule I. To date, cannabis and marijuana remain in the same schedule.
Since the criminalization of cannabis in 1970, millions of people mostly brown and black were sent to jail for possession, sale and use of cannabis.
Cannabis Legalization: The Path To Reformation
As of now, over 30 states in the US have brought medical cannabis laws into effect and about 11 states permit the use of cannabis by adults who are over the age of 21.
When it comes to hemp, a major step was taken regarding its production, sale and possession in 2018 with the passage of the US Farm Bill. The bill legalized the cultivation of hemp to make CBD products, provided they contain less than 0.3% THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid in cannabis. Before the Farm Bill, hemp was also treated like marijuana by the law and it too was included in the Controlled Substances List.
There is still a long way to go towards countrywide cannabis legalization. Different states have different takes on the legalization of cannabis. The marijuana law in a state can be entirely different from that in some other state because states are granted the freedom to formulate their marijuana policies by law.