State by state marijuana legalization has grown throughout America. 29 states plus Washington, D.C. have lifted the prohibition on medical marijuana. On top of that, 8 of those states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. Following a path much similar to the recent civil rights issue of marriage equality where each state one-by-one voted for marriage equality until it became legal federally. If history were to repeat itself, then medical and recreational cannabis may become federally legal one day as well.
CANNA HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?
History repeating itself may not be a bad thing. In a time before the Industrial Revolution, before GMO and pesticides, ancestors of present day humans used plants for everyday needs. They figured out cotton was ideal to make clothes, made health teas and tonics with herbs and roots, and crafted rope out of hemp.
First references of cannabis can be traced back to what is now present day India in 2000 BC. As explained in The Vedas, which are sacred Hindu texts, cannabis was seen as a source of happiness and a, “liberator that was compassionately given to humans to help us attain delight and lose fear” (Abel, 1980).
As lore had it in these sacred texts, one of the Hindu gods, Lord Shiva, was fond of cannabis. The story behind his love for the plant stemmed back to a fight that he had with his family. Angrily, the god ran off into a field. Exhausted by the hot sun and emotionally battered from his conflict with his family, Lord Shiva fell asleep underneath the shade of a leafy plant. When he woke up, he decided to taste the plant he was under. Instantly, Lord Shiva felt better. From that day forward, cannabis became Shiva’s favorite food.
By the time of 70 AD, cannabis was more regularly referenced in religious texts throughout what is now known as Asia. Some of the most famous works of this time include:
Atharvaveda (Hindu Text)
Zendavesta (Ancient Persian Text)
Pen Ts’ao (China Text)
Pharmacopoeia (A physician of Nero, the Roman Emperor)
YESTEDAY’S CANNABIS BECOMES TODAY’S MARIJUANA
All of the texts boasted about the uses of cannabis. As early ancestors found, the plant had a twiny, strong texture. It was strong enough to make into clothes, shoes, or rope. With time, early humans realized that some cannabis plants were sturdier than others. So, they started breeding like types of cannabis to create what is now know as hemp.
Through this experience, they discovered that some of these cannabis plants had psychoactive abilities. Naturally, our ancestors started breeding those as well. In the end, the result was what the world knows today as marijuana.
While experimenting with cannabis plants, early ancestors also noticed how it made them feel relaxed. Smoking cannabis, steeping it in a tea, or eating it made a sore body feel better. Seeing as this was long before doctors went to school for a decade so that they can write out a prescription for a man-made pill, cannabis was seen by human ancestors as a form of medicine.
BACK WHEN MARIJUANA WAS LEGAL EVERYWHERE…
By the year 1200 AD, cannabis had become commonplace throughout the Middle East. As humans continued to migrate west, cannabis followed. When the 1600’s rolled along, the British and French colonies were both cultivating hemp in their respective areas of Port Royal, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts. In fact, hemp was a legal form of tender in those states as well as Pennsylvania and Maryland. Eventually, cannabis plantations successfully set up shop in areas including California, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, and South Carolina.
In 1850, the U.S. Pharmacopeia recognized cannabis as a medicinal drug. Pharmacies and general stores carried products that contained cannabis as over-the-counter medicines. That was all until 1913. Then, California (which coincidentally is the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996) prohibited the sales of cannabis.
The public was given no notice in the press. At the time, the State Board of Pharmacy was leading an anti-narcotics campaign. With the use of anti-cannabis rhetoric placed in an amendment, a prohibition against cannabis was written into law by the Board.
MARIJUANA BECOMES A RACIST TERM
Many speculate that what made California the first state to jump on the anti-cannabis train was due to the rapid influx of Mexicans following the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Prior to their arrival, cannabis had been used mainly for pharmaceutical reasons.
Once Mexican immigrants settled in California, using cannabis recreationally as a psychoactive become a commonplace. With what may be speculated as racist undertones, cannabis the medicine was renamed marijuana the drug.
The stigma against marijuana amplified in the 1930’s. As the Great Depression hit, resentment of Mexicans getting jobs and acquiring land began to irk already jaded Americans. With the anger towards Mexicans came hostility toward marijuana. As 1931 rolled around, 30 states had already banned cannabis.
In 1936, anti-marijuana propaganda was in full swing. The movie Reefer Madness, which implies that smoking marijuana may lead to murder, hit the big screens. Meanwhile, the Motion Pictures Association of America banned the depiction of any narcotics on the silver screen.
By the time the ‘30’s were coming to a close, an anti-marijuana advocate by the name of Harry J. Anslinger was appointed the head of the new department known as the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act (Prior to marijuana adopting the j) was signed into effect, adding a significant tax to any cannabis sales. Otherwise, it was illegal to purchase marijuana.
THE WAR ON MARIJUANA BEGINS
When the 1900’s turned 50, marijuana laws became even stricter. According to Boggs Act, 1952; Narcotics Control Act, 1956, first-time offenders of marijuana received a minimum sentence of 2 to 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.
While the government cracked down on marijuana, the antiwar counterculture that rose up in the 1960’s defiantly broke that law. With the turn of the decade into the 1970’s, the minimum federal sentences were stricken from the law. This was done upon realization that marijuana use had not decreased during the 60’s even though there were harsher sentences put into place.
As President Nixon took office, he appointed members to the Shafer Commission. This group of individuals suggested decriminalizing cannabis, to which Nixon turned down. The President ramped up his “Say No to Drugs,” and “War on Drugs” campaigns throughout the rest of his clouded presidency.
In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan took office, signing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. This revisited the idea of mandatory sentencing placed onto drug-related crimes. Federal penalties for possession and/or dealing of marijuana was raised under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act signed into law in 1984.
Under these guidelines, prisoners were given a “Three strikes and you’re out,” opportunity. Repeat offenders would get life sentences while the drug lords received the death penalty. During this time period, one pound of marijuana was equivalent to one pound of heroin in the eyes of the law.
THE TIDE IS HIGH…AND TURNS
The war on marijuana had taken its toll not only on cannabis as a form of medicine, but on minority groups who were profiled against and mass incarcerated for marijuana possession. This continued to be the norm throughout most of the 1990s. That is until California changed its tune on medical marijuana in 1996.
With the 1980’s, the War on Drugs didn’t just have a lasting effect on the population. The HIV/AIDS epidemic was as well. With a majority of homosexual males passing away in the gay safe haven of San Francisco, the gay community sought relief for their physical pains. They found it in cannabis.
79% of the state of California voted yes on Proposition 2015 in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana.
Not much changed in marijuana legalization following California’s decision. 16 years later, Massachusetts became the second state to legalize medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington followed suit, but took it a bit further as they also voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
When Colorado hit $199 million its first year selling recreational cannabis, many eyes around the States opened up. In 2014, Minnesota and New York legalized medical marijuana while Utah became the first to legalize CBD oil, with Oklahoma following suit.
From there the floodgates opened:
2014: Oregon and Alaska legalized recreational cannabis
2015: Louisiana legalized recreational cannabis while Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas legalized CBD oil
2016: California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts legalize recreational cannabis. Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota legalize medical marijuana
2017: Vermont legalized recreational cannabis while West Virginia legalized medical cannabis
As more States see the benefits for both the health of the nation, and for the tax dollars, more decriminalization of marijuana and pro-cannabis legislation will come to fruition. Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana is a growing industry that seems to have witnessed only the beginning of what is sure to be a big boom in cannabis.