Have you ever played the very fun game called the six degrees of separation from cannabis consumption? Everyone wins. In the good old USA, weed has slowly won over the hearts of many. We’re now seeing red, white, and blue—and green. Now we’re not totally implying that cannabis is patriotic, but we’re not not implying that either. But before it arrived in the USA it had many iterations.
Taking a look at marijuana’s historical lineage conjures up the same sort of connection. Countless cultures, countries, and groups of people have encountered it and shared it with the world over centuries. And today, we’re digging deep into that origin story.
Like any great historical tale, the one of weed dates back to the days of yore—but the exact facts surrounding its pilgrimage to the United States are not exactly full-proof. For a flower that gets people high, however, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Basics first: marijuana is old. Weed goes way, way back. As in Old World back. And it’s truly come a long way—from mileage traveled to modes of consumption. Over time it traveled, gained a slew of names (marijuana, reefer, dope…that list can go on and on), and popped up in the US. Some claim Columbus brought it over with him. Others say it appeared in the 17th century when hemp plantations popped up in American colonies. That time period may be a bit hazy, but once the 19030s post-Prohibition drug wars hit, we know weed was here—and being targeted. The Drug Enforcement Agency began to heavily focus on its usage in the early 20th century—and it should come as no surprise that weed’s history in the US is linked to its prohibition.
Regulations and restrictions on marijuana go back to 1906, but shit got real with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937—a ruling that was based more on cultural stigmas and stereotypes than actual scientific evidence. But like any great movement, those we believed in the power of weed kept on going. The more you tell someone they cannot have something, they more they want it: it’s an essential component of the American spirit. When our tea was taxed, we rebelled. When weed was banned, we kept on smoking.
Decades before the initial ban, cannabis already had a case for it. Back in India in the 1830s, an Irish doctor named Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy found that cannabis extracts could help reduce stomach pain for those suffering from cholera. Not sure if that news reached our shores, because the anti-cannabis rulings lived on.
When the War on Drugs was in full force, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, a ruling that repealed the Marijuana Tax Act but then listed marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Other notables on list: heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Being named to this list meant marijuana had no medical uses and put people at risk for abuse.
Over the years marijuana spread from immigrant communities to hippie culture enthusiasts—continuing on and on until the unthinkable occurred: lawmakers began to listen.
Studies and finding continued to be conducted and reported, but not much changed until good old California stepped into the picture. In the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use by people with severe or chronic illnesses.
And that brings us to where we are today: a country slowly but surely legalizing cannabis so that it may be enjoyed and employed for both recreational and medicinal purposes. History lesson is now adjourned; so take your newfound knowledge and go smoke some LA Kush.