BY KASANDRA BRABAW
While it may seem that cannabis has always been a controversial plant, there was once a time when hemp was considered an essential crop. With so much legal contention today over whether or not marijuana is “dangerous” and, therefore, should be controlled, it's difficult to imagine that the United States’ forefathers actually demanded every farmer plant and grow hemp. Yes, that law exists in our history books. Ahead, we’re digging into a (brief) history of cannabis, from its first written mention in an ancient Chinese text to the battle to legalize recreational marijuana in the U.S.
The earliest known mention of cannabis comes from Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, per the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum. A Chinese book entitled Lu Shi contains a statement that the Emperor taught his people to cultivate “ma” (hemp) to make cloth. The seeds of the plant were later used for food, and subsequently, for oil as well. Other ancient cultures were also using cannabis around this time, but for medicinal purposes, not to get high, according to the DEA Museum.
Cannabis was named “sacred grass” in the Hindu sacred text Arthava-Veda and was considered one of five sacred plants in India.
Cannabis was introduced to Northern Europe by the Scythians, nomadic warrior tribes originating from the far-Northern region of modern-day Siberia, and spread throughout the continent for the next 400 years.
Some sources claim that the sativa strain of cannabis came to the not-yet United States of America aboard Christopher Columbus’ ship when he sailed to the New World.
A law passed in the Virginia colonies that required farmers to grow hemp. “Every planter as soone as he may, provide seede of flaxe and hempe and sowe the same,” the order read. At this point, farmers were still most interested in the plant as a means to create strong ropes and other fabrics.
Marijuana-based medicines were commonly sold in the first few decades following the United States’ founding.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was formed in the United States, marking the first time drugs were regulated in America.
The Mexican Revolution began, during which Mexican immigrants introduced the practice of smoking cannabis recreationally to the United States.
California passed the first state law restricting the use of cannabis, amending The Poison Act, which was passed earlier to forbid the sale or use of cocaine or opiates. Other states started passing anti-marijuana laws in the following years: Utah in 1915, Texas in 1919, Louisiana in 1924, and New York in 1927.
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created, and the bureau’s first commissioner, Harry J. Anslinger, declared war on marijuana. His tirade against the plant effectively shaped widely held cultural and political opinions in the U.S. on cannabis from then on.
The U.S. passed the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act, at the urging of Harry Anslinger, which prohibited the production of all narcotic drugs.
A propaganda film called Reefer Madness was created to scare Americans away from marijuana. The movie shows a woman smoking marijuana and then laughing while a man who also smoked beats a third person to death.
Samuel R. Caldwell and Moses Baca become the first two people arrested for possession of marijuana, on the same day President Roosevelt signed a law that made it illegal to possess cannabis in the U.S. without a special tax stamp: the Marijuana Tax Act Law.
President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act as part of the “War on Drugs.” The act listed cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug (in the same class as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy), meaning it could have no medical uses and had a high risk of abuse.
NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) a pro-cannabis activist group, filed the first petition to reschedule cannabis as a less risky drug under national law. The petition was denied a hearing for more than a decade.
In a ruling on NORML's 1972 petition, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chief Administrative Law Judge Francis Young said: "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care." Then-DEA Administrator John C. Lawn rejected Young's decision in 1989, however, and cannabis remained a Schedule 1 drug.
California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, after signing the Compassionate Use Act into law. Now, 29 states plus Washington D.C. and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico allow cannabis for some medicinal purposes.
Both Washington and Colorado signed laws legalizing recreational use of marijuana in the state. Since then, a total of 10 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized recreational cannabis (including: Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Vermont and Oregon).