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The Changing Landscape of Marijuana

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

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Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Legal marijuana has made the temptation for a leisurely high even more alluring despite its many hazardous effects on one’s health. Grasping for a pocket puff of release is now a lucrative social offering both legally and underground.

The earliest written records of marijuana use date back to at least 3000BC, and archeological records go back even further.

This versatile plant has many applications such as rope fiber, food, medicine, religious use, and recreational use.

Marijuana has been used globally for centuries for various uses, but has also been restricted in many countries.

Even though it’s less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, marijuana is restricted in many countries around the globe.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana is often used as another name for cannabis, which comes from the cannabis plant. Marijuana and cannabis are not synonymous, though. Cannabis refers to all products from the cannabis sativa plant, while marijuana refers to cannabis products made from the dried flowers of the cannabis plant.

Cannabis with little to no trace of the psychoactive THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) tends to have higher concentrations of CBD (cannabidiols), which are non-psychoactive but can have a range of positive health benefits.

Depending on the strain of the cannabis plant, cannabis contains various compounds called cannabinoids. THC is also a cannabinoid.

Hemp Is the non-psychoactive version of marijuana. It’s predominantly used to produce cloth and rope.

Today’s hydroponically-grown marijuana often contains extremely high levels of THC.

Global History of Marijuana

In a nutshell, marijuana originated in Asia and the Indian subcontinent where it is believed to have been used for its medicinal properties.

From there, marijuana spread to Africa and then Europe before moving to the Americas.

The earliest record of marijuana is from 2737BC by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, who consumed marijuana infusions for gout, malaria and memory problems!

Over the next 3000 years, marijuana as medicine slowly spread throughout Asia, Africa, and into Europe. The Ancient Chinese mixed it into food, and in India it was mixed into a yoghurt drink called a Bhang.

The Greeks ate cannabis seeds recreationally, and the Chinese doctor Hua Tuo used marijuana for pain relief for patients having surgery by grinding it and mixing with wine.

Marijuana also became popular in the Middle East. As Muslims are forbidden to drink wine, instead they turned to hashish, although Ibn Wahshiyya, the Arabic doctor warned against its dangers.

On his transatlantic voyage, Christopher Columbus took hemp rope to the New World in 1492. Over the next centuries, hemp became a huge commodity to trade with Asia.

Marijuana in the US

Marijuana was first legalized in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, when hemp was an important crop for colonial farms.

King James I created a decree demanding that all American colonists grow Indian hemp for export to England. Hemp was widely used to make rope and sail cloth.

Hemp continued to dominate the market until steam-powered boats took to the seas and cotton fabric became popular.

Medicinal Properties

By the end of the Civil War in the late 1800s, marijuana was becoming popular for its medicinal properties. An 1862 edition of Vanity Fair included an advert for “hashish candy” which purported to be a cure for “nervousness and melancholy.”

The Irish doctor William O’Shaughnessy, helped to popularize marijuana for its pain relieving properties.

Napoleon Bonaparte learned his soldiers had started smoking marijuana in Egypt as alcohol wasn’t available there. When they returned to France, he outlawed the cannabis plant.

At this point, marijuana was everywhere. Doctors were prescribing it and it was easily available to purchase in stores across the US. Due to its availability, this meant there was plenty of marijuana for this type of candy.

By the end of the 1800s however, attitudes towards cannabis began to change. Many progressives called for stricter regulation of marijuana. In 1906, the federal government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act which deemed cannabis dangerous and should be labeled as such before being sold.

This was even after the British study the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission found that moderate cannabis use caused no harm.

In the meantime, people from Mexico were moving to the US in search of work after the revolution. They introduced the method of smoking marijuana with them. But, their presence in the labor market created tension in many people.

California became the first state to ban the growing of cannabis in 1913.


As marijuana smoking became synonymous with Mexican immigrants, racist and xenophobic campaigns portrayed marijuana and Mexicans in a negative light to the general public and lawmakers. As a result, the nationwide prohibition of marijuana began.

By 1926, cannabis was outlawed in 26 states across the US. Incidentally, cannabis was also outlawed in many parts of the world. Eventually, countries got together and signed a treaty which banned the export of cannabis.

In 1928, the UK prohibited cannabis. Then in the early 1930s, the world experienced The Great Depression.

Mexican immigrants were scapegoated as US citizens needed someone to blame for their financial hardship. It was Harry J Anslinger who could be attributed with making cannabis illegal in the US. Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who launched a major campaign against cannabis.

His manifesto was somewhat misguided as he claimed that most of the “100,000 marijuana smokers in the US are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers.” He also claimed that marijuana “causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

Anslinger managed to instill fear about marijuana and xenophobia in the public through propaganda including the film Reefer Madness, made to warn parents about the “dangers of cannabis.”

The film also prepared the way for Anslinger’s 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which required anyone who sold pot must pay large proportions of tax. This act was approved without any resistance apart from a doctor called William Woodward who pointed out that marijuana caused no harm and could potentially have medical benefits.

Crack Down

In 1937, Samuel Caldwell became the first person to be arrested for selling marijuana. By then, Canada and China had outlawed marijuana. Globally attitudes changed towards marijuana apart from places such as the Middle East, North Africa, and India.

The US was pretty powerful by this point, and influenced the rest of the world on drug policy even though research was showing that marijuana isn’t at all dangerous.

In 1951, the US passed the Boggs Act, which gives a mandatory prison sentence for all drug crimes.

In 1956, the US passed the Narcotics Control Act which allowed stricter sentences for marijuana related offences. It was then classified as the same tier as cocaine and heroin.

But, these draconian measures made marijuana more popular underground. By the mid 1950s marijuana was so taboo it was considered a symbol of rebellion against authority.

The 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs created a rule that marijuana should be banned completely unless it was used strictly for scientific research or medicinal purposes.

In the late 1960s, the American counter culture associated with hippies and college students grew dramatically. At the same time US soldiers in Vietnam were taking marijuana and other drugs.

The 1960s and 1970s became an iconic era for marijuana smokers that sparked a revolution in pot smoking. The cannabis movement swept amongst young people across the nation.

The Controlled Substances Act

In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act was passed by Richard Nixon. This act classified drugs into five schedules according to the harm they cause, the potential for abuse and potential for medicinal use.  This act classified marijuana as a schedule I substance, the same level as cocaine and heroin.

President Nixon associated heroin with African-Americans, and marijuana with hippies. Both groups largely opposed Nixon. As the federal government had set their stance on marijuana, the only way to change the law on marijuana is at state level.

  • Decriminalization began in many states starting with Oregon in 1973.
  • Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana completely in 2012. So far, marijuana is legal in nine states and Washington D.C.
  • 29 states allow medical marijuana.
  • 13 states have decriminalized but not legalized marijuana.
  • In the states that legalized marijuana, sales hit $9.7 billion in sales in 2017.
  • The majority of Americans support full legalization of marijuana.

Richard Nixon was elected partially due to his sympathy with the movement in 1968 .

In 1969 the Supreme Court found that the marijuana tax act was unconstitutional because it violated the 5th amendment. As a result, congress passed the Controlled Substances Act which categorized drugs according to the danger they posed.

Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous and include heroin and cocaine. Congress classified marijuana as Schedule I which commanded the highest penalties if caught.

In 1971, the UK followed suit but classified marijuana as less dangerous than other drugs.

The War on Drugs

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is a group that was established during marijuana prohibition and whose influence grew quickly.

In 1972, the Schafer Commission, created by Richard Nixon, found that marijuana wasn’t as dangerous as other schedule I drugs and suggested decriminalization. But, Nixon ignored this advice. It was convenient for Nixon to use the legislation against pot to keep the growing counterculture in check.

Instead, he formed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and started the war on drugs.

In 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that 20 years in jail was a justifiable punishment for selling marijuana. That said, many states decided to decriminalize marijuana regardless. Marijuana use increased for the rest of the decade despite the draconian federal legislation.

In 1976, the Netherlands also decriminalized marijuana.

By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was president, the culture changed again. Anti-drugs propaganda in the US was at its height during the 1980s with campaigns such as Just Say No, the Partnership For a Drug-Free America, and DARE. The Reagan Administration ramped up sentencing for drug dealing and cracked down even more.

The authorities cracked down hard on marijuana users during the 1980s and 1990s. Minorities were disproportionately targeted even though they used it no more than non-minorities.  Millions were still calling for marijuana to be made legal.


In 1996, California passed Proposition 215 making marijuana legal in that state. Several states followed suit afterward. In the late 1990s, anti-drug propaganda faded and started to be replaced with films featuring marijuana use. At the same time, more studies and doctors are claiming that marijuana is not dangerous.

Other countries have since followed suit. Portugal decriminalized all drugs and drug-related crime dropped drastically.

In 2001, Canada legalized medical marijuana across the country. But, the US ignored this and continued to arrest and incarcerate thousands of people for marijuana-related crime.

In 2009, Obama spoke about how he used marijuana as a teenager. By this time, calls to legalize recreational marijuana were getting louder. By this time medical marijuana has been made legal in several countries around the world.

In 2012, Washington and Colorado completely legalized marijuana for adults. When other states saw how much revenue was being generated in taxes, a wave of other states started to legalize marijuana.

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to completely legalize marijuana for adults since it was first criminalized in the 20th century.

Marijuana was legal in every country in the world until the 20th century, perhaps it will become legal again in the next couple of decades?

Legalization of Marijuana in the US

Marijuana is now legal in most states, but it is still a crime federally apart from hemp.

The 2018 Farm Bill

In 2018, the Farm Bill was passed. The Farm Bill removed hemp, cannabis that contains less than 0.3% THC from the Controlled Substances Act. In the same year, the government approved Epidiolex, which effectively treats seizures.

The Farm Bill allows the sale of cannabis high in cannabidiol in products and to be consumed for its medicinal properties. Any products containing hemp must meet the FDA’s guidelines on food and drink.

The passing of the Farm Bill has led to the misconception that all products that contain hemp are fine. The industry is young and so is still unregulated. The market is now flooded with creams, balms, tinctures, dietary supplements, vet products, and cosmetics that claim to contain CBD. But, studies have shown that many of these products either contain no cannabidiol or high levels of THC.

The biggest concern however, are those products with CBD that claim to prevent or treat serious illness such as cancer or Alzheimer’s. The FDA has been sending warning letters to companies who make such claims on their packaging.

The Marijuana Opportunity and Reinvestment Act (MORE Act)

The More Act would remove recreational marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and expunge some related criminal records.

It is hoped that the act will address some of the inequality issues in the US. Black people are disproportionately arrested for marijuana related crimes than white people.

But, for this act to become law it needs to be passed by congress. Removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act will not be a simple task as it is implicated in interstate and international law.

Get The Right Treatment for Substance Abuse Disorder

Today is the day to take back your life.

Marijuana is no stranger to the homes of millions of Americans across the U.S. When the life of your loved ones is at stake and the health of your family is a clear and present danger. Bar to none, this is a compelling reason to pick up the phone today and get your life back on track.

Take a step in the right direction and start a journey back to sobriety with our friendly, competent team of therapists and in-house personnel. Our family of experts will personally walk each of the patients through their recovery journey.

Get in touch with the friendly team here at Renaissance Recovery and we’ll walk you through your various options for treatment. Call us today at 866.330.9449 and we’ll help you get right back on track.866.330.9449

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country