History of Marijuana

| | November 20, 2023

Marijuana has finally started to bridge the gap from frowned-upon fringe habit to a socially acceptable recreational pastime with economic benefits and medical applications.

But despite the advantages of what cannabis offers, it has a long and complicated history, bouncing from the foundation of many massive societal improvements to criminalized psychological escape and back again.

Here are the highlights.

Before the Common Era

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Portrait of the Red Emperor Shen Nung (2838 – 2698 B.C.)

The existence of Marijuana dates back as far as 10,000 years ago. It was one of the first crops grown when farming began. A non-psychoactive variety of cannabis called Hemp was consistently used as a material for clothing and rope in central Asia around 500 B.C.

The first recorded use of Marijuana that got people high was in 2373 B.C.E in China when Emperor Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine, used marijuana to treat patients with gout, malaria, and poor memory.

Throughout the next 3,000 years, the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes slowly started spreading across to Africa, Europe, then onto the United States of America. The Chinese mixed it into food while the Indians mixed into a drink called Bhang.

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Claudius Galenus – a physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire

In the 2nd Century C.E, Greek Doctor Galen prescribed cannabis as Medicine, and before that, in Greece, cannabis seeds were consumed recreationally. The popularity of cannabis continued to rise. A Chinese Doctor named Hua Tuo used cannabis to relieve pain for patients going under surgery by grounding it and mixing it with wine.

When the Middle Ages began, marijuana grew more popular in the Middle East that influenced Muslims to smoke cannabis. They called it ”Hashish”, but these Muslims are not the first people in the world to smoke cannabis. Researchers have found evidence of smoked cannabis in Chinese pots in Central Asia that dates back around 2,500 years ago.

“This discovery,” the archaeologists said, “is the earliest clear evidence of the use of cannabis for its psychoactive properties.” written by Senior Journalist Michelle Starr from Science Alert. This discovery helped researchers and scientists pin down the vast history of Marijuana.

Classical Era 

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Hemp harvesting on Rhine bank. Created by Lallemand, published on L’Illustration, Journal Universel, Paris, 1860

By 1492, Christopher Colombus used a rope made out of hemp that he bought with him in his 1st Voyage. In the same period, the French and British had their colonists grow cannabis in the new world.

Then in the 1600s, Cannabis grew more popular that it became a significant product to trade between South and Central Asia. Eventually, it scattered around the United States, which was regularly prescribed, and it was easy to buy in general stores.

By this time, the use of Cannabis drastically increased. When the 1800s started, cannabis grew more popular as it got more and more exposure that cannabis plantations were scattered around the United States. Even Doctors regularly prescribed it, and it was easy to buy at that time. People traded cannabis all around the world, and its use dramatically increased. 

However, by the end of the 1800s, people’s mindset started to change because people were freaking out on other drugs, alcohol and opium addiction started to rise. Many began to believe that it caused mental illness.

In 1868, the British led the charge of a certain law against dangerous drugs. Moreover, when the progressive era came, the reputation of cannabis began getting bad influences due to propagandas, false allegations, and people’s viewpoints.

People around the world concluded that marijuana was the same as other lethal and dangerous drugs. By this time, cannabis swept the U.S, many progressives called for stricter regulations against potentially harmful drugs with marijuana included.

Coming towards 1893, the British government became concerned with cannabis use in India, which they controlled at that time. The following year, the British conducted a study called the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, which stated that moderate cannabis use was fine and that it did not make people crazy, unlike other drugs that were used and abused.

Progressive Era

When the progressive era covered the U.S in 1906, marijuana had become more known as a recreational drug and progressives demanded stricter regulations against recreational drugs.

This was also the time when the U.S government passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in an effort to control mislabeled products and also declared that cannabis was dangerous which was required to be labeled before being sold to the community. 

In 1913, California became the first state to ban growing cannabis, which people called ”Locoweed”. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act officially made drug use a crime that made cannabis known to people as a recreational drug instead of a medicinal one as more people started smoking it in cigarettes and pipes.

Many Mexicans smoked it, and after millions of Mexican immigrants flooded to the U.S due to the Mexican revolution, they brought the hobby with them and influenced millions of Americans as well, which Mexicans called “Marihuana”.

Mexicans became known for strongly being associated with smoking cannabis, which was a bad time since Americans were xenophobic towards Mexicans.  Americans became more afraid of cannabis because of this reason due to the connection between Mexicans and Marijuana.

This resulted in 26 states outlawing cannabis, and the government along with its people considered it horrible and so did the rest of the world since the United States was a well-known country. 1st commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, relentlessly led campaigns against cannabis

With the statement, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and Entertainers.” He claimed, “Their satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others”. This instilled more fear into the public. He pronounced it as “marijuana” to make it sound foreign and associated with the Mexican Immigrants.

He was also testifying before Congress to get them to make the plant illegal with little to no knowledge about the herb and presented no evidence that it is dangerous. He also considered it as the most violent-causing drug in the history of mankind. This is why the United Kingdom banned marijuana in 1928.

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Samuel R. Caldwell (February 11, 1880 – June 24, 1941) was one of the first people convicted and sentenced to prison for cannabis under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937

By 1936, a movie called Reefer Madness was released, and the plot of the film was good people going violent and crazy because of marijuana use. This movie was influenced by Anslinger himself. When the year 1937 came, the Marijuana Tax Act by Anslinger was passed and ordered those who sold marijuana were required to pay a high tax.

By this time, Canada and China outlawed marijuana and so did the rest of the world. The United States of America influenced the entire world that marijuana was indeed a dangerous drug that is harmful to humans, but places in the middle east, northern Africa, and India were still making marijuana legal.

During the 1950’s marijuana officially became a taboo and was categorized with dangerous drugs such as heroin, cocaine, etc. Although the retaliation on marijuana was heavily spread, its popularity continued to increase to other nations.

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Two men burning marijuana in field in Garner North Carolina in 1942

The United Nations Single Convention Narcotic Drugs gathered last 1960 and decided that marijuana should be banned but can be strictly used for medical purposes and scientific research, which means that its use was not totally illegal.

Almost every country was on board with this decision. Within that decade, an American counterculture grew dramatically and in the 1970s, a group called the National Organization of The Reform Of Marijuana Law (NORML) was established to end marijuana prohibition. The support and influence quickly grew as the organization started to get many people to protest.

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R. Keith Stroup, president of Norml, speaking at a Senate hearing on a bill that would reduce penalties for the use of marijuana. Source: nytimes.com

Again, marijuana use increased throughout 1960-1970 since the number of protestors kept growing and growing as millions started to know the truth about the beneficial herb. Its components benefited a lot of patients and people have come to a verdict that marijuana should not be banned.

They proceeded to call the government to make medical marijuana legal in the 1980s, then finally in 1996 California passed Proposition 215 which legalized medical marijuana. Several other states followed this as well.

This was the start of the legalization of marijuana in countries outside the United States. These were the reasons why in the 1990s, anti-marijuana propagandas faded and more movies featured normal marijuana use, unlike the 1936 Reefer Madness film. More studies and doctors began to call for decriminalization and legal medical use. 

Within that time, a lot of Canadians heed to their government to consider legalizing marijuana because of the information they received that marijuana can save lives

21st Century

In an article from Canada about the timeline of legalization of marijuana in their country, they stated that:

“The seriously ill and dying begin fighting for a legal exemption to the criminal law, demanding the right to obtain medicinal pain relief though marijuana without fear of prosecution.”

This is why just last 2001, Canada legalized medical marijuanafor the benefit of those who needed it, especially to those struggling. However, American politicians ignored them.

Canada became the second country in the world with a government-run cannabis health program to support their fellow people who were in critical condition and was in need of immediate medical marijuana prescription.

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A participant holds up a sign at the 43rd annual Hash Bash rally in Ann Arbor, MI April 5, 2014.

During the time of the Obama administration in 2009, more Americans demanded to legalize marijuana for recreational use, not just medical. Several countries legalized medical marijuana, but the U.S remained strict on enforcing marijuana laws. Last 2012, Colorado, Washington completely legalized marijuanaafter seeing how much money they were making from taxing and regulating it.

In Aaron Smith’s article about the marijuana legalization in Colorado on CNN, they considered this as “The biggest victory ever for the legalization moment”. 

By the following year, Uruguay was the first country to legalize marijuana use. More and more countries are starting to legalize marijuana up until now. Marijuana was perfectly legal before and the legalization will most likely spread since studies and research findings continue to be published for the public to grasp every bit of detail about marijuana.

People nowadays freely grow their own cannabis with different strains and growing methods to use or sell it afterward. There are lots of marijuana businesses out there and if you are planning to build one, growing it is not easy.

It requires constant monitoring and taking care of various factors to keep your cannabis healthy while having the best nutrient solution. Taking advantage of marijuana-engineered systems will keep your strains in pristine condition, which will satisfy your customers’ needs and yours as well. With proper in-depth research and equipment, your marijuana business will be successful in no time.

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