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Why Marijuana Should Be Legal Now: Part 1, History

Updated on September 28, 2010

This hub is going to be a three-parter. In the next two hubs we'll delve into the myths and facts about marijuana and discuss why making it legal would be beneficial to our society. First, though, we must examine marijuana's place in history. This hub is intended to inform those who may not know about the actual history of marijuana; how long it has been around, how long it has been illegal, the general ins and outs of how it acquired the perception it has today.

I imagine many non-partakers of weed have a general misconception about how cannabis became illegal. In fact, many of you stoners out there may assume that it's illegality is based on scientific tests, medical experiments, solid evidence and perhaps some law-making deliberation-after which it was determined to be dangerous or toxic to one's health. It brings me great joy to dispel these misconceptions and to highlight the facts behind its current status with the law. So from piles of research here is a timeline to help get our bearings straight about weed's historical significance.

Hemp Seeds
Hemp Seeds
Emperor Shen Nung
Emperor Shen Nung
Bhang Shop in India
Bhang Shop in India


Global History

The use of marijuana has been a part of human history for centuries. From food to recreation and ritual to clothing, some of the World's most developed ancient cultures used marijuana in their day to day activities. This timeline tracks it's use up until Columbus' arrival to the Americas.

  • 8000-7000 BCE: Some of the first fabric is believed to be woven from dried hemp plant.
  • 6000 BCE: Hemp seeds are used as food in China.
  • 2727 BCE: Cannabis as a medicine is documented in the Chinese pharmacopeia, via the writings of Shen Nung, considered one of the fathers of Chinese medicine.
  • 1500 BCE: Scythians, a nomadic, horse riding tribe who resided in present day Central Asia, used hemp to weave fine clothing.
  • 1200-800 BCE: Bhang, a dried mixture of cannabis buds, leaves, stems and seeds is mentioned in the Hindu text the Atharva Veda (Science of Charms). It is called Sacred Grass and is one of only five sacred plants in India. Used as an offering to the god Shiva and is used as a medication in India.
  • 700- 600 BCE: Persian prophet Zoroaster writes the Zend-Avesta, a scared religious text of several hundred volumes which lists over 10,000 medicinal herbs. Cannabis is a the top of the list and Bhang is mentioned as the "good narcotic".
  • 700- 300 BCE: A decorated leather pouch containing marijuana leaves and seeds is found at a Scythian grave site, believed to be from this time period
  • 500 BCE: The Scythians introduce marijuana to Northern Europe.
  • 430 BCE: Herodotus, Greek historian, observed a Scythian funeral ritual in which they would throw it on a heated stone and begin to dance and sing: As it burns, it smokes like incense and the smell of it makes them drunk, just as wine does. As more fruit is thrown on, they get more and more intoxicated until they jump up and start singing and dancing.
  • 200 BCE- 1492 AD: Everyone pretty much realizes cannabis is not only a plant to be consumed to provide the user with a sense of euphoria, contentment and joy, but also a useful resource in creating things like clothes, paper, sails and rope. From the Jewish Talmud to the prophet Mohammed (who banned alcohol but permitted hashish), the use of cannabis is widely accepted and even encouraged. In 1492 Columbus brings Cannabis Sativa to the Americas.

From this timeline it is easy to see that marijuana has been used without inhibition for quite sometime. In fact, weed has only been illegal for a little less than 1% of it's recorded use in history. Whaaa happened? What changed the mindset of the populace? Where did bud get a bad rap? Read on to find out.

"Look at my furrows of worry!" William Randolph Hearst
"Look at my furrows of worry!" William Randolph Hearst
Great example of anti-weed propaganda
Great example of anti-weed propaganda
This one highlights efforts to stereotype weed use to certain racial groups
This one highlights efforts to stereotype weed use to certain racial groups

American History

Now we come to the point in recorded history where marijuana breaches the coastline of what will become the United States.

Elsewhere, it's production and use are still widespread, most notably in 1563 with Queen Elizabeth I of England ordering farmers with 60 acres of land or more to grow cannabis or face a 5 pound fine. The next year, King Phillip of Spain orders cannabis to be grown thourghout his empire, which at the time had colonies on four continents.

  • 1619: The Jamestown colony passes a law that requires farmers to grow hemp. In 1631 and 1632 similar laws are passed in Massachuettes and Connecticut, respectfully. Cannabis was also used for barter in 17th century colonies and was accepted as legal tender in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
  • 1776: The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.
  • 1797: George Washington cultivates Indian hemp seed (Cannabis Sativa Indica) as his primary crop. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp as a secondary crop at Monticello.
  • 1840: Medicines with a cannabis base, for alleviating pain and nausea, are available in the United States. Later that year, Abraham Lincoln writes, Prohibition... goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes... A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.
  • 1898: During the Spanish American War, Pancho Villa and his army seize a 800,000-acre chunk of timberland forest. Why is this important to marijuana history? At the time, the land was "owned" by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. He used the forest for production of his newspaper. It's been said that Villa and his army were weed smokers, which, in terms of being factual, is up for debate. The effect of this seizure was that Hearst, who wielded tremendous public and political influence through his newspaper empire, launched a propaganda campaign against Mexicans and Latinos portraying them as lazy, pot-smoking drifters. It is also suggested that his propaganda against marijuana was due to the fact that hemp paper was much more cost-efficient that wood based paper.
  • 1906: The Food and Drug Act is passed and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is formed. For the first time in history drugs were under government oversight and regulation.
  • 1913-1938: The first state to (ironically) ban marijuana for non-medical use is California in 1913. Other Southwestern states (Utah, Texas, and Louisiana) ban it as well. These bans were not unrelated to the propaganda spread by Hearst's newspapers. Some of his more audacious headlines were Marihuana Makes Fiends of Boys in 30 Days; as well asHasheesh Goads Users to Blood-Lust. Fueled by fear of the "killer weed", and the effect it had on those who smoked it, i.e., the Mexicans, the white constituency of these states voted in favor of prohibiting its use. Not only did Hearst influence racist attitudes towards Hispanics, but also towards "marijuana-crazed Negroes who rape white women and play[ed] voodoo-satanic jazz music..."
  • Early 1930s: The federal government gave control of illegal drugs to the Treasury Department in 1930. In 1931 the Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, appoints his soon to be nephew-in-law, Henry J. Anslinger, to head the newly formed Beaureau of Narcotics. Anslinger, a former prohibitionist, declares a war on drugs. Along with all the ridiculous propaganda that was widespread at the time, such as Reefer Madness, Anslinger molds public opinion about marijuana. Anslinger wasn't afraid to pull out his own propaganda either. Here is an extremely unabashedly racist quote from one of Anslinger's Gore Files: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”

    1937: The Marijuana Tax Act is passed. Anslinger brought with him to Congress sensationalist Hearst newspaper clippings and harrowing stories that lacked solid evidence or witnesses. At the time the word marijuana or marihuana had only one connotation: a drug used by Mexicans. Many members of Congress had no idea they were also talking about cannabis or hemp, which, as we have seen is a very useful resource. After a very short deliberation, Yellow Journalism trumped any actual proof or evidence that smoking weed is detrimental to one's health. 

Drug War

War on drugs was officially declared by Anslinger and his Bureau. After the Marijuana Tax Act 1937, Anslinger kept inflating claims that marijuana was harmful with the help of tabloid style Yellow Journalism tactics from Hearst's newspapers.

Anslinger also got a lot of help from the DuPont corporation, who had patents on the process for making plastics from oil and coal, and on making paper from wood pulp. Had hemp been discovered as a viable (and less costly, not only to the environment but to pocketbooks) way to produce paper as well as other products that could be made out of plastic, DuPont stood to lose a lot of money. Here is what one acre of hemp can produce:

  • 4 acres of trees in paper and in lumber
  • as much fiber as 2 to 3 acres of cotton
  • 1000 gallons of methanol (corn only produces 10/acre)
  • 5 tons of cellulose acetate plastic- used in footwear, eyeglasses, laminates, etc.

...and that's just skimming the tip of the iceberg. It can also be cultivated to make other plastics that are used in automotive manufacturing to producing rayon. It can also be used to make hemp milk, ice cream and tofu...

However, the point here is to reveal why marijuana is illegal in the first place. This is one big reason. With all the things hemp can do for the world, (provide us with fuel, food, clothing, paper, etc.) it became a natural enemy of competing industry giants at the time and continues to be to this day. Conveniently, for those who "owned" other natural resources (wood, coal, oil, etc.) at the time, hemp had another utility, or rather, it's cannabinoid cousin, marijuana did: that is the high it gave those who smoked it. This fact made it relatively easy to just blanket out hemp with marijuana and convince a mostly-ignorant public into fearing the plant.

Great Satire from That 70's Show

After the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937, the laws on pot have seen an ebb and flow in severity of punishment. It has remained completely illegal, (in a federal sense) across the country, despite evidence contrary to it being a dangerous drug. A few highlights between then and now...

  • 1944: In a study headed by then New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and funded by the New York Academy of Medicine, marijuana is not found to have any effect of violence, insanity or sex crimes. This of course flies in the face the Yellow Journalism which helped turn weed illegal in the first place. In the foreword, written by La Gaurdia, he states that "...scientific research will be continued in hope that the drug may prove to possess therapeutic value for drug addiction."
  • 1952/1956: The Boggs Act in '52 and the Narcotics Control Act of '56 set mandatory sentences for any drug related crimes, including possession of marijuana. A first offense possession of marijuana charge carried a minimum two to ten year sentence and up to a $20,000 fine... calculate inflation and imagine what that fine could be like today!
  • 1960s: The 60s saw a lighter attitude toward marijuana appear as the white upper middle class started using pot more prevalently. The "hippie" movement contributed in large part to the slowly blossoming realization that the war on drugs was futile.
  • 1970: Congress repeals most of the harsh punishment for drug related offenses, acknowledging that minimum mandatory sentencing had done nothing to eliminate the drug culture that sprung up during the 60s and that the sentencing was unnecessarily harsh. The very same year, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) was formed.
  • 1986: President Reagan signs the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which heightened federal punishments for offenses related to marijuana possession and distribution. Possession of 100 marijuana plants carried the same penalty as possession of 100 grams of heroin. In an amendment to the act, a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy was set up. It required life sentencing for repeat offenders and provided the option of the death penalty for drug kingpins.
  • 1996: Irony is not lost in the cycle of marijuana legislation as California, which was the first state to outlaw marijuana, becomes the first to legalize it for medical use. 56% of California voters pass proposition 215, allowing use of marijuana as medicine for relief from serious illnesses such as AIDS and cancer.
  • 1996-2010: Fifteen more states have activated medical marijuana programs since California, they include: Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island.
  • November 2nd, 2010: Proposition 19 will be voted on in California. It aims to legalize marijuana and control and tax it like alcohol. It is based on the premise that prohibition only creates crime, wastes money and fails miserably to curb the use of cannabis. By having it legal it would generate billions in revenue for California, put police priorities where they belong, cut off funding to violent drug cartels, keep its use under regulations (no smoking in public, near schools or around minors) and still allow workplaces to maintain a drug free policy.

Proposition 19 could be the tipping point in terms of nationwide legalization. The practicality and groundedness of the proposition is, in itself, encouraging for the acceptance of marijuana and the eventual recognition of it, not only as a much more harmless drug than alcohol, but also as a valuable and utilitarian plant that has a wide range of positive effects on the environment and the economy.

All it takes to change the current situation with marijuana is the realization of how much the benefits outweigh the disadvantages on a massive scale. It is my sincere hope that this hub has contributed to that and has dispelled misconceptions about this plant that can literally grow anywhere on Earth.

If you found this hub interesting please rate it up and share it wherever and with whomever. Please feel free to comment, as all relevant opinions are encouraged to be expressed. Thanks for reading and stay tuned to parts 2 and 3 to come!


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      great stuff ounce they no things will change

    • profile image


      9 years ago


    • sujju profile image


      9 years ago from mangalore, india

      good one 'bob'.....

    • Andrewskis profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      Thanks you guys... part 2 should be finished by tomorrow!

    • Jeffrey Tymczak profile image

      Jeffrey Tymczak 

      9 years ago from Amelia Island

      Looking forward to your next hub, I will definitely be rating this USEFUL hub UP!!! ;)


    • nikmaya62 profile image


      9 years ago

      Nice hubs,,,, keep it up...

    • profile image

      Heath Justice 

      9 years ago

      Very well put, sir. I just hope that one day everyone else has the same outlook.


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