History of Marijuana and Cannabis Laws in the US

The history of marijuana use and regulation in the US is indeed incredibly fascinating. Many of this country’s founding fathers and greatest patriots actually grew hemp as one of their farm’s main crops. They were literally “pot” farmers. It was not until many generations later in the 1900s that hemp/cannabis/marijuana became “bad plants” for reasons discussed in other articles you can find on Hempioneers.com.
Pre-Independence Days
When the Unites States was a young colony, England demanded payment of taxes by requiring some colonies to grow and export hemp. One could argue factually the first formal tax system in the colonies which became the United States of America required payment in marijuana.Regulation of Cannabis sativa began as early as 1619. The Virginia Company, by decree of King James I in 1619, ordered every colonist to grow 100 plants specifically for export. Thus, England’s only colony in America began to grow hemp in order to meet its tax obligation and to serve a growing demand for hemp in other British colonies.[2][3]
The 1st US president, George Washington apparently also grew hemp at Mount Vernon as one of his three primary crops. The use of hemp for rope and fabric was ubiquitous throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States. Hemp may have been the US’s largest crop for many generations.
Medicinal preparations of cannabis became available in American pharmacies in the 1850s following an introduction to its use in Western medicine by William O’Shaughnessy a decade earlier in 1839.[4]

Cannabis fluid extract medicine bottle from 1906

The Puritanicallt Charged Unenlightened Days of the Early 1900s

Around the same time, efforts to regulate the sale of pharmaceuticals began, and laws were introduced on a state-to-state basis that created penalties for mislabeling drugs, adulterating them with undisclosed narcotics, and improper sale of those considered “poisons“. Poison laws generally either required labels on the packaging indicating the harmful effects of the drugs or prohibited sale outside of licensed pharmacies and without a doctor’s prescription. Those that required labeling often required the word “poison” if the drug was not issued by a pharmacy. Other regulations were prohibitions on the sale to minors, as well as restrictions on refills. Some pharmaceutical laws specifically enumerated the drugs that came under the effect of the regulations, while others didn’t — leaving the matter to medical experts. Those that did generally included references to cannabis, either under the category of “cannabis and its preparations” or “hemp and its preparations.”[5]

Increased restrictions and labeling of cannabis as a poison began in many states from 1906 onward, and outright prohibitions began in the 1920s. By the mid-1930s Cannabis was regulated as a drug in every state, including 35 states that adopted the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act.[1]

Marihuana Tax Act of 1937

Prior to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, marijuana was widely used by medical doctors in the United States for a variety of physical and emotional ailments. The full text of the act can be read here. Extensive background on the act been be read here. It was not apparent in public debate at that time that the purpose of the act was to make marijauna illegal in the US, but it had that effect due to the nature of its enforcement provisions.

In the 1970s, many places in the United States started to abolish state laws and other local regulations that banned possession or sale of cannabis. The same thing happened with cannabis sold as medical cannabis in the 1990s.

All this is in conflict with federal laws; cannabis is a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which classified cannabis as having high potential for abuse, no medical use, and not safe to use without medical supervision. Multiple efforts to reschedule cannabis under the Act have failed, and the United States Supreme Court has ruled in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative and Gonzales v. Raich that the federal government has a right to regulate and criminalize cannabis, even for medical purposes.


Controlled Substances Act of 1970 – The beginning of the Cannabis Medicine Prohibition

It was not until 1970 with passage of the Controlled Substances Act that marijauna became illegal federally for medical and recreational use.

Around this same time, the U.S. government began a litany of “reefer madness” propaganda and police actions that are with us today. Coupled with the bureaucratic demands of the tax act, the practice of physicians prescribing cannabis for therapeutic purposes in such an environment became subject to great scrutiny and therefore unwise. Cannabis’ therapeutic value was no longer taught in medical schools; it vanished from the pharmacopoeia of the U.S.; it became outlawed.

Many organizations today are focusing efforts  to re-institute cannabis as a legitimate medicine for use within the United States at the federal government level. Cannabis, under modern research protocol has been found to be effective in reducing intraocular pressure in glaucoma, reducing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, stimulating the appetite for persons living with AIDS and suffering from wasting syndrome, controlling spasticity associated with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, reduction in the intensity of chronic pain, and controlling seizures associated with seizure disorders.


Visit Hempioneer’s industry resource page for a list and links to some of the organizations you should help if you too believe it is long overdue that the US stop its drug war as it relates to the practice of medicine and marijuana. Due to many conflicting special interests, everyone who feels strongly about advancing medical practices and protecting a citizens freedom of choice and liberties should get involved and support legislative change to eliminate marijuana and cannabis from the 1970 Controlled Substance Act altogether.

This country’s first tax currency from 1619 must again be made legal for responsible use by adults. Just like alcohol which was made illegal in 1920 by passage of the 18th Amendment, late agreed overwhelmingly by the US Congress and Presidents of that time to have been a mistake, so too did this country make a huge and costly mistake in 1970 by ignorantly including marijuana as a dangerous drug and stating legislatively, incorrectly, that cannabis has no medical or therapeutic value.

Learn more by reading “Medical Marijuana, Hemp and Cannabis – History of Use and The Untold Story,” by the medical director of the Online Wellness Community.


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