The Fourth of July has come and gone again, fireworks were enjoyed, camping trips were taken, barbecues lit up, as well as plenty of celebratory sparklers… and joints. While we were celebrating the anniversary of our country’s independence, here’s a vague timeline of interesting facts and periods in cannabis’ troubled and complicated history in this young nation of ours.
- The original colonies required all farms grow hemp in the year 1619, being an invaluable resource for products like rope, cloth and paper.
- At the same time, in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, hemp was considered a form of currency.
- Hemp was not comfortable to wear at the time- processing to make hemp as comfortable to wear as it is today took many advancements, so cotton replaced hemp’s popularity as a utilitarian crop.
- In 17th century America, cannabis’ popularity as a medicine in the form of tinctures and oils increased.
- Smoking hashish, produced through drying marijuana resin, was a common practice in France and less common, but still present, in the states.
- From the 1850s to nearly 1940, for almost a century, cannabis was easy to access in pharmacies and general stores as medicine.
- After the mexican revolution in 1910, recreational use was cracked down on legally as immigrants from Mexico came in cannabis.
- By no coincidence, the increase in the price of alcohol in 1920 saw an increase in marijuana use as a cheap alternative. At its cheapest, at a “tea pad,” a small amount cannabis cost as much as 25 cents, and was most popular with black jazz musicians.
- The Great Depression in the 30s caused suspicion and bias against Mexican communities, which became quickly linked them to cannabis, followed by studies connecting the plant to crime in low-income areas.
- Congress officially criminalized marijuana by passing the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937.
- By the 1950s, mandatory minimum sentences were enacted for drug offenses, and was taken up by beatniks and middle class white users in the 60s.
- This counterculture of hippies and poets wanted to reject the societal norms they were raised on in favor of the lifestyle a la bohémme.
- More white people in the US meant that mandatory sentences for marijuana were repealed, and other narcotics would be held to a stricter standard than cannabis. In 1970, that same year, NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana was founded.
- Decriminalization of cannabis was pushed for by the Carter Administration in the late 70s. Parents reacted adversely, and the anti-marijuana movement of the 80s was born.
- The Reagan Administration reinstated mandatory sentences and enforced harsher federal sentences concerning marijuana possession and distribution in 1986.
- A decade later, California and Arizona passed state laws allowing medicinal use for serious illnesses like AIDs and cancer.
- As of the late 2010s, cannabis is totally illegal in only 4 states. Every other region in the United States except for Idaho, Kansa, Nebraska, and South Dakota allow cannabis use in some form.
As we light up this July, let’s reflect not just on the history of the United States of America, but on all the ways cannabis and its users have been treated, and how we would like to see those continue to improve.
(Sources: History.com, PBS.com)