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Published
October 12, 2023

The Evolution of Cannabis Prohibition in the United States

Explore the evolving landscape of cannabis legalization and prohibition in the United States.

Cannabis has a complex and contentious history in the United States, a country where it has transitioned from a medicinal plant to a forbidden substance and is now seeing a resurgence in acceptance. Understanding the origins and evolution of cannabis prohibition in the U.S. can provide valuable insights into the social, political, and economic forces that have shaped this landscape.

Cannabis Legislation in the United States

While cannabis is still illegal under federal law, 38 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis, and 22 states have legalized recreational cannabis. This means that over 70% of the U.S. population now lives in a state where cannabis is legal in some form.

History of Cannabis Use in the United States

Cannabis has been used in the United States for centuries, dating back to the colonial era. It was originally used for its medicinal properties, but by the early 1900s, recreational use was also becoming popular.

History of Legalization of Cannabis in the United States Timeline

  • 1972: The Shafer Commission recommends that cannabis be decriminalized.
  • 1973: Oregon becomes the first state to decriminalize cannabis.
  • 1996: California becomes the first state to legalize medical cannabis.
  • 2009: The Obama administration issues a memo instructing the Department of Justice to not interfere with states that have legalized medical cannabis.
  • 2012: Colorado and Washington become the first states to legalize recreational cannabis.
  • 2018: The Farm Bill legalizes hemp and hemp-derived products at the federal level.

Cannabis Prohibition in the United States Today

Despite the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis, it remains illegal at the federal level. This means that the federal government can still prosecute people for cannabis offenses, even in states where it is legal.

Why Was Cannabis Made Illegal in the First Place?

  • Racism and xenophobia: Cannabis was often associated with Mexican immigrants in the early 1900s. Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, played on these fears in his campaign to demonize cannabis.
  • Economic interests: The hemp industry was a major competitor to the paper and nylon industries in the early 1900s. These industries lobbied for the prohibition of cannabis in order to protect their own profits.
  • Public opinion: There was a growing moral panic about cannabis in the early 1900s, fueled by propaganda and misinformation.

History of Hemp Prohibition

Hemp is a type of cannabis plant that has very low levels of THC, the psychoactive compound that produces a high. Hemp has been used for centuries for a variety of purposes, including making paper, textiles, and rope.

Hemp was first prohibited in the United States in 1937 with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. This act made it illegal to grow, sell, or use cannabis without a tax stamp, which was effectively impossible to obtain.

Conclusion

The history of cannabis prohibition in the United States is a complex one, shaped by a variety of social, political, and economic forces. However, the tide is clearly turning. With more states legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use, the future looks increasingly green.

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