A Brief Legal History of Cannabis in the US

To better understand the current situation regarding cannabis in the United States it is best that we start at the beginning. Soon after the cannabis plant first arrived in the United States it became a staple crop among the first colonies. In the early days of the United States cannabis, or hemp, was used as the main ingredient in the production of rope, sails, and clothes. Farmers were encouraged to grow the plant and at one point even required to grow it. Hemp was even accepted as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. Even our first president, George Washington was said to grow it on his farm and the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. Needless to say, cannabis was a very popular plant back in the day, so what went wrong?

In the early days cannabis was primarily used for making products and trading, up until after the Civil War when alternatives took the place of hemp. It wasn’t until the 19th century that marijuana began making a name for itself. Marijuana is the flower of the cannabis plant which contains the psychoactive molecule THC. Hashish, which is a refined form of marijuana that contains high concentrations of THC became popular in the United States (and other countries). In the early 1900s Mexicans began immigrating to the United States and introduced americans to the recreational use of marijuana. Immigration from Mexico continued to increase which resulted in fear and resentment from the american citizens. Due to the tension, marijuana became associated with violence and crime along with the Mexicans who used the marijuana. Studies were conducted which connected the use of marijuana to criminal activity and a propaganda campaign ensued soon after with the goal of demonizing marijuana and its use. Although conflicting studies on marijuana and crime were released during the following years, laws would be enacted criminalizing marijuana use. Eventually, even hemp became outlawed due to its close relation with marijuana.

The legal war on cannabis raged throughout the years with opinions varying wildly and swaying to the politics of the time. Some laws were passed making sentencing of marijuana related crimes more relaxed. While a few presidential administrations declared war on the plant.. In recent times marijuana legislation has been making huge strides towards legalization. In 1996 California legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes which was a huge step forward for legislation and would pave the way for future legislation regarding medical marijuana, hemp, and even recreational use. Today, medical marijuana is legal in 26 states and marijuana for recreational use is legal in 9 states.

Cannabinoids and CBD

THC is well known as the primary chemical responsible for the intoxicating effects of marijuana. However, there are over 70 other chemicals exclusively produced by the cannabis plant named cannabinoids. In the past these non psychoactive chemicals, such as CBD have been banned due to their source being the cannabis plant. Due to this, many people who would have found relief from this natural chemical were forced to take synthetic alternatives which came with a list of negative side effects. This unfortunate situation turned around in 2018 with The 2018 Farm Bill. This bill legalized industrial hemp on a federal level removing the heavy restrictions on cultivation and sale of hemp products and hemp derived chemicals such as CBD. While this bill hasn’t removed all of the obstacles, it has created a clear path for people to access medicines that have proven very effective in giving them relief. It has also laid the framework for legalization of marijuana in its entirety, giving people a natural alternative to some of the hard synthetic medicines they have been forced to take for so long.

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