History of Marijuana
Cannabis has been around for thousands of years. It has been referenced in different historical documents as far back as 2700 B.C in China, India, and later on in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Most of the time, people used the plant to make clothes or other fabrics (using hemp fiber) and for medicinal purposes. The mind-altering properties of cannabis were known and used in religious ceremonies and also recreationally. A greek historian, Herodotus, described that the Scythians, ancient tribes of warriors in Asia, would inhale the vapors of cannabis seeds and flowers.
People brought cannabis to the New World in the 1500s, mostly for hemp, a strong fiber used to fabricate clothes and sails and ship rigging equipment. It became an essential crop all over the world. During that period, some people also used the drug recreationally. When the industrial revolution came about, and steam-powered engines started taking over, the demand for hemp decreased, and the United States began to grow cotton. And the hemp cultivated in the U.S. was a low-THC variety. The Mexican Revolution started in 1910, and many people came to America to get away from the conflict and brought cannabis with them. When Prohibition began in 1920, cannabis became a cheaper replacement for alcohol.
The United States Marijuana Laws
There were different laws introduced internationally and in the United States regarding cannabis use. Possession or distribution of marijuana became officially illegal in 1937 with the Marihuana Tax Act, unless intended for medical or industrial purposes and one gets registered. The Boggs Act of 1951 enacted mandatory sentencing for drug offenses, including marijuana. A first offense would give one a fine of $2,000 with 2 to 5 years, a second offense: 5-10 years, and a third offense: 10-20 years. Four years later, the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 made a first offense punishable by a fine of up to $20,000, along with a mandatory 2 to 10-year sentence.
In 1971, the Controlled Substances Act became effective and classified marihuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in the United States. Although this classification made cannabis comparable to peyote and heroin in the eyes of the law and made its use completely illegal, no matter the purpose, it did remove the minimum sentencing related to marijuana possession and distribution enacted in the 50s.
Since then, different states have passed laws regarding cannabis. Nowadays, most states have made medicinal marijuana legal. Other state laws have been passed either decriminalizing or legalizing recreational marijuana since. The difference between these two is that legalization removes all legal prohibitions, while decriminalization removes criminal sanctions. So if marijuana is decriminalized in a state, it is still illegal, but simple possession of a small quantity would not be grounds for criminal charges. As an example, the first state to decriminalize marijuana was Oregon in 1973 made the possession of less than 1 oz of marijuana, not a crime, but a misdemeanor, which carries only a fine of 500 to 1,000 dollars as its penalty. In 2012, Colorado became the first state (along with Washington) to legalize marijuana for recreational use. It made the recreational use of marijuana legal in the state, although it is still regulated including the minimum age for consumption, maximum quantity allowed, license for sale, etc.
Although marijuana is now legal in different states and countries, it doesn’t mean it is safer now than it was before. Here are some of the warnings the CDC gives:
- Daily or near-daily marijuana use can damage one’s memory, learning, and attention for a week or more after the last use.
- Using marijuana during pregnancy or while breastfeeding can harm the baby.
- Marijuana has been linked to anxiety and other psychiatric disorders, although it has not been determined whether marijuana is the direct cause.
- Smoking marijuana and any other product can cause damage to the lungs and cardiovascular system.