Cannabis History: How Cannabis Came to America

Marijuana use is still a contentious topic in America. Despite the discovery of its medicinal benefits, cannabis draws mixed reactions from people. It is a combative drug because of the psychoactive components that may cause addiction and health problems.

But how did cannabis find its way to America? This article explores more about cannabis history in the USA.

History of Hemp

It is believed that marijuana cultivation started in Asia around 5000BC. During those ancient years, many people did not use cannabis for recreation but for industrial purposes. The history of marijuana in America dates back to the 17th century when it was cultivated for textile and medical purposes.

The colonists were growing hemp, a similar botanical class to cannabis, to produce fiber for making clothes, sails, or ropes. Around the year 1618, the state of Virginia passed a law that compelled hemp growing among all farmers. As a result, several states started using hemp as a currency.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, hemp became popular and was still grown as a legal crop in America. The crop’s use diversified to make paper, shoes, fabric, and lamp fuels.

Medicinal Marijuana

In the years that followed, between the 1800s and 1900s, the American government accepted the use of marijuana as medicine. The early physicians embraced the herb and administered it orally to patients.

People could buy the product from pharmacies to treat various ailments. For instance, it was prescribed to heal pain, convulsions, rheumatism, gout, muscle spasms, and as an appetite stimulant.

Many people knew cannabis as a regular drug, and there was no real concern about its side effects. But in 1906, the law required that medicinal products with marijuana have proper labels since it was widely known as a painkiller.

After around three decades of marijuana medications being sold over the counter, Mexican immigrants started settling in America. This period was the beginning of marijuana’s use as a recreational drug. People started associating the drug with Mexican settlers, and controversies began.

Recreational Marijuana

Besides being mixed in foods and drugs, cannabis was also smoked. People discovered that smoking pot causes relaxation and a sense of euphoria. An example is the Cake Mix strain used for medical purposes and recreation.

The drug also heightens the user’s feelings and increases appetite. But cannabis overuse has adverse side effects – fear, anxiety, panic, and psychotic symptoms.

Thus, anti-drug activists in America started to campaign against the use of cannabis due to such concerns. By 1925, 26 states introduced federal laws that made marijuana use illegal.

Even though cannabis had made strides in the medical sector, it was slowly becoming a public enemy. Politics and racial discrimination against the Mexicans brought a shift to cannabis use and distribution.

Another disaster that hit Americans was the Great Depression of the 1930s. During this period, millions of people lost their jobs due to the economic recession. Americans hated the Mexican immigrants because of job insecurities.

They thought that the Mexicans might take their sources of livelihood. Because of this fact, Mexicans were stigmatized, and people did not want to associate with the immigrants.

Marijuana Tax Act

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 is a federal law passed in America to fight cannabis distribution and use, culminating the years of intensifying prejudice and fears. Cannabis was already associated with Mexicans; therefore, there was an increased public outcry against the drug.

People started exaggerating the risks of cannabis use, and the fear intensified. Besides, the media linked pot users to crime and violent behaviors.

With rising campaigns to criminalize cannabis use, most states introduced regulation laws by 1936. People were no longer free to purchase and use cannabis for recreation or medical purposes. As a result, a hefty excise tax was adopted to regulate marijuana use.

From 1942 onward, marijuana was banned and discredited even as a medical drug. It was illegal to trade or use cannabis in America. Thus, cannabis possession was a criminal act that attracted harsh penalties.

But many college students and the youth enjoyed the euphoric feeling and harmless relaxation it brought. Consequently, many people were arrested and charged for marijuana possession and use until the 1990s.

Cannabis Legalization

Today, America is at the forefront of championing marijuana legalization. Many states have lifted the ban on cannabis use, mostly as a medical drug. Regardless of its adverse effects, weed legalization is quicker today than in the past, mostly due to the isolation of CBD from weed and the discovery of its multiple therapeutic effects.

However, users still need a medical marijuana card issued by the state to access and purchase cannabis at the dispensary.


Marijuana was a legal crop cultivated by the early colonists in America. Many people used the herb to treat ailments and for industrial use. Hemp cultivation was popular due to its many benefits to society.

However, politics and race resulted in cannabis prohibition in the 20th century. Despite many decades of weed criminalization, it is steadily regaining its popularity as a medical wonder drug.

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