The History and Beginnings of Cannabis Prohibition.

The History and Beginnings of Cannabis Prohibition.

Government controls over the production of cannabis and hemp date way, way back. With a history that’s decades long, let’s take a look at how the cannabis plant continues to thrive despite contraction and expansion of its legality over time.


There is evidence that George Washington grew hemp in abundance. In a journal entry on August 7, 1765 he wrote that he “began to separate the male from the female hemp”. Hemp was basically a cash crop, and had tremendous value for several industrial applications, such as making rope, creating canvas and being spun into clothing.

Hemp was so prevalent that a law passed by the Virginia Assembly in 1619 required every farmer to grow it. Hemp was also permitted to be exchanged as legal tender in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland at that time. Finally, Oil from hemp seeds was used to create things like paints and varnishes as well. Hemp was as prevalent as wiping that sweat off your brow on a summer’s day.

Let’s pause on this for a moment. There was a time in US history where hemp was so recognized as a positive influence and accepted that the government REQUIRED people to grow it. Contrast that with today, where this plant is HEAVILY controlled.

What does it say about us as a society, whose policies shift with demands of war? Restricting the production of a naturally-occurring plant for misguided reasons is both limiting and sacrilege to the plant. Cannabis has so many positive applications that limiting it would be, and has been a damn shame.

Cannabis Prohibition and Legality

Hemp and marijuana are distinct varieties of the cannabis plant. Throughout history, the government went through phases of distinguishing this difference. Increased restrictions and labeling of cannabis as a poison began in 1906 onward, and outright prohibitions began in the 1920s. By the mid-1930s cannabis was regulated as a drug in every state. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) officially classified hemp as an illegal Schedule I drug, which led to strict regulations imposed on the cultivation of all cannabis plants, which includes industrial hemp and marijuana.

In 1972 the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) petitioned the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) (now the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)) to transfer cannabis to Schedule II so that it could be legally prescribed by physicians. The BNDD declined to initiate proceedings on the basis of their interpretation of U.S. treaty commitments. To this day, cannabis is a Schedule I drug under federal law, which means it’s in the same classification as heroin. The scheduling system is based on a drug’s potential for abuse and its medical value. As a Schedule I drug, the federal government does not recognize medicinal qualities of cannabis. We know this can be infuriating.

The practices that began in the 30’s of criminalizing cannabis led to what’s happening in present-day with the War on Drugs. A black person is six times more likely as a white person to be arrested for marijuana possession. Reaganomics, alone, heavily targeted communities of color in ways that increased the stigma and fear around the plant due to biased policing and fallacies that were spread upon the masses.

Remember how Virgina state law required all farmers to grow hemp? Imagine what would have happened if the Emancipation Proclamation had enabled black-and-brown people to farm their own land under that law? The answer is as crazy back then as it is today. The effect is the criminalization of cannabis has and continues to separate and divide, when the culture of growing and consuming cannabis brings people together for relief, restoration and abundance. It’s a damn shame.

We all see hope in the future as politicians duke it out for presidency. While we don’t endorse any particular candidate, we do hear strong statements from hopefuls like Bernie Sanders who said: “Let me ask you all a question: how many folks here know somebody who was arrested for possession of marijuana? We’re going to move to expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana.” “It just so happens that with an executive order, a president can make marijuana legal in every state in this country.”

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