In 1972, a report from the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (also known as the Shafer Commission) released a report titled “Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.” The report recommended “partial prohibition” and lower penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Nixon and other government officials, however, ignored the report’s findings.
Burned cannabis seeds have been found in the graves of shamans in China and Siberia from as early as 500 BC.
There’s some evidence that ancient cultures knew about the psychoactive properties of the cannabis plant. They may have cultivated some varieties to produce higher levels of THC for use in religious ceremonies or healing practice.
Marijuana Tax Act
Industrial hemp continued to be grown in the United States throughout World War II, when its domestic cultivation was encouraged after the Philippines—a major source of imported hemp fiber—fell to Japanese forces. The last U.S. hemp fields were planted in 1957 in Wisconsin.
An ancient Greek historian named Herodotus described the Scythians—a large group of Iranian nomads in Central Asia—inhaling the smoke from smoldering cannabis seeds and flowers to get high.
Fifty-eight-year-old farmer Samuel Caldwell was the first person prosecuted under the Act. He was arrested for selling marijuana on October 2, 1937, just one day after the Act’s passage. Caldwell was sentenced to four years of hard labor.
As of June 2019, eleven states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Colorado and Washington became the first states to do so in 2012. Adults also can light up without a doctor’s prescription in Alaska, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Vermont and Oregon.
Cannabis’ expansion throughout Africa closely followed Muslim migration throughout the continent, gradually making its way to the Bantu speakers. It then moved into the Zambezi River valley, where it was already in use in 1531 when the Portuguese arrived in the region. Southern Africans have been consuming cannabis, called “dagga,” for at least 500 years.
Prior to domestication, the presence of cannabis in Mongolia, southern Siberia, the Huang He River valley, the Hindu Kush Mountains, South Asia, and Afghanistan fluctuated based on the movement of Pleistocene glaciers. Cannabis is a sun-loving plant and the cold conditions combined with the towering icy shadows cast by these glaciers prevented cannabis from thriving.
The history of marijuana closely follows migration patterns, conquests, and trade routes and has experienced varying degrees of acceptance and use throughout history. The plant originated in Central Asia and spread quickly throughout the world.
Cannabis arrived in Spain after the Moorish invasion in the 8th century and Morocco remains one of the world’s largest producers of hashish, a potent cannabis concentrate.
Scythians, nomadic Indo-Europeans known to have cultivated cannabis for rituals and burial customs, introduced the plant to Iran and Anatolia between 2000 and 1400 BC as they roamed the Altai Mountains. These mountains later became part of the Silk Road, a vast, ancient network of trade routes that connected the eastern and western parts of civilization from the Korean Peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea. The Scythians used cannabis in numerous social rituals that were documented by the Greek historian, Herodotus. As the Silk Road began to formally take shape, cannabis was quickly introduced to Greece, Egypt, and Africa. The tomb of Ramses II contained cannabis pollen, and numerous mummies have been found to have trace amounts of cannabinoids, indicating the plant has been around since at least Egypt’s 19th dynasty, or around 1292 BC.
Cannabis played a large role in the Greco-Roman cultures as a source of both fiber and as an intoxicant. Cannabis seeds were discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, the city frozen by volcanic ash in 79 AD. Greek rhetorician Athenaeus made note of hemp being used to make rope between 170 and 230 AD, and Roman writer Lucilius cites hemp as a source of sails and canvas.
Spaniards brought cannabis to the Americas in the mid-1500s, where it was grown on North American plantations for rope, paper, and other fiber-based products. Jamestown settlers even imposed fines on those who didn’t produce hemp in the early 1600s. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp.