8000+ BCE – While modern humans emerged around 250,000 years ago, agriculture as we know it is still a fairly recent invention at around 10,000 years old. This invention went a long way in modernizing the civilization we recognize today. American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and author, Carl Sagan, even ventured that marijuana was quite possibly the world’s first true agricultural crop. In what is now known as Taiwan, over 10,000 years ago, modern archaeologist discovered the use of hemp cord in pottery that was located at an ancient village site.
6000 to 4000 BCE – Hemp oil and cannabis seeds were utilized in food in China. Additionally, textiles in Turkestan and China were discovered to be made of hemp
2,737 BCE – During this time the first recorded use of marijuana as medicine came to the forefront when it was used by Chinese Emperor Shen Neng.
600 BCE – In southern Russia, evidence emerges that shows hemp rope was utilized.
200 BCE – Evidence emerges that proves hemp rope was used in Greece.
100 BCE – The first evidence of hemp paper is discovered to have been invented in China.
0 to 127 – The book, “The Natural History”, written by Pliny the Elder shares information on the analgesic effects of marijuana as well as mentioning hemp rope. Greek historian, Plutarch, mentions the ancient Thracians using marijuana for its intoxicating effects. Imported hemp rope makes its debut in England.
130 to 200 – Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher, Galen, prescribes marijuana to his patients for medicinal purposes. A Chinese surgeon, Hua T’o, uses it as an anesthetic.
300 – The first recorded instance of cannabis being used for medicinal reasons during childbirth emerges from Jerusalem.
500 – Arnegunde, a French queen, is buried with a shroud made from hemp fabric. In a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, the euphoric properties of marijuana gets a mention.
1090 to 1221 – The first use of hashish as a hypnotic is recorded by paramilitary organizations. As the 12th century ends, smoking hashish grows ever more popular throughout Middle Eastern countries. Another mention on the earliest uses of marijuana comes as Sufi Master Sheik Haydar reports his personal discovery of hashish and claims to be responsible for its invention as well as its spread to Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Bahrain. By this time, this report is joined by only a small handful of written narritives on the use of marijuana for its euphoric properties. An Arabian collection of tales, 1,001 Nights, describes the aphrodisiac and intoxicating properties of hashish.
1271 to 1378 – Recorded in the Journeys of Marco Polo are second-hand reports including the story of the assassins who were using hashish. Around the same time, the first reports of marijuana are brought to the attention of Europe. Pipes containing cannabis are suggestive that the use of the plant has spread from Egypt to other African countries. During this time period, the first inklings of marijuana prohibition begins when Ottoman Emir Soudoun Scheikhouni decrees that eating marijuana or hashish is illegal.
1532 to 1599 – French physician François Rabelais wrote in his pentalogy known as Gargantua and Pantagruel, the medicinal effects of cannabis. King Henry the 8th begins to fine farmers if they fail to raise hemp for industrial usage. Slaves in Angola brought marijuana with them to the sugar plantations of Brazil. The Angolan slaves were permitted to plant their cannabis seeds in between rows of sugar cane and allowed to smoke it between cane harvests. China’s Li Shih-Chen and Portugal’s Garcia da Orta, report on the antibiotic, antiemetic and other medicinal properties of marijuana.
1600 – England begins to import their hemp from Russia.
1606 to 1700 – The first reports of the utilization of cannabis and hemp in America begin to emerge as the British and French begin to cultivate it at various colonies including Port Royal in 1606, Virginia in 1611 and Plymouth by 1632. Very soon after settlers in Jamestown, Virginia begin growing hemp when they recognized that it had unusually strong fiber and could also be used to create clothing, sails and rope. The first mention of marijuana’s potential use as an anti-depressant comes from Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy”. Central and Southern Asia begins to trade more heavily in hashish.
1753 to 1785 – Carolus Linnaeus classified cannabis using the then modern system of taxonomy as Cannabis sativa L. Linnaeus believed it to be monotypic of just a single species. However, just over thirty years later, French Naturalist, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, identified a second species of the plant and named it Cannabis indica Lam.
1798 – Noticing that many Egyptians of the lower classes used hashish habitually, Napoleon declares an all-inclusive prohibition.
1800 – Plantations growing hemp begin to flourish in many states including Kentucky, California, South Carolina, New York, Nebraska and Georgia.
1840 to 1850 – In Persia, hashish becomes available in pharmacies and in America, cannabis based medicines are made available. In 1850, marijuana is added to the United States Pharmacopoeia.
1850 to 1915 – Cannabis is being used widely throughout the U.S. for medicinal purposes and was easily purchased in general stores and pharmacies. The British begin to tax the marijuana trade in India. While the Greek Department of Interior restricts the cultivation and usage of hashish, the chief physician to Queen Victoria prescribes medical cannabis to her. A report by the India Hemp Drugs Commission shows that between 70,000 and 80,000 kilograms of hashish is important into India from Central Asia, legally. Just after the turn of the century, the United States Pure Food and Drug Act is passed. This begins the regulation through labeling of any products containing cannabis, alcohol, opiates, cocaine and others.
1910 – The Mexican Revolution created a surge of Mexican immigrants who introduced the use of cannabis as a recreational drug instead of the medicinal use that American society had grown accustomed to by this time.
1914 to 1916 – Defining the use of marijuana as a crime, the Harrison Act began the prohibition on marijuana that lasted for, at the very least, 81 years. However, the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was repealed by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 on the basis that the original act contained parts that were dubbed unconstitutional as a violation of the Fifth Amendment. Two years after the Marihuana Act, two chief scientists created paper made from hemp pulp instead of wood. They both concluded that this paper had favorable results when compared to paper made from the pulp of wood. They also released what should have appeared as far more important than it was received when they shared that the dioxin contamination of rivers during the pulp wood paper process was completely avoided in the paper created from hemp paper manufacturing processes. They cited the fact that manufacturing hemp paper would not require the traditional paper making process that required bleach, but could utilize the safer, less toxic hydrogen peroxide. However, a notable detraction from this more earth friendly option was that while mass production of papers made of hemp would be difficult considering that no country had developed factories to support the hemp process.
1915 to 1928 – As prohibition gains ground, the United States begins to restrict usage for medicinal purposes. While it first began in California, it wasn’t long before other states followed suit. However, by 1919, the US Constitution was amended to reflect the banning of the manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcohol. This seemed to position cannabis as a compelling alternative to alcohol and resulted in an increased use of cannabis. Russian botanists classify another cannabis strain with the discovery of Cannabis ruderalis. By 1928, the recreational use of marijuana is prohibited in Britain.
1936 to 1937 – A propaganda film known as “Reefer Madness” was produced to show the public the ‘dangers’ of using marijuana. It pointed to cannabis as a cause of suicide, rape, manslaughter and even hit and run accidents. The film became popular again in the early 70’s as a satirical piece among cannabis activists. Prohibition was put firmly in place with the creation of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that criminalized cannabis. While part of the act derived from testimony generated from articles created by William Randolph Hearst, it was obvious to many cannabis supporters that his financial interest in the matter played a large part in the information found in those articles. Hearst’s financial interest were firmly ensconced in the timber industry, which also manufactured the paper for his newsprint. However, while it definitively was ignored, a response to the claims that cannabis was dangerous, Dr. William Woodward did testify on behalf of the American Medical Association sharing, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug” and warned that a prohibition “loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis.”
1941 – Since medicinal marijuana use is no longer recognized in America, the plant is removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.
1951 – A predecessor of the mandatory minimums laws, the Narcotics Control Act and the Boggs Act increases the penalties on cannabis and other drugs as well as determining mandatory sentences.
1970 – NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws forms.
1971 – The first evidence that suggests cannabis may be beneficial to those with glaucoma becomes available.
1972 – Prop 19 in California for the legalization of cannabis was voted down by 66% – 33%. The Shafer Commission, organized by President Nixon focused on the re-legalization of marijuana but their recommendations were resolutely ignored.
1976 – This pivotal year in the history of marijuana saw the creation of the Investigate New Drug program, or IND. This compassionate use focus allowed patients who qualified to receive up to nine pounds of marijuana from their government each year. Notably, there are still surviving patients who still receive this benefit yearly, paid for by federal tax dollars. Amazingly, the United States still continues to keep marijuana listed as a Schedule I drug which translates to, “A high positional for abuse with no accepted medical value.”
1977 to 1981 – These years covered the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Carter along with his assistant on drug policy, Dr. Peter Bourne, pushed for decriminalization. At one point, even President Carter appealed to congress to abolish federal penalties for persons caught with less than an ounce of cannabis.
1986 to 1988 – President Reagan signed the Anti-Abuse Act in 1986 which put mandatory minimums back on the books for those caught in possession or distributing cannabis. This act lobbed the first stone in what would soon become the “War on Drugs”. Two years later, a Judge named Francis Young, employed by the U.S. DEA, stated clearly that after the recent hearings, he was confident that marijuana had already written its own clearly established history showing it had many medical uses. He asked that the drug be reclassified as a prescribed drug. All of his recommendations were thoroughly ignored.
1992 – Following a serious surge of requests for compassionate use for AIDS patients, the United States shuts down the Compassionate Use program. However, in the same year, a new pharmaceutical drug called Dronabinol, focused on relieving the symptoms associated with the wasting syndrome that affects AIDS patients, emerged. With the age of social technology on the horizon, this may have been the last chance at hiding what this very instance made glaringly obvious. The prohibition on marijuana has a lot less to do with its ‘not having medicinal uses’, but closer to the fact that an unregulated product doesn’t allow profits in the pharmaceutical realm.
1996 – In 1996, the prohibition on marijuana seemed to have made a full circle in the United States as California, that had been the first state to ban cannabis us, became the very first state to legalize it for medicinal purposes. Listed purposes at that time included compassionate use for patients suffering from cancer, aids and other serious illnesses. In that same year, Arizona passed a very similar bill. A series of similar bills were also passed in Vermont, Maine, Alaska, Rhode Island, Maryland, Hawaii, Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, Washington D.C. and New Mexico.
1997 – The Institute of Medicine, or the IOM, was commissioned by the American Office of National Drug Control Policy to do a full study on the medicinal benefits of marijuana. The resulting research concluded that marijuana was effective, safe and cost efficient. Their suggestion was that patients should have access and that the government should expand research and prepare for drug development. Once again, these suggestions were ignored by the federal government who refused to act on the IOM’s recommendations.
1997 to 2001 – In direct opposition of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations, President Clinton launched a campaign to pursue the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana patients, as well as providers. Main voters approve a medicinal marijuana intitiative.
1999 to 2000 – North Dakota and Hawaii attempt to legalize hemp farming. They fail. This same year the United States Drug Enforcement Administration removed Dronabinol from schedule I classification and bumps it down to a Schedule III. This made Dronabinol easier to prescribe while keeping cannabis itself listed as a Schedule I drug with no acceptable medical uses. Another legalization initiative fails in Alaska. However, Colorado and Nevada voters approve medical cannabis initiatives while Hawaii legislature passed medical marijuana legislation.
2001 – 2009 – The War on Drugs in full force, both patients and doctors are targeted. Arrests as well as penalties for cannabis usage, growing and selling increases exponentially. On the opposing side, 2004 saw Montana voters approve a medical cannabis imitative while Vermont legislature passed legislation on medicinal cannabis usage. In 2006, Rhode Island followed suit with their own cannabis legislation. In 2007, New Mexico passed their medical cannabis bill as well. In 2008, Massachusetts and Michigan voters approved their own cannabis bills with Michigan approving medical cannabis and Massachusetts launching a decriminalization initiative.
2009 – President Obama takes a stand against the War on Drugs by stating that drug use by individuals is actually a public health issue. The President shared that he wanted it to be treated as such. Under his administration, the U.S. Department of Justice, declared that federal prosecutors would no longer continue to pursue criminal charges against medical marijuana distributors, dispensaries and patients.
2010 – During 2010, Proposition 19 for the legalization of marijuana in California was reintroduced, but with a more politician friendly name. The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 had some voters convinced that it would be the most pivotal moment in the history of marijuana in the state of California. However, just a few weeks before the November elections, Attorney General, Eric Holder squashed those hopes when he shared that even if voters approved the proposition, “we will vigorously enforce the (Controlled Substances Act) against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use.” Prop 19 was narrowly defeated by 53% of the vote. Additional cannabis initiatives in 2010 included: Arizona for medical cannabis, Washington D.C. passed medical cannabis legislation, New Jersey passed medical cannabis and voters in California defeat by a miniscule margin the cannabis legalization initiative.
2011 – The momentum continued into 2011 as Connecticut legislature passed cannabis decriminalization and Delaware passed medical cannabis. NORML has their first successful legislation bill introduced to US Congress. The Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended the rescheduling of marijuana. In a move critically important to suffers of chronic pain and similar syndromes, the US Dept of Veterans Affairs relaxes marijuana rules for veterans. Previously, those participating in even government sponsored medical marijuana programs were still denied qualification into substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs.
Medical marijuana becomes legal in the District of Columbia. Arizona becomes the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana and shortly thereafter, Delaware becomes the 16th. Not long after, the U.S. Department of Justice sent threatening letters to the states that had legalized medical marijuana. Officials in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine and Washington, tell them that those who implemented cultivation and distribution programs would be prosecuted. In a move that surprised absolutely no one, the DEA denied a request from 2002 to reclassify marijuana out of the Schedule I category.
2012 – Coming in with a bang against medical cannabis providers, 2012 started out with a startling choice by US District Judge Garland Burrell who dismissed a lawsuit against the government for federal raids on state-legal dispensaries and cannabis patients. His ruling came with the confirmation that the state laws allowing medicinal marijuana were not binding commitments and that they certainly did not exempt dispensaries from the federal laws against marijuana distribution or cultivation. Connecticut becomes the 17th state to legalize medicinal marijuana.
By July of 2012, a legal move that did surprise most of those watching, LA City Council banned medical marijuana dispensaries in a unanimous vote. However, they didn’t bat an eye as the council voted to draw up an ordinance that would allow approximately 170 dispensaries that had registered with the city years before to remain open. Before the year ended, Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.
2013 – The year started on an ugly note for marijuana activists as the US Appeals Court denied the challenge to have medical marijuana reclassified. By mid-year, New Hampshire became the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana. Just one month later, Illinois became the 20th.
One very notable achievement for cannabis activists in the United States came on August 8th of 2013 when Sanjay Gupta, an American neurosurgeon, came out in favor of the legalization of marijuana. There is no doubt that his opinion on the matter was shared by many, but openly, by very few professionals of his caliber.
“I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have ‘no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse. They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications…We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”
Also notable was that Dr. Gupta had previously turned down President Barack Obama’s bid that he take the seat of Surgeon General for America.
2014 – As the red tape began to present its existence in all matters cannabis, one issue that dispensaries had found as a new road block on the path to providing relief for patients of cannabis, was the banking system. The federal government’s threat to continue to prosecute canna-businesses left them without a place to safely store their profits. This meant that most dispensaries were tasked with finding a place to put their money so that they could pay for their transactions, pay their employees, pay taxes and stash away savings. In most cases, those places ended up being some of the world’s oldest hiding places; under mattresses, in safes, hidden in bags deep within their stores, buried in underground vaults. This kind of knowledge doesn’t sit well for long with the criminally minded. The banks simply could not risk being party to the racketeering prosecution that would ensue should they house the money from businesses dubbed ‘illegal’. Several dispensaries were robbed while the federal government took their time on addressing the issue and conflict between legal, legitimate businesses, and where they could safely place their profits without having it seized by the government that threatened them that they would do exactly that in those letters from 2011.
Relief for those dispensaries didn’t come until February 14th of 2014. On that day, the Obama administration provided banks a road map of guidelines for conducting transactions with cannabis companies so that they would have a safe place to store their money. While some banks eased into participation with those businesses, many others, such as American Bankers Association countered that those banking regulations still did not alter the challenge for banks. They cited that as it stood, the possession or distribution of cannabis still violated federal law and banks supporting those businesses still faced the risk of prosecution and sanctions.