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History of Marijuana in the US – 4 Legal Triumphs You Should Know

The history of marijuana in the US continues to be a roller coaster ride of fascinating, paradigm-changing events.

On one end, there were politically fueled campaigns that demonized cannabis. On the other end, there were major scientific discoveries, spearheaded by cultural icons who went against the grain.

Put another way, there are enough instances in cannabis history to create an endless series of films and documentaries.

But what are the most influential? Or have been the most legally successful?

Here, we’ve compiled 5 very legally influential events for history of marijuana in the US, events that every cannabis connoisseur should know.

So, without further ado, let’s begin.



1. William O’ Shaughnessy – Medical Marijuana History in the US Begins

While it’s not necessarily a legal accomplishment, this Irish scientist’s undertaking is still a bulwark against the government’s many attempts to slow down any reasonable discussions about the medicinal values of cannabis.

One of the first scientifically recorded instances of medicinal marijuana in the United States is O’Shaughnessy’s discovery of a cannabis extract, somewhere around the 1830s, which proved to be a medical solution for nausea, a symptom of patients inflicted with cholera.

Little is known about O’Shaughnessy in the final twenty years of his life, and only as of late, has he been recognized for paving the way for a gradual cannabis paradigm change.

Besides his contributions to the refinement of gold, cholera research, underwater engineering, and various other scientific efforts, O’Shaughnessy is hailed as a pioneer of medicinal marijuana. He’s the first doctor to ever study the medicinal properties of cannabis and introduce it to the Western World, which led to countless apothecaries industrializing the plant for medicinal purposes.

O’Shaughnessy’s work is still relevant to this day, and his papers are used as the lead article in “Marijuana: Medical Papers”, a medical book published in 1973 and reprinted by Tod Mikuriya. This book compiling a series of cannabis medical papers further strengthened scientific interest for the plant’s medical use.

So in other words, O’Shaughnessy’s contribution paved the way to normalizing medical marijuana use and remains a critical milestone for the history of marijuana in the US.


2. Reefer Madness – Strange Times for the History of Marijuana in the US

The infamous 1936 film is the single most propagandist, anti-marijuana movie ever made, where today,  it’s become an endless source of satire because of its absurdity and over the top perspective to marijuana restriction.

Sometime around prohibition, President Hoover started hyping anti-drug laws so fierce that he formed the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and assigned Harry Anslinger to use the movie as a beacon of propaganda for exaggerating the dangers of marijuana.

He successfully tarnished the name of cannabis and presented it as a satanic plant to the general public by detailing how cannabis induced violence, and ultimately, how smoking it would be in direct conflict with American religious values.

Reefer Madness was a hail mary attempt to connect cannabis with everything negative to the hegemonic values of the everyday American citizen. Anslinger was fully aware of his actions with this propaganda campaign of completely demonizing marijuana and further caused a national stir by igniting nationalistic sentiments against blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and other minorities that were a threat to “American values”.

To no one’s surprise, it didn’t take long for the public opinion to distort. By 1938, many states enforced rigorous laws to ban Marijuana and everyone waited on Congress to swing the hammer, all thanks to this over-the-top, propagandist movie that the people took way too seriously.


3. The War on Drugs – Dark Times for the History of Marijuana in the US


In 1971, the American Legislative decided to pass the Controlled Substances Act and Marijuana Tax Act. After that, President Richard M. Nixon stated:

Public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive. I’ve asked the Congress to provide the legislative authority and the funds to fuel this kind of offensive.”

And following such, the almighty War on Drugs began, and is still fuming to this day.

Oddly enough, this decision was literally against recommendations from his own commission, without critically organizing scientists and funding proper research movements to study cannabis. In other words, Nixon engaged a war on cannabis blindly.

As a result, pot was classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with many other dangerous substances, much to the absurdity of the whole situation. The papers state that cannabis holds  “…a high potential for abuse and no known medical use.”

Meanwhile, Nancy Reagan became famous with her 1986 slogan “Just Say No” which turned into a full-blown anti-drug campaign, successfully branding pot more dangerous than the black plague.

Much to our amusement, in 1994, Nixon’s advisors and close think tanks admitted that the infamous War on Drugs was just a clever scheme to annihilate any threat caused by the liberalized agenda of the Woodstock spirit and the political nuisance of the rising counterculture.


4. California’s Proposition 215 – a Big Win for the History of Marijuana in the US

However, the fight for medicinal cannabis was not over. Not one bit.

The 80’s in sunny San Francisco sparked many thinking movements that protected patients and doctors who used medical cannabis, and it went into action on the 5th November, 1996. The state of California paved the way to brush off marijuana restrictions and Proposition 215 was put into good use, making California as the FIRST American state to legalize medicinal marijuana.


*Extra – CO and WA Set a New Direction for History of Marijuana in the US


Colorado and Washington state went even further in 2012 and made cannabis legal for recreational use for people over 21 years of age. The two states rejoiced. Of course, the sales were massively taxed and state revenues increased, but instantly both states had to adjust to a drastic change of how cannabis was to be governed moving forward.

Big pharma joined the legal wave, as companies started to focus more on research programs and the production/cultivation of cannabis for medicinal use, which leads us to our present day of major scientific cannabis discovery and legal change.


History of Marijuana in the US is Unfolding as we Speak

The history of marijuana in the US is full of examples of how cannabis use continues to be at the whims of our changing beliefs and attitudes, let alone the political authorities that reign supreme.

As differing countries alongside the US fuel cannabis paradigm change today, we can expect so much more in terms of cannabis access and how it’s being regarded.

Let’s just hope that these changes are for good and are no longer malleable to those with biased intent.

Thanks for reading!


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