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Here are some passages from the first chapter of Cannabis 101 detailing how we go to where we are now.
Cannabis 101: CHAPTER 1 Cannabis Throughout History
Cannabis 101 will be a comprehensive compendium of cannabis facts and nugs of knowledge. It seeks to be the premier book on the subject.
Cannabis has been used throughout history for industrial, medical, and recreational purposes. It is a plant whose flower can be dried, crushed, and smoked to get high and whose stalks produce industrial products. “High” is both the colloquial and technical term to describe what happens when you smoke. Cannabis has many practical uses. The industrial form of cannabis is called hemp. The federal government uses the term “marijuana” to refer to cannabis that gets you high, and “hemp” to refer to cannabis used for industrial purposes that cannot get you high. Hemp is like marijuana the way Poodles and Dobermans are both dogs.
Cannabis 101: The cultivation of cannabis originated in ancient Taiwan and China. From there, it went to India and then slowly spread across the planet. (There’s a reason some call it weed.) Ancient civilizations, including the Ancient Greeks and others, used it. Proponents maintain that specific Bible passages refer to cannabis. For example, scholars have argued that cannabis was one of the ingredients God instructed Moses to use when creating Holy Oil for the priests of the Israelites during rituals.
Over time, the use of cannabis to make industrial products such as rope and paper became well known. During the Renaissance and afterward, the powerful Republic of Venice began the use of hemp for rope, sails, and linen to maintain their navy. In 2019, South African scientists analyzed fragments of a pipe on the grounds of William Shakespeare’s home and found that it contained particles of cannabis.
Cannabis 101: George Washington Liked Hemp
Hemp was a cash crop in Colonial America. It was in such high demand that Colonial Virginia required farmers to grow hemp. For this reason, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. Jefferson used hemp paper to write early drafts of the Declaration of Independence. It is not known whether the Founding Fathers got high or not.
However, we do know that George Washington wrote that he “sowed hemp [presumably Indian hemp] at muddy hole by swamp” (May 12-13, 1765); indicates he was growing it away from the hemp he grew for fiber. “Began to separate the male from female plants at do [sic]–rather too late” (August 7, 1765), and, “Pulling up the (male)hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month” (August 29, 1766). This indicates that he was trying to grow female plants, which are better for smoking specifically.
During the 19th century, cannabis was commonly used as medicine in the United States and Western Europe. Queen Victoria’s doctor prescribed it to her to treat migraines from menstruation. The U.S. Pharmacopoeia, the foremost authority on medicine, listed it as an official type of medicine in its editions published from 1851 to 1942.
In the 19th century, hashish or hash became popular in the United States and Europe for recreational use. Hashish is made by pressing cannabis into a small square that is usually consumed by smoking. It was also called “Indian Hemp” in the United States since it thrived in India during the era of the British Raj. The cannabis given to Queen Victoria was from India.
The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act required cannabis to be labeled on medicine bottles, and it slowly fell out of use. The problem was that many began to think it was as harmful as cocaine or heroin. Before the passage of the 1906 Act, drugs were largely unregulated in the United States. It led to the recognition that “snake oil,” which included a variety of chemicals in a bottle sold as medicine could be harmful.
Around this time, more Mexicans began immigrating to the United States and were enthusiastic users of cannabis (called marijuana in Spanish) for recreational purposes. They began the custom of passing around a joint. It is unlikely they were using the Indian hemp brought from India. Rather they likely used a version derived from industrial hemp the Spanish brought to the Americas in the 16th century for industrial purposes. Mexican American immigrants brought it to New Orleans, a center of jazz music. Many famous jazz musicians subsequently became cannabis enthusiasts.
Cannabis was included when the cry came for regulating opium from prohibitionists. Moreover, Mexican immigrants faced a backlash against their arrival in the country, which made many turn against them and decry their “marijuana.” The cry for prohibition became louder, and states started making cannabis illegal.
Cannabis 101: In 1930 Harry Anslinger was appointed the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) during the Hoover administration. Initially, his job was to stamp out illegal heroin and cocaine. But this was a minor problem at the time. After alcohol became legal again in 1933, it seemed his already small bureau would shrink even further. So Anslinger seized on anti-cannabis sentiment and fanned the flames. He developed a campaign for the prohibition of cannabis that became widespread.
The effort was led in the media by William Randolph Hearst. His national newspaper chain ran stories decrying the ills of cannabis where a crime had been committed (usually by a minority), and cannabis seemed to be involved. Most were either false or obscured the real reason the crime was committed (mental illness independent of cannabis use, for example). Hearst owned large timber companies and may have seen hemp as a threat to his interests. Others say he ran the stories because he was racist. Some say the company DuPont was in favor of cannabis prohibition because if hemp could be outlawed, then their synthetically derived products would have less competition. Those who believe in this theory say U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who appointed Anslinger wanted cannabis to become illegal because his bank would profit since DuPont was a major client. Hemp production has been in decline though since the Civil War since it was economically prohibitive to refine it in contrast to other fibers. A new technology was being developed that would have brought industrialization to hemp and made it easier to process.
The campaign smeared cannabis as something that African American musicians and Mexican American immigrants used; they preferred the term “marihuana” to associate with the foreign Mexicans. Thus, the drug “marijuana” was made illegal in the 1937 Marihuana Tax Stamp Act. No one used the term marijuana before the prohibitionist campaign. It is not clear why the government chose the spelling “Marihuana” and not “Marijuana.” Because marijuana has such a racially charged history, the preferred nomenclature is cannabis.
The marijuana prohibitionist campaign faced almost no organized opposition. The only group that fought them was the American Medical Association because of its history for medical uses. Ironically, they are now against all uses of cannabis. Many did not know the difference between the medicinal version and the type being smoked recreationally. Two people were quickly arrested after the passage of the law and were made an example. They were not even aware that cannabis prohibition had passed…
Hemp is so effective as a material to make rope that during World War II, the federal government temporarily allowed farmers to grow hemp and encouraged its production. To do so, they commissioned the film “Hemp for Victory,” which illustrated the many uses of hemp and told farmers it was their patriotic duty to grow hemp.
Cannabis 101: Even though it is was made illegal, people secretly continued enjoying the effects of cannabis. Louis Armstrong continued to consume cannabis throughout his career…
Others continued getting high. In the 1950s, Jack Kerouac wrote about using it in his well-known book On the Road. In the 1960s, it became ingrained within the counterculture that rose among the youth. Around this time, a few high school students in Northern California began to meet after school at 4:20 pm to smoke. Calling it “420” was a convenient way to discuss cannabis in front of figures who would not support their use. They later became followers of the Grateful Dead with whom they had personal connections. 420’s connection to cannabis was subsequently spread through hippie culture and the underground cannabis culture through their followers the Deadheads. Thus, due to the time 4:20, the date April 20th became a day to celebrate cannabis use…
…The 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA) made cannabis possession and distribution a more serious crime. President Richard Nixon
advocated for enforcement to include arresting hippies and leftist radicals for possession to hamper their movements. It was verified by his former senior domestic policy advisor John Ehrlichman when he said,
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”…
Cannabis 101: The establishment of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) by Keith Stroup and others with financial help from Hugh Hefner in the 1970s led to a wave of decriminalization of cannabis on the state level across the country. It led to the establishment of a cottage industry of cannabis paraphernalia sold in “head” shops and convenience stores. In 1974, Tom Forcade founded the magazine High Times, which remains the premier cannabis publication in the country. During his administration, former President Jimmy Carter called on Congress to decriminalize cannabis federally!
But a backlash occurred that coincided with the rise of the conservative movement. Many parents thought that cannabis merchandise appealed to teenagers. They were outraged. Ronald Reagan led this movement against the liberalization of society and rode it into the White House in 1980. While President, he was a great proponent of the War on Drugs and escalated it by creating harsher penalties and arresting far more people. The number of people in prison for cannabis crimes rose from 50,000 in 1980 to 400,000 in 1997.