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A Brief History of Cannabis Prohibition and the Road to Legalization

It’s a beautiful thing to be here now. To be part of the legalization change that is sweeping across the world, and to participate in this burgeoning industry. To grow, sell and consume cannabis legally. To ensure that those with health conditions have legal access to the medicine Mother Earth has provided to alleviate their symptoms. We’re living through history in the making and it’s an exciting time.

One day off in the future, younger generations of stoners will laugh about the olden days when cannabis was illegal. When the wealthy and powerful used fear and falsehoods to drive it in into the darkness in order to maintain their own wealth and power. Reefer Madness will be a hysterical remnant of ignorance – even more so than it is today. They will only be able to imagine in their wildest dreams what it must have been like to use code words to meet up with their dealer to get some “patio furniture.” Maybe they’ll read this blog post to get a brief history of cannabis prohibition…

Because it’s of the Earth, cannabis has been around a long time. The earliest evidence dates back to cannabis seeds found in an archeological site in Japan dating back to 8000 BCE (Ah, the good ol’ days!). Some of the earliest evidence of people smoking cannabis comes from a pipe discovered in Ethiopia that dates back to 1320 CE, and by the 1500s consumption via smoking was gaining steam. By 1607, cannabis was being cultivated in America by the Powhatan Native American tribe.

Everything was going great until the 1800s (Ugh!) when the first cannabis prohibitions took hold in India, under British rule at the time, and Colonial Brazil. Many Muslim countries also began prohibition during this time. In 1906, the first cannabis restriction was put in place in the United States by way of a Washington D.C. law that banned its sale. In the 1910s and 1920s, Canada, Jamaica, New Zealand, South Africa and United Kingdom all banned the sale of non-medical or scientific cannabis. The Marihuana Tax Act was signed into law in the U.S. on August 2, 1937, effectively banning cannabis nationally which now required a tax stamp to be sold – and those stamps were almost never issued. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 took it a step further and thus began the ‘War on Drugs.’  

But thanks to the hard work, determination, sacrifice and dedication of so many, the tide is turning.  

Today, cannabis for medical use is legal in 33 U.S. states, and 10 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for recreational use. But as with any monumental change, this did not happen overnight. It built slowly, starting in 1972 when the Netherlands liberalized their drug policies. In 1996, legal medical cannabis reached American shores with the passage of Proposition 215, aka The Compassionate Use Act, in California. Many states followed suit. Fast forward to 2012, when the people of Colorado and Washington states passed Amendment 64 and Initiative 502, respectively, paving the way for the first full legalization of recreational cannabis. The very first legal recreational cannabis sale in the world happened at 8:00 am MST on Jan. 1, 2014 in Colorado. Hallelujah!

Globally, we’ve seen big strides in legalization on the national level over the past 5-6 years with Uruguay becoming the first country to completely legalize cannabis in 2013. Canada followed in 2018. Mexico may be next after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling found the ban on recreational use to be unconstitutional. Hemp is having its day in the sun as well with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp nationally and removed it from the federal controlled substances list.

With all these changes, it’s easy to get complacent and revel in the magic of legal cannabis, but much work remains to be done. We must legalize cannabis in the U.S. at the federal level. As an industry, we must be committed to producing a pure product, free of additives and harmful pesticides. And we must pursue medical trials to fully understand and unlock the healing properties of cannabis. Because witnessing history in the making is one thing. Participating in it is something else entirely.

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