Am I the only one who is amazed that one day, a human happened upon cannabis and its powerful medicinal qualities? Specifically, that someone, somewhere discovered that setting fire to dried cannabis flower serves as a pain reliever, can treat symptoms of insomnia, has psychoactive qualities, and so much more. How about hemp? One day someone discovered that this plant’s stalk is among the strongest fibers around. Cannabis, marijuana, weed, hemp, kush, whatever you’ve come to call this miraculous plant, has a long and complex history. While we could write volumes of books on this subject, below you will find a brief history of cannabis we have collected using various sources and our own personal knowledge of cannabis.
Anthropologists have found cannabis in cultures across the world, from 10,000 BCE Taiwan to the “Mid-Neolithic” in Zhejiang province, 1700’s India, Afghanistan and Pakistan to 18th century America. According to History Magazine, “[cannabis] traveled the world on camelback along the Silk Road.” Scholars believe marijuana originated in Asia.
Cannabis has three species: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. Indica and Sativa are meant for medicinal purposes, hemp is used most often for it’s nutrient rich seeds and it’s strong fibrous stalks. It has been an important organic material to cultures around the world throughout the ages.
Because cannabis has grown alongside humans for over one thousand years, scholars debate the true origin story. According to History Magazine, “by 2000 BCE weed was in Korea and Japan, brought by the nomadic Central Asian herding tribe the Ayrans.” Herodotus writes that people were smoking cannabis in 440 BCE in Classical Greece and Rome! In 600 CE “the Vikings had it” (History Magazine, 2018). According to Martin Booth, cannabis-as legend has it- was discovered to have medicinal properties in 1155 CE by “the founder of the Persian Sufi Hyderi sect, Haydar.” He plucked “a few leaves and chewed on them” (Booth 2004). The first to discover the value of cannabis is up for debate, but I thank goodness they did!
America has an especially complicated history with Cannabis. I’m not one to indulge in conspiracy theories, however, the evidence Brian Popko presents in his informational booklet “I Want My CBD” is fairly convincing. In the mid 1930’s, after Prohibition ended, the employees assigned to Prohibition efforts were clearly out of a job (Popko 2015). U.S. Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon found just the solution! He created the Bureau of Narcotics assigning his nephew-in-law and former commissioner of the Alcohol Prohibition department Harry Anslinger commissioner of this newly created Bureau. This is mostly a good thing-I mean who among us wants “bath salts” in the mainstream?!-that is until Marijuana got a tragic rebrand to serve the interest of a select few.
Why? Well, Mr. Mellon had financial incentive to insure that his buddy DuPont’s chemical company thrived in the cotton production and paper industry, because Mellon Bank “backed Dupont” (Popko 2015). Hemp, cotton’s fibrous competition, requires fewer pesticides during growing and makes great paper. Cotton, on the other hand, is more high maintenance in terms of pesticides and chemicals necessary to reap a harvest. In addition, chemicals made by Dupont were also involved in the Pharmaceutical companies. A natural plant to remedy an entire swarm of ailments most definitely threatened the wellbeing of Dupont and Mellon’s business ventures.
Now that Mellon had a man on the inside, his business ventures could be protected. Because of Anslinger’s track record, they could rewrite the narrative on cannabis as a narcotic. Instead of a plant that has many uses as a fiber and medicine, it was a “drug” that made users, specifically “Negroes and Mexicans (sic)” -cringe- “violent heathens” -cringe overload.
I’ve always wondered why hemp got caught in the cross fires of cannabis prohibition. Apparently, it’s because Anslinger believed his staff to “be unable to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana” (Popko 2015). That’s fair, but they could have created a permit to allow trained specialists to grow and cultivate hemp at the very least for its many many many uses as a material.
Hemp can be used as oil, paper, one of the strongs fibers (hu)man has access to, clothing, hempcrete for construction, and seeds for food rich in nutrition. Anslinger’s reasoning behind banning the grow of cannabis was sufficient enough to keep it illegal to cultivate from 1937 to today (Marijuana Tax Act 1937). Hemp, of course, was grown and used during wartime because of its value as a fibrous material. However, after that it was prohibited once more.
In the 1970’s Cannabis was made a schedule 1 drug. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “The Schafer Commission, as it was called, declared that marijuana should not be in Schedule I and even doubted its designation as an illicit substance. However, Nixon discounted the recommendations of the commission, and marijuana remains a Schedule I substance.” Because everyone knows how trustworthy and honorable Nixion was as a leader and individual.
Booth, Martin. Cannabis: A History. Random House, 2004.
Burnnett, Malik Ph.D. and Reiman, Amanda Ph.D., MSW “How Did Marijuana Become Illegal in the First Place?” Drug Policy Alliance, http://www.drugpolicy.org/blog/how-did- marijuana-become-illegal-first-place. Accessed 19 February 2018.
Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Aug. 2, 1937, ch. 553, 50 Stat. 551
Popko, Brian. I Want My CBD. Iwantmycbd.org Publications, 2015.
Rosenthal, Ed. Marijuana Growers Handbook: Your Complete Guide for Medical and Personal Marijuana Cultivation. 2010.