History of Cannabis

A Brief History of Cannabis

It may seem as if the global drug war has been around forever, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, on the timeline of humanity’s long relationship with cannabis, the prohibition which is just now coming to an end barely registers so much as a blip. If the known history of human cannabis cultivation were mapped out along the length of a football field, the period in which cannabis was legal in every country of the world would span almost completely from one end zone to the other; the entire history of cannabis prohibition, meanwhile, would take up less than one inch of the final yard. Here are some of the highlights:

  • c. 8,000 BCE: The date, according to carbon dating, of the earliest known human use of cannabis – hemp rope used in ceremonial burial on the island now known as Taiwan.
  • c. 2,700 BCE: The year when, by tradition, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung first discovered the medical benefits of cannabis.
  • c. 150 CE: The Roman physician Galen, whose writings would become a mainstay of European medicine for over a millennium, recommends medical marijuana for a variety of ailments.
  • c. 1400 CE: European kingdoms co-opt Muslim sailing innovations — including the use of hemp sails — which allow them to build global trading empires.
  • 1456 CE: First Gutenberg Bible printed on hemp paper
  • 1530 CE: Pedro Quadrado sows earliest known North American hemp crop in New Spain
  • 1533 CE: King Henry VIII of England bans hops, mandates hemp cultivation
  • 1607 CE: All English colonists at Jamestown contractually required to grow hemp
  • 1620 CE: Catholic Inquisition passes first anti-drug laws in Western Hemisphere
  • 1682 CE: Virginia begins accepting taxes in the form of hemp seeds; other colonies soon follow
  • 1753 CE: Linnaeus names Cannabis sativa
  • 1774 CE: Brawl at hemp rope factory erupts into the Boston Massacre, sparking the American Revolution. Continental soldiers are outfitted with hemp uniforms.
  • 1776 CE: Early drafts of Declaration of Independence written on hemp paper
  • 1783 CE: Lamarck names Cannabis indica
  • 1839 CE: William B. O’Shaughnessy authors the first study of cannabis in Western medicine since Galen
  • 1857 CE: Publication of The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow
  • 1869 CE: Mexico City bans the sale of cannabis
  • 1907 CE: Race riots in Vancouver lead to Canadian Anti-Opium Act of 1908, which will become a model for US anti-drug laws
  • 1913 CE: California becomes first US state to criminalize cannabis
  • 1914 CE: Harrison Act establishes first federal drug control system in US
  • 1930 CE: Harry Anslinger becomes first head of Federal Bureau of Narcotics while a wave of “Uniform Narcotic Drugs Acts” homogenizes state drug control policy
  • 1937 CE: Congress passes the Marihuana Tax Stamp Act, the first federal law to effectively ban cannabis
  • 1942 CE: US Navy promotes “Hemp for Victory” despite the plant’s effectively criminal status
  • 1950s CE: States pass “Boggs Acts,” greatly increasing criminal penalties for drug laws
  • 1969 CE: US Supreme Court unanimously strikes down the Marihuana Tax Act as unconstitutional in Leary v. US
  • 1975 CE: Robert Randall establishes first successful medical marijuana necessity defense in Virginia
  • 1980 CE: Election of Ronald Reagan as US president effectively ends nationwide decriminalization trend
  • 1996 CE: Passage of California’s Proposition 215 launches modern US medical marijuana movement
  • 2012 CE: Colorado becomes first US state to re-legalize cannabis for adult use