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Marijuana is an amazing plant with an even more amazing history. Its uses date back before our civilization was even a thought.
Traces of marijuana were found in 2,500-year-old wooden artifacts in China.
Scrolls found in Ancient Egypt suggested Egyptians used cannabis to cure cataracts and sore eyes. Ancient literature from Egypt that dates back to 1700 BC also mentions cannabis grounded down to honey and used as an anti-inflammatory.
When the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II was discovered, archaeologists were shocked to find traces of cannabis pollen on his body. Rameses died in 1213 BC. Archaeologists also found traces of hemp in the tomb of the pharaoh Amenophis IV, who died in 1335 BC.
If early civilizations had such a remarkable relationship with marijuana, why is it so taboo today?
As the slave trade reached its height during the 16th century, products like cannabis were also sold and shipped to the Americas from the Middle East. Once white colonialists were introduced to pipe smoking (tobacco) by the Native Americans, the recreational use of cannabis started to become more popular.
The United States has had a rocky relationship with marijuana that dates back to the Colonial Era.
In the early stages of America, the U.S. government encouraged the production of hemp, which is also a cannabis plant. Hemp was used in the production of rope, sails, clothing, etc.–very similar to how cotton is used today. Hemp became a very lucrative resource for anyone who could properly grow it. Marijuana also became a popular ingredient in medicinal products and was also sold in pharmacies. This frightened the very powerful cotton industry. Hemp would end up being a serious threat to cotton unless thwarted.
Insert the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
War awards governments the opportunity to change public perception and that’s exactly what America did.
After the Mexican Revolution ended in 1917, Mexican immigrants fled to the US seeking a better life. Since marijuana was a popular recreational drug to the Mexican people, it became associated with the immigrants. Fear-mongers and anti-drug campaigners began to sway public perception of the cannabis, deeming the drug a ‘menace.’
With the Great Depression looming, resentment for immigrants grew and so did Americans’ disdain for cannabis. By 1931, 29 states had outlawed cannabis.
In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which made use of the plant as a recreational drug illegal. It also stopped the scientific research and testing of marijuana. The industrial and commercial production of hemp became non-lucrative and the criminalization of cannabis would affect the lives of Black and brown people in America for decades.
Federal laws were enacted in the 1950s which set mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses. Although most mandatory penalties were repealed by 1970, marijuana laws would federally stay the same.
Insert President Reagan and the “War On Drugs.”
Reagan began his war on drugs after he was influenced by a parent’s movement against cannabis. He enacted the ‘Three strikes’ policy which came with life sentences for repeat drug offenders.
The war on drugs would have a drastic effect on the Black community for decades and its devastation still lingers today. According to data from the Associated Press and published by PBS, the Black incarceration rate in America exploded from about 600 per 100,000 people in 1970 to 1,808 in 2000.
This had a devastating impact on the Black family, as millions of Black fathers found themselves behind bars instead of providing for their loved ones.
Since then, local laws have become more lenient and public perception has changed when it comes to cannabis.
Despite still being illegal under federal law, 37 states have approved medical marijuana and 18 states have approved recreational use.
It’s only a matter of time when marijuana is legalized federally and when it is, the industry can finally blossom as it should have over a hundred years ago.