Cannabis is one of the oldest crops in the history of human civilization, with evidence of cultivation traced back 12,000 years. The plant is thought to have originated in Central Asia, but has since spread to every corner of the globe. Humans have used cannabis for an impressive variety of purposes–industrial, medicinal, and even spiritual. In honor of our long relationship with The Herb, we’ve compiled a timeline of Great Moments in the History of Cannabis. A special thank you, in advance, to Cory Carpenter for compiling this research.
- Shen-Nung, China: 2,700 BC
Shen-Nung was an ancient Chinese emperor, and was also known as The Father of Chinese Medicine. Shen-Nung provides the first reference to Cannabis in Pen Ts’ao, his encyclopedia of natural medicines. There, he describes marijuana’s usefulness in treating gout, rheumatism, malaria, and absentmindedness among other ailments.
- Herodotus, ancient Greece: 425 BC
Herodotus, known as the world’s first historian, is believed to have written The Histories, around 425 BC. His masterpiece mainly chronicled the Persian Wars, but it also provided a comprehensive description of the ancient world and the cultures that inhabited it. When describing the customs of the Scythians, a nomadic people of Central Asia, he mentions their use of cannabis. According to Herodotus, “They take some hemp seed, creep into the tent, and throw the seed on to hot stones… giving off a vapour unsurpassed… The Scythians enjoy it so much that they howl with pleasure.” This is the first-known Western record of a smoke out.
- Shakespeare, England: 16th Century
In 2015, scientists analyzed clay pipes found in William Shakespeare’s garden and confirm the presence of traces of cannabis. For years there have been theories about Shakespeare using cannabis for creative writing, arising from what are thought to be clever references subtly hidden in some of his works. This discovery gives credence to these theories, and it appears possible that one of the greatest writers of all time used marijuana for inspiration and was truly the Bard of Bud.
- Western Medicine: 1841
While working in India, Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy published a paper on the medical applications of cannabis. O’Shaughnessy validated many Indian folk uses, while discovering new applications on his own. He became famous for using the plant to cure muscle spasms, and eventually popularized its use in England. This was Western medicine’s first introduction to cannabis.
- Marihuana Tax Act, United States: 1937
In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed in the United States which required buyers and sellers of cannabis to pay a tax. This marked the first national regulation of marijuana in the United States. Shortly after its passage, two men from Denver, Moses Baca and Samuel Caldwell, were arrested for possession and distribution. Baca and Caldwell became the first people convicted under US federal law for marijuana violations. Sadly, they were not the last.
- Isolation of THC, Israel: 1964
Scientist Raphael Mechoulam discovers THC, the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, by isolating it chemically. At that time, in Israel, cannabis was a controlled substance. Mechoulam procured it from the local police department and carried it to his lab on the public bus. He isolated other cannabinoids in addition to THC. His discoveries allowed scientists to discover the corresponding system in the human body and paved the way for medical cannabis in the modern era.
7. Controlled Substance Act, United States: 1970
By 1969 the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was found to be unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. In Leary v. United States, judges ruled that the act violated the 5th Amendment because persons seeking marijuana tax stamps would have to incriminate themselves to do so. The Controlled Substance Act replaced the outdated legislation, and established federal US drug policy. Under the act, cannabis was listed as a Schedule I narcotic, meaning it was considered extremely dangerous, with no medical value and high risk for abuse. In the first decade of this century over 8 million marijuana arrests took place.
- The Shafer Report, United States: 1972
As part of his “Tough on Crime” campaign, President Richard Nixon appointed the National Committee on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, headed by Richard Shafer, to study the effects of marijuana use on society. The goal of the administration was to establish a link between marijuana and crime to justify its hard-line stance on drugs. The findings however ran contrary to their expectations. The Shafer Report, as it was called, concluded that marijuana did not cause widespread damage to society, and recommended de-criminalization. The White House met the findings with great resistance and did not implement its recommendations.
- First Medical Cannabis Patient Patient, United States: 1976
Robert C. Randall became the first person in the United States to acquire legal access to cannabis for medical purposes. Randall, who was arrested for possession in 1975, found himself on the right side of a Supreme Court ruling (United States v. Randall) that found him not guilty. Randall successfully used a medical necessity defense, arguing he used cannabis to treat his glaucoma.
- California Prop 215, United States: 1996
Little progress on medical marijuana had been made in the 20 years since United States v. Randall. That changed in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. California Prop 215 passed with about 55% of the vote. The new law exempted patients and caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana recommended by a physician from criminal laws. The State of Washington followed California’s lead in 1998, and today there are 29 states with medical marijuana laws, as well as Washington DC.
- US Recreational Initiatives: 2012
In 2012, Colorado and Washington (that’s right!) became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Colorado Amendment 64, and Washington Initiative 502 both passed laws that would regulate the cultivation and distribution of cannabis in the two states. For the first time, states would generate tax revenue from marijuana sales. The United States government has adopted a policy that allows states to develop marijuana legal infrastructure independently, even though cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I narcotic. Several other states have passed recreational initiatives since 2012, including a wave of states in November of 2016.
- Oh Canada!: 2017
In April 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced legislation that would legalize marijuana in Canada in 2018. While many countries have de-criminalized marijuana, Canada will become only the second nation in the world, after Uruguay, to completely legalize cannabis.