My father, who liked to smoke weed in the ’70s, once pulled me aside to ask me if I was still “smoking dope.” I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Dad,” I said, “that’s not what we call it.”
“What do you call it, then?”
“Blazing trees,” I lied. Hey, I was a college stoner. It was fun to prank my dad.
Although we may think of marijuana as a relatively modern phenomenon — after all, dabs and edibles and vaporizers are pretty recent inventions — people have been enjoying the “devil’s lettuce” since at least 2727 B.C.
How Was Cannabis Introduced to Humans
In ancient China, medical marijuana was a thing, same as it is today in some lucky states. It was also used for food and clothes, although probably not the kind of weed food you’re used to.
Roughly 1500 years later, cannabis was a sacred plant in India, used in Hindu culture as an offering and a ritual item. Hemp didn’t make it to Europe until about 500 B.C., but once it got there, plenty of people were down to play.
Over the next couple of millennia, cannabis enjoyed a heyday in China, Siberia, Israel, and Rome. Same old, same old, basically: it was medicinal, ritualistic, and utilitarian. Weed even makes a cameo in the Old Testament. In other words: yes, marijuana has always been a wonder substance.
Weed wasn’t native to America, but it came there with the Spanish around 1545 and the English in 1611. Hemp was a major staple in Jamestown, Virginia, where it was used to make rope — and probably some sneaky colonists smoked it, too, swearing up and down that their red-rimmed eyes were due to allergies, and the skunky smell from a bad run-in with a forest creature.
For a few centuries, drugs were “in.” Besides weed, the attitude towards stuff like heroin, cocaine, opium, and all kinds of naturally occurring hallucinogens was “anything goes.”
Nobody got in trouble for getting high, although plenty of people wound up seriously hurting and sickening themselves on the harder stuff.
Weed, however, was always pretty chill, considering it’s an incredibly safe drug.
The End of Nature’s Gift to Us
In the late 1800s, “hashish parlors” — basically an old-timey version of what you’ll find in Amsterdam today — reportedly weed existed in every major East Coast city. All the cool kids were doing it and having a blast.
But then, disaster struck. In the federal Pure Food and Drug Act, marijuana was labeled as a “dangerous drug,” which set the stage for prohibition. And that’s exactly what followed.
Various states began to ban cannabis for non-medical use, starting with Massachusetts in 1911. In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established, and they wasted no time in pushing anti-drug propaganda to the masses.
The real blow came just a few years later with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This virtually banned the possession or vending of weed in the U.S., considering that it was taxed at up to $2,206 (that’s converted to today’s dollars) an ounce. Prices weren’t even that bad on my college campus!
Later, mandatory sentencing became a thing in the ’50s. Anybody who got caught with drugs — even weed — faced two to ten years in prison, plus a fine of up to $20,000. And in the ’70s, the Feds stepped up their game, creating the “Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.” Several years later, the DEA was born.
Cannabis Becoming Socially Accepted
Oregon regained control of its senses first: it decriminalized bud in 1973. In 1977, California passed a law that made cannabis possession a misdemeanor, not a felony. And in 1996, medical marijuana became legal with the advent of Proposition 215.
Just a few short years later, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, which features an investment banker’s love affair with weed, broke down harmful stereotypes about the type of person who uses weed.
And even our glorious president, Barack Obama, has admitted to enjoying a doobie or three.
But it’s been an uphill battle for the right to chillax with some weed like we used to in ancient times. Even as marijuana becomes legal in state after state — as of now, it’s alllll good in Colorado and Washington, and will be soon as laws go into effect in Oregon and Alaska — you can still go to jail in Texas for up to 180 days if you’re caught carrying a joint.
Still, despite the lack of legal repercussions way back when, I’d rather smoke weed now: buds are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been, and we’ve got nowhere to go but… awesome.