The History of Medical Cannabis in the United States

In recent years, the widespread use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been gaining traction. As more studies are conducted, an increasing amount of evidence supporting the health benefits medical cannabis provides is coming to light – leading to an increase in those electing to obtain a cannabis card.

Whether it’s to assist with the nausea associated with cancer and HIV/AIDS treatments, pain relief, insomnia, anxiety, or a myriad of other ailments, patients are frequently turning to the all-natural treatment it delivers. It’s no wonder that as of June 2016, 29 states and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for medical use.

While it may seem that the United States has been relatively quick to adopt the use of medical cannabis over the past couple decades – and indeed has been when compared to many other countries – the use of cannabis to treat health conditions dates as far back as 2737 B.C.

Thousands of years before the United States even existed, Emperor Shen Neng of China was prescribing marijuana-infused tea to his people. This tea was used to heal gout, malaria, rheumatism, and, rather humorously, poor memory. The wonders of the drug then spread throughout the globe; reaching Asia, Africa, and the Middle East – with doctors prescribing it for both general pain relief and child birth.

Documented evidence of medical cannabis being used in the U.S. did not occur until the late 18th century, when early editions of American medical journals noted that hemp seeds were effective at treating venereal disease, incontinence, and inflamed skin. This was further popularized in the U.S. by the Irish doctor William O’Shaughnessy, who worked as a physician for the British East India Company.

As the use of medical cannabis developed from O’Shaughnessy’s findings, more and more treatments began to utilize its medicinal properties for easing the symptoms of a range of conditions, including cholera, tetanus, and rabies. Year-on-year, the popularity of medical marijuana was growing exponentially.

By the end of the 19th Century, the tide of American attitudes towards medical cannabis began to dramatically shift, falling as quickly as it had risen. Unknowingly to them, it was discovered that between 2% and 5% of the U.S. population had become addicted to morphine, due to it being a secret ingredient within many medicines at the time.

Medical cannabis

Medical cannabis has a long, interesting and occasionally amusing history.

The U.S. government was quick to act, introducing the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. While cannabis was not targeted specifically, the very fact that the distribution of morphine and opium was now under doctors’ control, inherently led to a sudden shift in American drug policy. Eight short years later in 1914, the Harrison act was introduced and the consumption of drugs was defined as a crime.

23 states had outlawed marijuana by the year 1937. This was in-part due to the arrival of a wave of Mexican immigrants – many of whom bought the drug with them – or simply to try to limit the amount of morphine addicts who were looking for something new. In the very same year, the Federal Government then passed the Marihuana Tax Act, outlawing the non-medical use of marijuana.

Marijuana was now criminalized, with harsh penalties being enforced upon anyone who was to be found distributing or consuming. The only exception was during World War II, when the government planted vast fields of hemp crops to supply rope to the Navy. Mandatory sentences for drug offenders then came into motion with the passing of the Boggs Act and Narcotics Control Act in the 1950s.

As the 1960s and 70s rolled around, the public perception of marijuana altered, and laws criminalizing the drug were eased. However, the Reagan Administration – with its get-tough drug policies – halted any potential progress from being made, and the use of marijuana continued to indict severe penalties.

This continued until 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. While this was met with a slew of critics – to this day estimating that there are around 1,000 illegal marijuana shops in Los Angeles alone – several more states followed California’s lead in the years to come; with Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Maine all legalizing medical marijuana before the turn of the century.

As the medical benefits of marijuana further come to light, a direct response is being seen in the amount of states that are legalizing the drug for medicinal use with each passing year. In 2016 alone, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas all became additional advocates to the medical cannabis cause – equal to the number of states from the previous three years combined.

Unfortunately, as marijuana remains illegal at the Federal level, acquisition from anyone who is not a licensed physician is strictly prohibited – unless within a state which has legalized the drug for both medical and recreational use – such as Colorado and Washington,
therefore housing licensed dispensaries.

For Californians looking to reap the rewards of the passing of 2016’s Proposition 64, you’ve not too much longer to wait until your marijuana use is not solely limited to medicinal; with the government deadline for issuing pot shop licenses being no later than January 1st 2018.

Latest News