Historical Analysis on Marijuana

Marijuana has an extensive history in American culture.  It has proven to be highly effective in treating and curing many medical conditions, but also contains many addicting properties that cause negative effects on the human brain.  Since the early 1800’s, there has been great controversy surrounding this powerful drug.  This paper will analyze America’s use and abuses of marijuana from1800-1850 and relate it to the current legislation and public policies.

It was the turn of the century and America’s desire for hemp (another name for marijuana,) was spreading like wild fire.  In fact it was against the law not to grow hemp in many of the U.S. states.  Hence, if a farmer did not produce enough, they were arrested.  Hemp had become a valuable resource and was used for cloth, canvas, and other goods.  It even grew plentiful on the plantations of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  George Washington believed this vital resource should be sown all across America. (NAIHC, 1997) The production on American soil was slow.  Annual domestic production of marijuana was about 5,000 to 10,000 tons, and spiked in the 1840’s at 30,000 tons. (Hemphasis, 2004) It was for this reason that America entered war with Great Britain over free trade in 1812 to gain access of Russian Hemp.  The Russian Hemp was found to be more durable and was imported for use by the Navy.  The hemp fibers were utilized in rope and sail making for naval ships.

In 1840 there were new discoveries that led America to believe marijuana held medicinal uses.  Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a French doctor found that marijuana was useful to suppress headaches, increase appetite, and helped people sleep.  In 1842, Dr. William O’Shaughnessy suggested this drug had principles that aided in menstrual cramping and labor pains.  Shortly after in 1850, America started using Cannabis (marijuana) in pharmaceutical drugs. (DSD, 2015)  It was available at public pharmacies and was listed to treat numerous conditions including but not limited to rabies, dysentery, insanity, tonsillitis, cholera, and typhus.    Marijuana extracts were produced in America by Eli-Lilly, Parke-Davis, Tilden’s, and Brothers Smith.  It became the second most prescribed medicine for ailments in the country.  During the 1800’s America was still in the process of discovery with cannabis and there are no records of any type of abuse.  In fact, there are no records indicating any fatalities or psychological damage from the use of this drug.  However, America would soon discover the power of addiction in the coming years not discussed in this paper.

In present day there have been many changes in the regulations for marijuana.  Over time studies prove marijuana to be highly addictive causing an increase in heart rate, increase bleeding, lower your blood pressure, and even cause lung cancer.  (WebMD, 2015)  The addiction is caused by the proponent called THC which creates the high.  When the drug is inhaled or ingested it is absorbed into your system and affects every organ in your body.  It is extremely fast acting.  This drug is one of the top three drugs used by young people today because of the quick high.  It is often times smoked and referred to as pot.  Pot has become a recreational drug that allows the user to relax and feel happy.  It can also create a negative effect by causing anxiety, depression, distortion of time, and paranoia.  According to statistics collected by Washington State University (2012) nearly 17.4 Americans use the recreational drug and 4 million Americans have an addiction.  It is a drug of choice among Americans because it is viewed as harmless and it is said to be a “gateway drug.”  Meaning that it opens the door to abusers to experiment with stronger and more dangerous drugs in order to reach the desired high.  Yet, this drug still holds the power to heal and is used to treat cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

So how does the Federal and State governments mandate and regulate marijuana?  In the early 1800’s the primary law in effect was used to order farmers to grow marijuana.  Today, we have laws that forbid citizens to use the drug, unless it is prescribed by your doctor and must be used for medical reasons.  It is against state laws and federal laws to grow,  possess or use the drug in any other manner.  In the state of Florida it is considered a misdemeanor if an individual is caught in possession of or selling 20 grams or less of pot.  It is a felony if they possess or sell more than 20 grams and is punishable by incarceration of up to 5 years. (NORML, 2015)  Florida enforces the state laws and will see that offenders are punished to the very extent of the law.  Because our youth end up being prime targets for drug pushers, Florida will charge the offender with a felony if they are selling drugs within 1000 feet of a school or college.  (NORML, 2015)  This is a big change from the earlier years when America was merely discovering the uses of hemp and allowed citizens to pay their taxes with the drug in place of money.  That is how valuable America viewed marijuana in the early 1800’s.  Marijuana is not considered a vital resource for our government any longer, but viewed as America’s number one enemy.

The federal government also considers the use of marijuana to be an offense against the law regardless of the medicinal success.  States are trying to fight back and provide protection for marijuana patients by passing individual state laws that deem the drug legal when prescribed and overseen by a doctor.  Over 20 states have passed medicinal marijuana laws since 1996. (Whitehouse, 2015) However the laws do not hold validity when the user is being charged under federal law.  The Washington State University reports an increase in the use of marijuana by young people ages 12 to 17 in states that have marijuana medical laws, than in states without these type of laws.   Just goes to show you how easy it is for students to get their hands on the prescription drug and to abuse it.   Marijuana is also regulated by the FDA which is mandated by the federal government.  It has not been approved by the FDA, but is viewed as a drug that has potential for medical healing and is being monitored.  It took years for America to learn the negative aspects of marijuana and that is why it is so important not to legalize pot as a recreational drug like alcohol and tobacco.  In the early years of consumption America was very laid back and did not foresee the negative effects of long time use and abuse.  The 1800’s Americans were forced by the government to grow crops because it was viewed as a very valuable resource and it was available to the public without regulation.  This set the stone to addiction in America and resulted in the need for stronger drugs and a better high.

America has come a long way and yet there is still so much to learn about marijuana.  This drug has the potential of being approved by the FDA within the next hundred years or so. With that said there are more regulations and laws that will be enforced before that occurs.  Since the early 1800’s, America has found many uses for cannabis and has also seen a society become addicted and abuse the same drug.  It is extremely powerful and the medicinal successes do not outweigh the negative psychological and mental effects.


Hemp Facts. (1997, October 1). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://naihc.org/hemp_information/hemp_facts.html

Dvorak, J. (2004, January 1). America’s Harried Hemp History. Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://www.hemphasis.net/History/harriedhemp.htm

Cannabis History. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://marijuanadispensarysandiego.org/main/cannabis-history/

Marijuana – Marijuana Use and Effects of Marijuana. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/marijuana-use-and-its-effects?page=2

Facts about marijuana. (2012, March 1). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://adai.washington.edu/marijuana/factsheets/marijuana_WA_state.pdf

NORML.org – Working to Reform Marijuana Laws. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://norml.org/laws/item/florida-penalties?category_id=901

Marijuana Resource Center: State Laws Related to Marijuana. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/state-laws-related-to-marijuana

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