Cannabis has a long, storied history in the Americas filled with literal highs and sobering lows. Its presence in the New World predates the formation of the United States and brought slaves to Brazil and the Carribean. After the US revolution, many early presidents including Washington, Madison, Jackson, and Jefferson were known cultivators.
They were prolific growers, primarily of hemp, which itself is a non psychoactive form of c. sativa, however there are records of all varieties being grown.
From the time of America’s early founding until just past the turn of the 20th century the cultivation of cannabis was widespread with little regulation. Indeed, production was encouraged for its many industrial applications. These attitudes and the hemp industry prevailed and thrived until the early part of the twentieth century in the US.
The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 regulated patent medicines including those containing cannabis products. Patent medicines were an objective scourge, frequently they did more harm than good to their user. Addiction was prevalent, especially opioids, for a large number of veterans still recovering from the Civil War. Unfortunately, this marked the beginning of the end for the freedom of cannabis use in the US. Although it came with the much needed regulation of patent medicines, never again would Americans have such unfettered access to cannabis.
Though the history of the regulation of cannabis started under the auspices of public health, the full story isn’t complete without an understanding of the deep racial and political motivations driving its prohibition.