History of Cannabis / Marijuana Timeline:
There are three distinct species or varieties of cannabis: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. Most recreationally used cannabis is the result of crossbreeding between these three types. The term ‘hemp’ is generally used to describe low THC varieties of cannabis which are grown for industrial uses to make paper, cloth, rope etc.
10,000 BC: Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia. Cannabis possibly cultivated around this time.
8000 – 7000 B.C: The earliest known fabric is woven from hemp.
6000 B.C: Cannabis seeds are used as a food in China.
2700 B.C: The first written record of cannabis use is made in the pharmacopoeia of Shen Nung.
1200 B.C: Bhang (dried cannabis leaves, seeds and stems) is mentioned in the Hindu sacred text Atharva veda (Science of Charms) as “Sacred Grass”.
500 B.C: Hemp started to be grown in Northern Europe.
550 B.C: The Persian prophet Zoroaster writes the Zend-Avesta, a sacred text which lists more than 10,000 medicinal plants. Hemp is at the top of the list.
First Century A.D: The Chinese begin making paper from hemp and mulberry.
70 A.D: Cannabis mentioned as a medicine in Roman literature.
900: Hashish smoking starts to spread throughout the Middle East.
1090: Legends of ‘Hashshasins’ (hashish smoking assassins) develop in Persia.
1150: Moslems use cannabis to start Europe’s first paper mill.
1271: First reports in Europe (by Marco Polo) of cannabis being used as a psychoactive drug.
1378: First attempt to make hashish illegal in the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey).
1484: Pope Innocent VIII labels cannabis as an unholy sacrament and issues a papal ban on cannabis medicines.
1500’s: Some evidence to suggest hash smoking in Elizabethan England.
1549: Cannabis is first introduced to South America via the slave trade.
1563: Queen Elizabeth I orders land owners with 60 acres or more to grow cannabis or face a £5 fine.
1564: King Philip of Spain orders cannabis to be grown throughout his empire, from Argentina to Oregon.
1606: The British and French start to cultivate cannabis for hemp fibre.
1619: Jamestown Colony, Virginia, enacts the New World’s first marijuana legislation, ordering all farmers to grow Indian hemp seed.
1776: The first draft of the Declaration of Independence is written on Dutch hemp paper.
1790’s: George Washington cultivates hemp. There is also some evidence that he may have smoked it.
1798: Napoleon prohibits the use of cannabis in Egypt, only to find that his own soldiers are using it and bringing the habit back to France.
1840: Medicinal preparations (sold in pharmacies) are being made out of cannabis
1843: Le Club des Hachichins, or Hashish Eaters’ Club, is established in Paris.
1856: The British tax the ‘ganja’ and ‘charas’ trade in India.
1868: Egypt outlaws cannabis ingestion. This nation will later lobby for marijuana criminalisation in the League of Nations.
1870’s: Cannabis used as a medication for various ailments in UK.
1883: Hashish smoking parlors are open for business in every major American city. According to police estimates, in 1883 there are 500 such parlors in New York City alone.
1890: Queen Victoria’s personal physician, Sir Russell Reynolds, prescribes cannabis for menstrual cramps.
1890: Greece and Turkey prohibit the use of cannabis.
1893: 70,000 to 80,000 kg of hashish legally imported into India from Central Asia each year.
1895: The Indian Hemp Drug Commission concludes that cannabis has no addictive properties, some medical uses, and a number of positive emotional and social benefits.
1910: The white minority in South Africa outlaws cannabis ingestion.
1914: Congress passes the Harrison Narcotics Act, its first attempt to control recreational use of drugs.
1915: Cannabis use starts to be prohibited in some US States.
1920: Opium and cocaine are made illegal in the UK. Cannabis was not believed to be dangerous enough to add to the bill. The Indian Hemp Commission found that ‘the moderate use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all’.
1928: Recreational use of cannabis is banned in Britain as a result of pressure from Egypt and Turkey, who primarily wanted to ban the substance under interpretations of Islamic Law. Claims by these countries that cannabis was dangerous and caused 30% – 60% of insanity in the countries were not investigated by the League of Nations. Legal imports to India are still allowed and taxed.
1936: The film ‘Reefer Madness’ is made to scare American youth away from smoking cannabis.
1936 – 1938: William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper empire fuels a tabloid journalism propaganda campaign against marijuana. Hearst papers run articles about marijuana crazed Negroes raping white women and playing voodoo-satanic jazz music. Marijuana is a hispanic term for cannabis. The UK has settled for the term cannabis whereas in the US the term marijuana is commonly used.
December 1937: In the US the Marijuana Tax Act is signed into law, initiating 60 years of cannabis prohibition and annihilating a multi-billion dollar industry.
1937 – 1939: Under Harry Anslinger, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics prosecutes 3,000 doctors for illegally prescribing cannabis-derived medications. In 1939, the American Medical Association reached an agreement with Anslinger, and over the following decade, only three doctors are prosecuted.
1943 – 1948: Harry Anslinger orders all Federal Bureau of Narcotics agents to conduct surveillance and keep files on marijuana crimes by jazz and swing musicians.
1945: Legal cannabis use continues in India.
1952: First UK Cannabis bust at the Number 11 Club, Soho.
1961: The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs implemented. It updated all previous drugs treaties, and set up classifications of drugs according to their supposed harmfulness. Cannabis went into the same list as opiates and cocaine, ‘having strong addictive properties’.
1962: Hashish starts to be made in Morocco.
1962: President John F. Kennedy forces Harry Anslinger into retirement after Anslinger attempts to censor the work of Professor Alfred Lindsmith, author of The Addict and the Law.
1964: The first year when more white people than black were convicted of cannabis related offences in the UK. It was also the first year in which less than half of the people convicted were sentenced to prison. Also the first ‘head shop’ is opened by the Thelin brothers in the United States.
1964: Dr. Raphael Mechoulam of the University of Tel Aviv isolates THC Delta-9, the primary active ingredient in cannabis.
1965: Timothy Leary (of ‘Tune in, turn on, drop out’ fame) arrested in the USA for cannabis possession. Also a new crime was invented in the UK, that of allowing premises to be used for drug taking. Convictions for cannabis offences rose by 79% in the preceding year.
1967: The National Council for Civil Liberties published a pamphlet about the discriminatory ways the law worked regarding cannabis, the increase in unjustifiable searches, accusations of evidence planting, and the harshness of sentencing. Black people and people with long hair were particularly singled out. Also in 1967 Keith Richards (Rolling Stones) was convicted for smoking cannabis, the first prosecutions occurred for allowing premises to be used for smoking and William Rees-Mogg’s subsequent editorial in the Times (‘Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?’) was influential in changing mainstream society’s attitudes to cannabis use.
1968: John Lennon pleads guilty to cannabis possession (The Beatles were supposedly introduced to its use by Bob Dylan in 1964).
Early 1970’s: Impact on UK of, first, Bob Marley and then other reggae artists awakening interest in Rastafarian ideology, which includes seeing cannabis use as a spiritual practice.
1971: In the UK a permanent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD] was established to help formulate Government policy. Several governments have since ignored the ACMD’s advice about cannabis, which has generally been that it has ‘no significant harmful effects on man’. President Nixon declares drugs “America’s public enemy No. 1”.
1973: Oregon takes the first steps towards decriminalization of cannabis.
1974: Dr. Heath conducts his infamous government-funded Rhesus monkey study at Tulane University, touted for years as evidence that marijuana causes brain damage.
1976: The Ford Administration bans independent research and research by federal health programs on the use of natural cannabis derivatives for medicine.
1979: The Advisory Council proposed moving cannabis to class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and changing penalties for possession. Nothing was done about the proposal.
1989: St. Louis Medical University determines that the human brain has receptor sites for THC to which no other known compounds will bind..
December 30, 1989: Drug Enforcement Agency Director John Lawn orders that cannabis remain on the Schedule One narcotics list, reserved for drugs which have no known medical use.
1990: The discovery of THC receptors in the human brain is reported in Nature. This started the crossbreeding of plants to produce higher THC content (‘skunk’).
1991: 42,209 people are convicted of cannabis offences in the UK. 19,583 escape with cautions.
1994: Home Secretary Michael Howard increases maximum fines for possession from £500 to £2,500.
1997: The newspaper The Independent on Sunday launches a “Decriminalise cannabis” campaign.
2001: ‘Softly, softly’ approach to cannabis trialled in Brixton.
Jan 2004: Cannabis reclassified to a Class C drug in the UK.
2007: UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announces his intention to move cannabis to class B again. This is in reaction to media reports concerning the link between cannabis and schizophrenia.
2009: Cannabis reclassified back to a Class B drug in the UK. The chair of the advisory body the ACMD, resigns for criticising the government’s decision to move cannabis back to class B.
2013: Uruguay President Jose Mujica signed legislation to legalise recreational cannabis in December 2013, making Uruguay the first country in modern times to legalise cannabis.
2014: Colorado became the first state to legalise marijuana for recreational use, with Washington, California, and Alaska following shortly after.
2018: In the UK the home secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced the government is to review reclassifying cannabis for medicinal use. Days after having his supply of anti-epileptic cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow customs, 12-year-old Billy Caldwell was in hospital suffering his first seizures for months.
‘Sativex’, a spray developed for multiple sclerosis (MS) by GW Pharmaceuticals has been on prescription in the UK and other countries for over 7 years. Sativex is the whole cannabis plant in vapour form.
2018: Canada is the second country to legalise cannabis. Globally cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug. There are an estimated 6-9 million users in the UK.
The important lesson to learn from history is to understand the facts and reality. Hype and scaremongering only weaken the truth.
“I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast.” President Ronald ReaganHistory of Amphetamine