The history of cannabis is incredibly interesting and cannabis has four distinct eras within our time. This article will examine the early history of cannabis from 1611-1937, which is known as the “Industrial Era of Cannabis”.
During this time, cannabis production and trafficking exploded across the world due to increased exploration and trade with previously isolated societies. A lot of wars were fought over the control of cannabis due to the economic benefit that trading and using cannabis had for many different areas of society.
The British Empire begins cultivating cannabis plants in Virginia.
The British Colony of Virginia implements laws that make cannabis cultivation mandatory for landowners. Many other British Colonies within the present United States follow suit.
Cannabis is used for goods and services as a method of exchange (bartering) across the
Pilgrims begin transporting cannabis plants and seeds to New England.
The cannabis economy is thriving in the American Colonies, with cannabis accepted as currency in many locations across North America.
Cannabis is officially classified by Carolus Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy. This system classifies organisms and places them in a hierarchical system of nature. Linnaeus describes one species of hemp in his classifications, Cannabis Sativa. This would later be updated by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who proposed two species of cannabis in 1785 (Cannabis Indica & Cannabis Sativa).
President George Washington sets small taxes/duties on cannabis in order to encourage a
domestic economy. Thomas Jefferson claimed that cannabis was a necessity to this new economy and also urged farmers to grow cannabis instead of tobacco.
Napoleon Bonaparte and Czar Alexander of Russia sign the Treaty of Tilset. This treaty cuts off Russian trade with the British, and therefore, American sailors began to smuggle Russian cannabis to Britain.
Napoleon Bonaparte places troops within Russia to ensure their blockade of Britain is achieved. The Czar of Russia ignores the illegal trade of cannabis between Britain and Russia which causes political tensions.
June of this year saw two major wars. Firstly, on the 19th of June, America declared war on
Britain. On the 24th of June, Napoleon Bonaparte invades Russia with the aim of crippling the supply of cannabis that the British were able to import. By the end of the 1812-13 winter, Napoleon’s troops had suffered heavy losses and most of the invading force was destroyed.
The American Provers’ Union, an early homeopathic journal, publishes their first of many reports on the effects of cannabis on the human body.
Irish Physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy studied cannabis while working as a medical officer in Bengal. After his journey, he took cannabis back with him to Britain. As a result, the
British interest in cannabis was starting to flourish.
French Physician Jacques-Joseph Moreau travelled to the Middle East and North Africa and wrote extensively about the psychological effects of cannabis.
The Smith Brother of Edinburgh, Scotland, begin to market their Cannabis Indica Tincture which is used in a base for many medicines of the time. Classic work by Fitz Hugh Ludlow (The
Hasheesh Eater is published in 1857.
The Ohio State Medical society begins the first American government-sanctioned study of cannabis and health within the human mind and body.
The United States Pharmacopoeia lists cannabis as a medicine for various ailments and illnesses.
The American Centennial sees massive celebrations across the country. The American
Centennial Expo serves hashish as a celebratory substance!
In the late 1800s, there were at least 2000 different cannabis medicines in the Western Hemisphere, made by over 280 manufacturers. These medicines were mostly in a tincture-style. At this point in time, there were also many different types of cannabis capsules available.
These medicines were used for a multitude of ailments such as headaches, mood swings, pain, and much more. However, many of these medicines were never tested properly and marketed towards almost anyone, leading to an act known as the Pure Food And Drug Act in 1906. This act required medicines to curb their misleading claims.
Interestingly, in Denmark and Norway during the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a drink called Maltos-Cannabis. This drink was marketed as a lunch drink that was especially useful and beneficial to children!
Sir Russel Reynolds, the personal doctor of Queen Victoria, prescribes cannabis for the
Queen’s menstrual cramps. Reynolds claimed, cannabis, “is one of the most valuable medicines we possess”.
The Report of The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission finds that “the moderate use (of cannabis)
practically produces no ill effects”. The first known use of “marijuana” as a smokeable substance is traced back to Sonora, Mexico amongst the supporters of popular revolutionary Pancho Villa.
From 1910 onwards, we see an overlap between two eras of cannabis history.
From this point in time, cannabis was looked down upon by some in society and the belief that cannabis was detrimental began to spread. Many will argue the start of prohibition is due to the
ingrained racism of ex-slave owners and the newly acquired freedoms of ex-slaves in the United
States coming together to create a conflicting mix of societal values both new and old.
Also, at this time, the United States was welcoming many migrants from a variety of nations, and many who had outdated beliefs of racial superiority felt threatened. One way to ‘control’ the races who were not white, was to ban cannabis, as well as to start calling it marijuana, as a scare tactic, due to the foreign nature of the word.
One can argue that 1910 is when the prohibition era began, but since there was also an expanding amount of cannabis companies around the world, we can classify 1910 as the first seed being planted for the upcoming “Prohibition Era” of cannabis.
The Jazz clubs of New Orleans report cannabis use among African-American musicians. In
Texas, many Mexican migrants are also smoking cannabis.
In San Francisco, many Hindu migrants are reportedly smoking “ganja”. The nation of South
Africa begins a process to outlaw cannabis.
At the International Opium Conference, controls on the production and prescription of cannabis are discussed for the first time.
The U.S State of California outlaws cannabis.
The U.S State of Texas outlaws cannabis.
A South African representative to the League of Nations (the first U.N) claims that miners in the country are less productive when they use cannabis and calls for international laws surrounding the plant. Britain wants more research before any international laws are implemented.
At the second International Opium Conference, a delegate from Egypt claims that there are serious problems associated with hashish use in Egypt. The conference declares cannabis as a
narcotic and highly recommends international laws and systems of control.
A report from the Panama Canal Zone concludes that there is no evidence that cannabis use is detrimental, habit-forming, or dangerous for soldiers. This report was produced due to the prevalence of cannabis use among soldiers in the area.
On September 28, the Dangerous Drugs Act becomes law in Britain. Cannabis is made illegal in Britain.
One of the most influential figures in Jazz history, Louis Armstrong, is arrested in Los Angeles,
California, for the possession of cannabis.
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics is formed in the United States of America. Headed by Harry J. Anslinger, this organization lobbied for incredibly harsh penalties for drug usage.
Harry J. Anslinger (Federal Bureau of Narcotics ) testifies his false claim that “marijuana is the most violence-causing drug known to man”, in front of the U.S Congress. The fact that marijuana was being used as the common terminology of the time to demonize cannabis lead to confusion within the American Medical Association and National Oil Seed Institue. Both of these institutions did not realize that marijuana is, in fact, cannabis! A prohibitive hemp tax was also implemented across the United States, effectively killing the hemp industry overnight. This tax was heavily lobbied for by powerful politicians who had forestry and paper interests.
The other eras of cannabis history in this four-part series are
“The ‘Smart’ Era” (1996-Onward)
Cannabis certainly has an interesting history and we remain dedicated to our readers who would like to find out more.