The Fall and Rise of Cannabis in the US

09 November, 2022
The Fall and Rise of Cannabis in the US

It's not a bad time to be a cannabis consumer. Although there was an era where cannabis consumption was widely accepted, our country went through a dark phase that made it difficult to enjoy the plant we love. Propaganda targeting cannabis led to a ban on cultivation and the distribution of products. But fortunately, all that changed in the '90s as medical consumption was legalized. A little over two decades later, the Farm Bill was a monumental step toward even more freedom for cannabis consumers. And now, we are gradually seeing legalization sweep the nation, both for medical use and recreational use. But how did we get here, you may wonder? Let's talk about the fall and rise of cannabis in the U.S.

The U.S. Was Pro-cannabis…at First

Believe it or not, when our country was young, not only was it okay to grow cannabis, but it was actually encouraged — which makes sense, seeing as how our first president had his own hemp crops. This plant proved to be an invaluable resource for making goods like rope, paper, fabric, and more. For this very reason, in 1619, Virginia lawmakers mandated that all of the farmers in that state cultivate hemp on their farms. Not only that, but it was recognized as cash in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and of course, Virginia. 

Though it was a hot commodity back then, hemp farming slowed down quite a bit by the time the Civil War was concluding because the country saw a surge in imports that took the place of hemp products. But as Americans stopped turning to cannabis for industrial purposes, they were discovering its other uses. Unfortunately, it was those other applications that would change public perception for many decades to come.


The Beginning of the Dark Ages

In the early 20th century, cannabis gained popularity for its more stimulating and therapeutic effects. During the 1910s, people coming from Mexico to the U.S. to escape the violent upheavals of the Mexican Revolution brought those energizing strains over. This type of cannabis would find its way into Black jazz circles in the '30s, where it was welcomed with open arms. Legendary jazz figures, like Cab Calloway, were fans of the plant.

That decade would mark a major turning point, as politicians directed their attention to this harmless plant after Prohibition ended. Efforts to turn public opinion against cannabis were xenophobic in nature, spurred by anti-immigration sentiments. In an era where racism ran rampant throughout our country, lawmakers seized an opportunity to not only sully the good plant's name, but feed the existing negative perceptions of people of color. There was even a movie made in the '30s called "Reefer Madness" that was purely a scare tactic to convince viewers that cannabis was dangerous. 

The attack on cannabis was spearheaded by Federal Bureau of Narcotics head Harry J. Anslinger. Even back then, the general consensus among researchers with whom he consulted was that cannabis was harmless. Still, he was determined to have the plant federally banned, taking aim at minority groups to cause enough of a stir that he could achieve his goal.  

By the time 1931 rolled around, it was illegal in 29 states. Six years later and it was banned in the rest of the country with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. After that, cannabis gained underground traction as the Beatnik crowd began to enjoy the benefits the plant has to offer.

In 1969, a small glimmer of hope may have appeared when the Marihuana Tax Act was deemed unconstitutional, though 1970 saw the introduction of the Controlled Substances Act. This lumped cannabis into the same category as dangerous drugs like LSD and heroin, seemingly putting an end to any possibility of a greener future. But fortunately for us all, the story didn't end there.   


Coming Back Around

The first major breakthrough came in 1996 as California passed a bill that opened the door for medical cannabis consumption. From there, more states would adopt this policy until 2012 when yet another crack appeared in the wall separating us from our beloved plant; Colorado and Washington made moves to legalize cannabis for recreational enjoyment. 

2018 was a landmark year for cannabis consumers as well. That was the year the Farm Bill became official legislation, freeing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and putting it in the hands of the FDA. This made it federally legal, meaning CBD products, along with other goods produced from hemp, could be sold throughout the country. 

All of this has contributed to a growing trend of legalization that's brought us to the present day, where 18 states, along with Washington D.C. and Guam, now allow recreational consumption. And as far as medical use, we now have 37 states and Washington D.C. on board. 

Today, well over half of all American citizens are in support of full legalization, which is a huge jump from the 12% of more than 50 years ago.  


Looking Ahead 

The future is indeed looking bright. The industry has exploded in terms of profitability and is projected to hit $32 billion this year. Analysts predict that by 2030, profits will reach anywhere from $57 billion to $100 billion. As another sign of growth, we're now seeing cannabis delivery companies like Eaze and Dutchie pop up, making it even easier to legally receive products without having to leave the house.

In March of this year, an important piece of legislation passed in the House of Representatives known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act — also known as the MORE Act. The bill was created to decriminalize cannabis nationwide, though there is doubt that it will pass in the Senate in its current form. However, at this point in our country's history, politicians are working across the aisle toward legalizing the plant, so the MORE Act represents a promising step in the right direction. 

Nine states are expected to have cannabis legislation appearing on their ballots in 2022, including Ohio, Oklahoma, Florida, and Missouri. Though it may not be likely that all nine of them will legalize the plant, you never know; we could be living in a cannabis country sooner than we think.