The cannabis or hemp plant originally evolved in Central Asia before people introduced the plant into Africa, Europe and eventually the Americas. Hemp fiber was used to make clothing, paper, sails and rope, and its seeds were used as food.
Industrial hemp continued to be grown in the United States throughout World War II, when its domestic cultivation was encouraged after the Philippines—a major source of imported hemp fiber—fell to Japanese forces. The last U.S. hemp fields were planted in 1957 in Wisconsin.
Massive unemployment and social unrest during the Great Depression stoked resentment of Mexican immigrants and public fear of the “evil weed.” As a result—and consistent with the Prohibition era’s view of all intoxicants—29 states had outlawed cannabis by 1931.
As of June 2019, eleven states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Colorado and Washington became the first states to do so in 2012. Adults also can light up without a doctor’s prescription in Alaska, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Vermont and Oregon.
Marijuana, also known as cannabis or pot, has a long history of human use. Most ancient cultures didn’t grow the plant to get high, but as herbal medicine, likely starting in Asia around 500 BC. The history of cannabis cultivation in America dates back to the early colonists, who grew hemp for textiles and rope. Political and racial factors in the 20th century led to the criminalization of marijuana in the United States, though its legal status is changing in many places.
In the report, author Barney Warf describes how cannabis use originated thousands of years ago in Asia, and has since found its way to many regions of the world, eventually spreading to the Americas and the United States.
How did marijuana get to the United States?
Cannabis came to the Middle East between 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C., and it was probably used there by the Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group. The Scythians also likely carried the drug into southeast Russia and Ukraine, as they occupied both territories for years, according to Warf’s report. Germanic tribes brought the drug into Germany, and marijuana went from there to Britain during the 5th century with the Anglo-Saxon invasions. [See map of marijuana’s spread throughout the world.]
Americans laws never recognized the difference between Cannabis sativa L. and Cannabis sativa. The plant was first outlawed in Utah in 1915, and by 1931 it was illegal in 29 states, according to the report.
From the sites where prehistoric hunters and gatherers lived, to ancient China and Viking ships, cannabis has been used across the world for ages, and a new report presents the drug’s colorful history.