Throughout history marijuana has been used to
serve various purposes in many different
cultures. The purposes have changed over time
to fit in with the current lifestyles.
This pattern is also true in American history.
The use of marijuana has adapted to the social
climate of the time.
Marijuana, whose scientific name is cannibis
sativa, was mentioned in historical manuscripts
as early as 2700 B. C. in China. (Grolier Electronic
Encyclopedia, 1995). The cultivation of the
marijuana plant began as far back as the
Jamestown settlers, around 1611, who used hemp
produced from the marijuana plant’s fibers to make
rope and canvas. It was also used in making clothing
because of it’s durability. These uses fit in with
the social climate of the time, because the main
focus was on survival rather than for psychoactive
During the prohibition, marijuana was widely
used because of the scarcity of alcohol. Prohibition
was repealed after just thirteen years while the prohibition
against marijuana lasted for more than seventy five years.
This double standard may have resulted from the wishes of
those in power. Alcohol prohibition struck directly at
tens of millions of Americans of all ages, including many of
societies most powerful members. Marijuana prohibition
threatened far fewer Americans, and they had relatively
little influence in the districts of power. Only the
prohibition of marijuana, which some sixty million
Americans have violated since 1965 has come close
to approximating the prohibition experience, but
marijuana smokers consist mostly of young and
relatively powerless Americans (American Heritage, pg 47).
Alcohol prohibition was repealed and
marijuana prohibition was retained, not because
scientists had proved that alcohol was the less dangerous
of the various psychoactive drugs, but because of the prejudices
and preferences of most Americans (American Heritage, pg 47).
In 1937 the government issued the Marijuana Tax Act,
which levied a dollar an ounce tax on marijuana,
coupled with fines of $2,000 for drug posession and
jail sentences for evasion of the tax. For this
reason marijuana use in the United States appears
to have gone into decline in the late 30’s
(Grolier Wellness Encyclopedia, pg 54).
Then marijuana was outlawed in 1937 as a
repressive measure against Mexican workers
who crossed the border seekingjobs during
the Depression. The specific reason given
for the outlawing of the hemp plant was it’s
supposed violent “effect on the degenerate races”
(Schaffer, pg. 86).
Beginning in the 60’s marijuana use saw a
resurgence which may be attributed to many
causes. One of the main causes was the
rebellion of youth against the Vietnam War.
They used marijuana as an escape from war to peace.
It was easy at this time to depict marijuana as
a beneficial and completely harmless substance
whose effects were far less harmful than those
of legal drugs such as alcohol and nicotine
because there was not enough scientific
research done during the 60’s (Grolier Wellness
Encyclopedia, pg 54).
Another cause may have been the discovery of
the psychoactive component of marijuana-
tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC.
Users found the relation between the doses and
the effects (Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1995).
The current atmosphere provides for doctors to
suggest synthetic marijuana (THC) in a pure and
standardized form by perscription (called Marinol)
for the treatment of nausea associated with
cancer chemotherapy. Also, although there is no
scientific evidence that shows marijuana
is beneficial in the treatment of glaucoma,
it may prevent the progression of visual loss.
Marijuana, along with alcohol and a host of
other substances, can actually lower intraocular
eye pressure. The mediction however, must be carefully
tailored to the individual to prevent further eye damage.
The evidence has clearly shown that marijuana
has been around for a great deal of time
and has served multiple purposes throughout history.
Grolier Electronic Encylopedia, Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995
Grolier Wellness Encyclopedia, Drugs, Society & Behavior.
Vol. 3, 1992.
Ethan A. Nadelmann, American Heritage Magazine,
Medical Marijuana, http://www.lec.org/Drug_Watch/
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