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Cannabis Corner: Part 2 - Cannabis in America – A Winding Journey

This is Part Two of a Multi Part Series

Traders Magazine Online News, December 18, 2018

Sachin Barot

"I field several calls daily from former trading associates inquiring about investing in cannabis. It’s easy to skip the basics, but that can lead to confusion and missed opportunities. I’ve enlisted the help of cannabis business intelligence leader New Frontier Data to provide an editorial series for Traders Magazine outlining the fundamentals of this rapidly evolving industry."

A Winding Journey

The first cannabis laws passed in the United States reach back 400 years, to a 1619 mandate passed by the Virginia Assembly requiring that every farmer grow some hemp, which was prized for its versatility and essential applications (nutritional seeds, clothing, rope, etc.) using its fibers.

While it has become an urban myth that the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, colonists relied on hemp, and George Washington grew it at Mount Vernon. The plant flourished as the country grew, spreading south where it became a major agricultural commodity in such states as Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia. Yet, by the mid-19th century, competition from Russia’s cotton and hemp imports had begun to erode demand for domestically grown hemp. After the U.S. Civil War, medicinal uses of cannabis found their niches to treat migraines, arthritis, insomnia, and other conditions, and the plant was sold both for its flower and as tinctures.

Subsequently, beyond its industrial uses, the plant has for millennia been used therapeutically for its nutritionally rich seeds and curative oils, while its psychoactive properties have been incorporated into medicinal, recreational, and religious traditions by cultures across the globe.

Criminalization of Cannabis

In the U.S., cannabis was primarily used for medicinal purposes until the early 20th century, when Mexican immigrants fleeing the Mexican Civil War (1914-1915) introduced the social practice of smoking it recreationally. During the era when the temperance movement would lead to passage of the 18th Amendment and Prohibition (1920-1933), momentum had begun for banning the recreational use of cannabis. By 1920, nine states outlawed its use, including Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Colorado and Nevada. Regardless, medicinal use of cannabis continued, and by the 1930s, pharmaceutical companies were selling standardized cannabis extracts to treat pain, spasms, and insomnia, while cannabis cigarettes were touted to treat asthma.

Meantime, social momentum against cannabis began to build in earnest. Opponents began calling it marijuana — a Mexican colloquialism — to disassociate it from the popularity for cannabis and hemp. In 1930 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed to coordinate the government’s drug-control efforts.

That agency, led by lawman Harry J. Anslinger (who had previously built an international reputation for combating international drug trafficking), based its anti-marijuana campaign on two key assertions: that marijuana caused insanity, and its use drove people to abhorrent criminal acts. Those assertions were effectively captured in the film Reefer Madness (1936), a fictional, cautionary tale depicting licentious criminality and tragic downfall caused by irresponsibility attributed to marijuana use. 

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