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History: The World Legalizes Cannabis

August 18, 2020

hemp legalization world wide nz

In part one of this article series we covered the ancient historical origins of the cannabis plant and its many uses by the ancient greeks, ancient egyptians, sumerians and other ancient civilizations. 

In this part two of the series, we’ll be covering how cannabis went from legal, to illegal and back again over the past one hundred years. If you would like to read part one of hemp’s history, just go here.

100 Years of Slander

The Spanish slang word for Cannabis is “marijuana” and in the 1920s and 1930s it was anglicized to “marihuana.” This was purposely done in the pursuit of the anti-cannabis movement that was led by media press baron William Randolph Hearst to assist in connecting the cannabis plant with Mexicans.

By giving marijuana and the “foreigners” who smoked the plant a stigma, Hearst was able to increase anti-Mexican sentiment during the Great Depression, during a time when jobs were scarce where many Anglos felt they were competing against the Mexicans for jobs.

Strangely enough, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still insists on using the archaic term of “marihuana” in reference to any cannabis items to this day, perhaps this reflects the anachronistic position on the plant. Rather outdated, we think, especially as most of the US states have now legalized cannabis either medically, recreationally, or both, so it’s only a matter of time before cannabis is legalized at the federal level.

The director of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Jacob Anslinger, began paying attention to cannabis in 1934 when tax revenues dropped during the Great Depression and the department needed a scapegoat due to the entire team being on the chopping block. 

Anslinger realized that cannabis prohibition would likely follow if he could link the plant with ethnic minorities as he set to carve out benign-sounding references to cannabis and hemp, calling for a federal ban on “marihuana.”

Reefer Madness

new zealand reefer madness cannabis referendum

Little did Americans know, the same concentrated cannabis medicines they were taking for their aches, pains and illnesses, came from the same plant that was being demonized by a floundering government agency hellbent on remaining “in business.”

Anslinger succeeded in pushing the already established anti-Mexican sentiment forward while linking all cannabis varieties such as marijuana and hemp to ethnic minorities. It seems ridiculous in this day and age that such a ban could come about from such racial discrimination, but at the time, it worked for the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics to keep the staff in employment and take Anslinger’s reputation up a few notches.

Reefer Madness was a film that hit theatres around the same time in an effort to paint marihuana as “the burning weed with its roots in hell” and “the deadly scourge that drags our children into the quagmires of degradation.” Even though the film bombed at the box office, it became an instant cult humor classic among college students in later years. This film was the epitome of the synchronicity going on at the time among Hollywood, Washington, Politics, and mainstream media in their efforts to criminalize cannabis.


The use of racism in the apparent criminalization of cannabis is evident not just in the United States but in many parts of the rest of the world during the time; including England, Australia and many other European nations. In 1937, marijuana was officially criminalized in the United States with the propaganda used to support the ban, emphasized the plants use by Latinos, African Americans and fabricated statistics about its relationship to crime.

The Zero Tolerance Era

Over the following decades, using cannabis has been illegal in most european nations until fairly recently when decriminalization has been brought about through a scientific and public uplifting of the plant as its many uses are once again cast into the spotlight. Keeping cannabis illegal is both unscientific and unethical, given the vast number of papers published in reputable medical journals of its “stellar efficacy and safety profile” and the amount of people suffering with conditions proven to be alleviated or reversed with cannabinoids.

In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana along with LSD and heroin as a Schedule I drug, (i.e., having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use).

Most of the marijuana varieties of cannabis came into the United States from Mexico, but in 1975 the Mexican government made an agreement to destroy the crop by spraying it with a highly toxic herbicide called “paraquat.”

When that happened, Colombia then became the number one supplier of marijuana to not only the United States but also internationally, to many countries. When Reagan and Bush entered presidency, they implemented a “zero tolerance” policy which saw to the jailing of many people who were caught in possession of marijuana, along with a lot of resources put into preventing smuggling at the borders.

This “war on drugs” led to another domino effect which saw the shift from international importation of marijuana to the domestic cultivation with crops popping up on inside of their own borders in Hawaii and California.

Legalising Cannabis

legalizing cannabis world wide nz

In 1937, doctor Tod Mikuriya reprinted O’Shaughnessy’s original paper as the head piece in a book called Marijuana: Medical Papers, which became the landmark in the medical marijuana movement we see today.

The previous year, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, appointed President Nixon at the direction of Congress, to consider the laws surrounding marijuana and this led to the personal use of marijuana becoming decriminalized across eleven states over the next decade, even though Nixon disagreed with the recommendations. Since then, there has become a trend towards decriminalization and further access for medical use on the state level.

Currently there are more than 26 countries known that have legalized the use of marijuana either for recreational or medical use, or both. Of the United States, 11 states have legalized the sale and consumption of marijuana, and 33 states plus DC have legalized the use of medical marijuana. That’s 44 out of 52 states that have already legalized some form of marijuana use, and the rest of the world is following suit, fast.

When you take a moment to scan through our blog, you'll quickly see the medical properties of cannabinoids is evident with thousands of papers now published in leading peer-reviewed medical journals all available for direct access via pubmed.com or other reputable science journals.

The question we're left with, is not whether cannabis should be legalized, but why it was made illegal in the first place knowing just how helpful the compounds in the plant are for ailments, conditions and life threatening diseases. There was sufficient evidence at the time of criminilization, so why the ban, really?

Our suggest would be to share this information with a friend by clicking the share button and if you would like to know more just head over to our blog or use the search bar to look for specific ailments and what the research says about how cannabis compounds can assist.

If you would like to read part one of this series, for a deeper look into cannabis and hemp's history, click here.