History of Marijuana

Emily Unruh

When Leslie Knope, the Amy Poehler’s beloved character from “Parks and Rec,” weighed in on the marijuana debate, she gave a quick-witted answer when asked if she had ever smoked marijuana: “I would like to be president someday, so no, I haven’t smoked marijuana.”

Leslie then described an“indescribable brownie” that she had in college, but, luckily for Knope, marijuana’s popularity is on the rise among American adults, and is expected to increase in the future according to several surveys from LiveScience.

A Gallup poll released in July 2017 reported that “45 percent of adults in the US have used marijuana at least once in their lives.” The statistic stands as the all-time highest percentage in U.S. history.

As far as marijuana use today, the age group with the fastest growing rate of users is young adults aged 18 to 29, and, according to Deborah Hasin, one of the study’s researchers and a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, the rates of use are also increasing among middle-aged and older adults. In the wake of 420, more and more generations are becoming more relaxed toward the use of marijuana.

This “go-to pop culture punch line” is the foundation of a “growing recreational and medicinal industry” according to NPR.

No matter what you call it – weed, cannabis or pot – the use of marijuana is quickly becoming more acceptable, however, the history of marijuana use in the U.S. is a rocky road. The ACLU writes that it is also the reason for more than half of drug arrests in the US. The vast majority of such arrests – commonly for possession – are African-Americans, despite similar rates of usage among whites and blacks, the ACLU says.

Early forms of the drug began in the 19th century and was generally known under its formal name, cannabis. However, in the 20th century, anti-cannabis factions renamed the drug “marijuana” in an effort to tie it to the influx of immigrants into the U.S. Soon, the coined term became popular among the public, and the government began its crackdown on “locoweed,” writes NPR.

A world caught in the middle of the dangerous otherizing of foreign populations and fearing recreational use of the drug quickly inspiredthe public to take action against the “marijuana menace.” The movement became the basis for state restrictions and federal prohibition.

Today, the argument for legalization has been an equally long and lengthy debate. Some states, such as Oregon and Colorado, have challenged current federal restrictions. Nine states, along with Washington, D.C., have either legalized entirely or allowed medical marijuana to be grown and purchased.

Logan Ruddy, a freshman and special education major said, “I can see it being legalized. It could bring back lots of money, and then you could use it to help America. It’s like a stress reliver, but it’s one of those things where you could see good and bad honestly.”

However, there are many hurdles for marijuana’s complete legalization, and only a fraction of that nine has yet to decriminalize, the recreational use of weed. Racial disparities and the drug’s rocky history continue to surround the topic of marijuana, and people of color still make up the majority of prison populations charged with marijuana use.

Most recently, Repulican Rep. Steve Alford, of the Kansas House said in 2018 at a town hall meeting in Garden City, KS, that black people had a lower tolerance for marijuana because of their “character makeup” and “genetics.” The substance’s racialized history is still a hot topic for many lawmakers, and many consider it to be an entry drug, or a gateway drug for more lethal drugs.

Criminal Justice major, and junior, Melissa Tovar, believes the biggest hurdle to the legalization of weed is the high prison population. “Because then if you legalize it, then you have to decriminalize all the people put in jail. This takes a lot of money, time and resources because you can’t just let them out, you have to reintegrate them into society.”

As the number of marijuana users rises and changing generations shift into politics, the weed debate is one that Americans are watching intently. Many magazines and newspapers like “24/7 Wall Street” and “USA Today” are even trying to predict the next states that will legalize weed in the coming years. Some estimate that even as soon as 2020, multiple states will follow suit and legalize marijuana.