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 Prohibition was repealed after just thirteen years while the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was repealed and marijuana prohibition was retained, not because scientists had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.

Karen Sipes Dana Pentoney Jeni Roane


Grolier Electronic Encylopedia, Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995

Grolier Wellness Encyclopedia, Drugs, Society & Behavior.
Vol. 3, 1992.

Ethan A. Nadelmann, American Heritage Magazine,
Feb-Mar, 1993.

Medical Marijuana,
Public/Documents/Med_Marijuana_Paper.htm, 1995.

Category: Social Issues