Medical Marijuana: A Brief History

Medical marijuana has been recognized by the AMA (American Medical Association) for its therapeutic benefits, and legislation was passed in Oregon (1998) allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Many of the patients prescribed Marijuana have debilitating and chronic pain, and they cannot grow or procure their own marijuana; therefore, groups are proposing initiative 28 that would expand legislation to allow for marijuana dispensaries in the state of Oregon.

Timeline of Marijuana related issues in the United States.

1600-1890s: Domestic production of hemp encouraged.

Early colonies  encouraged the production of hemp  as a cheap source of fiber. (Virginia Records Timeline: 1553-1743)

1930s: Fear of marijuana.

The United States government initiates anti-Mexican sentiment mostly because of immigration issues. Their propaganda campaign is focused on cannabis: a plant commonly smoked by Mexican immigrants. (PBS frontline article on the social history of marijuana

1930: Creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN).

The war on drugs officially begins with the first federal agency commissioned to combat drug abuse. (Background on the first director of the FBN: Harry Anslinger.

1936: Reefer Madness.

Anti-reefer propaganda film Reefer Madness is released to the American viewing public. The film is filled with misinformation and quickly gains popularity with religious and conservative groups. (Reefer Madness:

1940s: Hemp for Victory:

In order to help in the war effort the U.S. government encourages farmers to grow hemp for rope, sails, paper and other materials needed for the war. (Film archive that shows original U.S. war-effort films concerning Hemp for Victory.

1951-56: Stricter Sentencing Laws.

The U.S. government enacts extremely harsh sentencing laws for anyone convicted with small amounts of marijuana. (Frontline interview with best-selling author and social advocate Eric Schlosser

1960s: Marijuana use popular in counterculture.

The 1960s saw a huge revolution in culture in the United States. Marijuana is used by many youth and icons of the generation. (Article on the important social implications of marijuana during the 1960s

1970: Drug Abuse and Control Act.

The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act categorizes marijuana separately from other narcotics and eliminates mandatory federal sentences for possession of small amounts. (Copy of the legislation from the DEA’s website

1986: Anti-Drug Abuse Act

President Regan imposes mandatory sentencing for certain drug related offences including possession of marijuana. (History of the anti-Drug Abuse Act.

1996: Medical Use Legalized in many states in the United States.

California becomes the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. (Chronology of States that allow medical marijuana.

2010: Ballot Measure 28 Proposed.

Oregon seeks to expand its medical marijuana laws by opening dispensaries for eligible patients. (Article outlining the proposed legislation.

This article highlights the issue of medical marijuana by directly interviewing a patient who is involved in passing legislation to expand medical marijuana laws. It also uses the human element to give a face to many of the patients who use marijuana medicinally.

This article provides a great counterpoint to medical marijuana legislation. It is also from a government agency, so it is a major source for information. One main point in this article is that marijuana medications already exist for treatment of chronic pain, and most proponents of medicinal marijuana are working on a hidden agenda toward the legalization marijuana.

This website is a great resource because it presents both sides of the issue. With the previous two, only one side of the issue is presented. This website focuses on the debate aspect of the issue and provides very clear arguments for and against medical marijuana.

Major news networks have an already established credibility with the American public, so this opinion piece for CBS news, arguing for the expansion of medical marijuana, acts as a great resource. The author also makes great arguments from a journalistic perspective. It also refutes many of the points presented on the DEA’s website.

This article was printed in the Los Angeles Times and talks about how many doctors in California are proponents of marijuana. It is also very important because the legislation that many are proposing in Oregon is very similar to legislation California has already passed.

Marijuana is everywhere in  Eugene. For the purposes of my research I chose to focus on the medicinal use of marijuana specifically because there is legislation being proposed to expand the availability of medicinal marijuana. Not only is this a great “public policy” issue, it is a great issue of debate because in the past, marijuana was always viewed as a recreational drug with strict penalties (ten years in prison under the sentencing laws of the early 50s). Our society is now undergoing a paradigm shift with regards to our perceptions of marijuana. In the five articles at the end of my timeline, I chose to find sources that provided conflicting points of view in order to get a well-rounded perspective on the issue. I also have not formed a strong opinion on the issue and look forward to writing a very objective report.


About evan1983

Evan Sernoffsky is a freelance journalist in Sacramento, California.
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