When did Marijuana Become illegal in the United States?

In 2023, marijuana is a commonly used term in the United States. And, now, people can also easily access it as well.

However, in the mid-20th century, marijuana was a strictly regulated substance in the country. Even accessing marijuana was criminalized and treated as a punishable offense. 

Hence, the history of weed in the United States is quite fascinating which as a weed lover you must know. Ultimately, you will also get to know when did marijuana become illegal there and when the weed was finally made a substance to be accessed by the people.

Let’s find out:

When did marijuana become illegal in the United States

History of Weed in the United States

Marijuana’s existence in the U.S has been from hundreds of years back. Though the 20th and 21st century is one of the most important periods when there has been a lot of regulations and changes in the cannabis legislation. 

Well, we will start from scratch and find out what the earlier and modern history says about weed in the United States. For your convenience, I have parted the weed history in the U.S into two parts – earlier and modern. 

The earlier history will mostly focus on why, how, and under which laws marijuana was banned. While the modern will allow you to know the positive changes for marijuana, which ultimately led to the final legalization.

Early History

Before the 20th century, marijuana somehow existed among the people. It was commonly used by the citizens of the country for different purposes such as religious and medicinal as well. 

Although the beginning of the 20th century brought a bad time for weed in the country. 

During the initial times of the 1910s, the start of the Mexican Revolution brings out a rapid and negative change in marijuana usage. When Mexicans started moving to the United States, they also brought the tradition of smoking marijuana. 

This ultimately led to the drastic increase in the consumption of weed and its other stuff as well. 

With the increase in Mexican immigrants, the drug started to be distributed among the Americans and there were allegations such as “lust for blood” about it, which ultimately made a wrong assumption about the marijuana. 

However, the authorities of different states were really concerned about marijuana and its impact irrespective of the situation in the region, they started banning weed. 

And, those states which didn’t ban pot, regulated the laws for distribution and possession of it among the people. 

These regulations of weed took place in different U.S states at that time which lasted for several years after that. States such as Massachusetts (1911), New York (1914), and Maine (1914) regulated the marijuana laws at that time. 

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Also, in the International Opium Convention in 1925, U.S supported the regulation of ‘Indian hemp’ or hashish. Therefore, the final decision was taken to ban Indian hemp in the country. This decision also led the weed market in the region to decline. 

Although the importing countries could issue a certificate to approve the import only for “medical and scientific purposes.” 

Well, this convention didn’t affect the trade-in fibers and similar products of European hemp which was traditionally grown in the United States. 

Further, in 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed to regulate the use of cannabis and other drugs. Headed by Harry J. Anslinger, FBN worked as a final nail on the ban of weed in the country. 

Harry J. Anslinger completely outlawed the use of cannabis among people. He claimed that marijuana was causing people to commit violent crimes. Moreover, he also claimed that weed is causing people to act irrationally and overly sexually.

Whatever the reason, finally marijuana was restricted for common people in 1930. 

After seven years of FBN, there was a major change that took place in the country – The marijuana tax act 1937. 

This act completely banned marijuana in the United States under federal law. And, also improved the previous laws in action.

Weed was made completely illegal in the country. Although those who used to grow, sold, and import or buy cannabis after prescription and permission from the authorities, the act pushed a tax of 1$ on everyone. 

While the authorities also pushed out the punishment of a $2,000 fine for those who will offend the law. Imprisonment of up to five years was also there for heavy offenses. Therefore, ultimately, marijuana was a very dangerous drug to be accessed in the region at that time. 

Later this act, there were continuously modifications introduced in the law, and even some new regulations were also introduced during the 1940s, 1960s, and 1970s. 

Summing up all the changes, United States regularly restricted marijuana usage and its consumption in the region up to the mid-20th century.

Modern History

Marijuana Tax Act was the base act to prohibit marijuana at the federal level. And it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1969. According to the Supreme Court, it was violating the fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. 

Though Marijuana Tax Act was then replaced by the Control Substances Act of 1970. However, this law also didn’t bring a positive change for accessing weed in the country but this act reduced the simple possession of all drugs to a misdemeanor which previously was a felony. 

Still, it was a positive change because it reduced the punishment of marijuana offenses. However, weed was still illegal in the region.

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In 1975, Robert Randall was the first person from Washington D.C who got medical cannabis from the federal government. However, he was before arrested for cultivating cannabis but after justifying his need for marijuana for relieving symptoms of glaucoma, he was permitted to access medical weed. 

This was the first time that a person was getting marijuana access from the government. 

After him, a Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program was introduced to help the other patients as well. 

Patients with serious medical conditions were permitted under this program to access marijuana. However, only 13 patients could participate due to the very complicated and hassle full procedure. 

Well, after very strict guidelines and regulations this was the first time in the country that the authorities were permitting marijuana access to the common people. 

However, first, it was permitted to the medical patients only, which further slowly relaxed for the other citizens as well in the upcoming years by decriminalizing cannabis.

At this time, people of the different states were also in favor to decriminalize cannabis to some extent. Even California also tried for the same in 1972 but it was defeated by a heavy margin of voting. 

Although in 1973, Oregon became the first successful state to decriminalize cannabis, which ultimately reduced the penalty for up to one ounce to a $100 monetary fine. 

After Oregon, more states followed the decriminalization trend. Alaska did the same in 1975, while Maine, Colorado, California, and Ohio also decriminalized marijuana in the same year. 

Mexico passed the legislation for the medical use of cannabis in 1978. Though during the 1970s and 1980s many states passed legislation for allowing the medical use of cannabis. 

After several years in 1996, taking votes from the citizens of California, the authorities finally legalized the use of medical marijuana for the patients under the Compassionate Use Act. And, after this, California became the first U.S state to do so. 

Moreover, after California, five more states approved this initiative in their region. Washington, District of Columbia, Nevada, Alaska, and Oregon were those states which followed the passage of Proposition 215 or Compassionate Use Act. 

This law ultimately permitted the medical patients to use cannabis after the doctor’s recommendation for treating serious medical symptoms such as cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, glaucoma, arthritis, and “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” Caregivers were also permitted to cultivate cannabis. 

Although the decriminalization of marijuana was followed by the states in the 1970s the second trend for the decriminalization of weed took place during the late 2000s. 

At this time, different cities were following the decriminalization path, and somewhat existence of weed among people was coming back smoothly. 

Finally, after several years in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first U.S States to legalize the recreational use of cannabis in their regions from November 6. Although this law regulated the possession of cannabis among people. At that time only up to one ounce of cannabis was permitted for adults of age 21. 

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After two years, in 2014, three more states legalized recreational weed. Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C were those three states who permitted the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. 

Moreover, two years later, again four more states passed the ballot measures to legalize cannabis in their regions. After this, California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine became the states for permitting recreational cannabis officially. 

Similarly, up to 2020, recreational cannabis became legal in 16 different states.

When did Marijuana Become illegal in the United States?

Marijuana became illegal in the United States from the starting of the 20th century. Though the final federal level illegalization took place in the year 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act came. After this act, marijuana was completely banned in the whole country. 

Although from the earlier history of marijuana in the U.S till now, there have been consistent changes in the laws to regulate the usage and consumption of weed among its people. 

Though finally, in 2023, people are now able to access marijuana without any legal issue in some states. However, still, at the federal level, marijuana is illegal in the U.S. While different states have different laws to permit and regulate cannabis usage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why marijuana became illegal in the U.S?

There are several reasons for that. However, one of the major reasons is the drug abuse and increase in crime rate under influence of marijuana. While some experts have a different opinion on this. 

2. When did marijuana first become legal in the U.S?

During the 1970s, marijuana was first legalized for medical use. It was permitted for seriously ill patients to access cannabis to get relief from the symptoms. Even caregivers were also allowed to cultivate cannabis at that time. 

At the federal level, it is illegal to indulge in cannabis activity in the country. However, different states have regulated the laws for cannabis and that is why some U.S states have relaxed cannabis laws while some are still quite harsh for it. You can check with your local authorities to know if marijuana is allowed. 

Final words

Finally, now, you know when did marijuana become illegal in the United States and also you know the reasons for it. 

Moreover, whatever the history is ultimately in 2023, many U.S states have already legalized cannabis. Therefore, you can access cannabis without being troubled by the law. However, we recommend you first confirm the local guidelines and regulations from the authorities. 

About Boe Staff
Hey, I am Dr. Boe. I have done Ph.D. in micro-biology. I am closely researching marijuana for the last 10 years.

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