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Cannabis is a genus of flowering plant that includes three putative species, Cannabis sativa L., Cannabis indica Lam. and Cannabis ruderalis Janisch. These three taxa are indigenous to Central Asia and South Asia. Cannabis has long been used for fibre hemp for medicinal purposes , and as a recreational drug . Industrial hemp products are made from Cannabis plants selected to produce an abundance of fiber and minimal levels of THC(Δ9- tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive molecule that produces the ''high'' associated with marijuana . The psychoactive product consists of dried flowers and leaves of plants selected to produce high levels of THC. Various extracts includinghashish and hash oil are also produced from the plant.

History of cannabis usage

Cannabis has been known as a medicinal and psychoactive compound from very early in human experience, and has been used continuously in this fashion throughout the world, typically without stigma until the mid-20th century, when, mainly under the leadership of the United States, prohibition became increasingly global.

Ancient history

Cannabis was well known to the Scythians, as well as by the Thracians/Dacians, whose shamans (the kapnobatai - those who walk on smoke/clouds) used to burn cannabis flowers in order to induce trances. The cult of Dionysus, which is believed to have been originated in Thrace, has also been linked to the effects of cannabis smoke. The most famous users of cannabis though were the ancient Hindus. According to legend, Shiva, the destructive aspect of the Hindu trinity, told his disciples to use the hemp plant in all ways possible. Cannabis is also thought by some to be the ancient drug soma, mentioned in the Vedas as a sacred intoxicating hallucinogen, although a number of advocates for different psychoactive substances such as Amanita muscaria and Salvia divinorum make this claim as well.

Recent history

Under the name cannabis 19th century medical practitioners helped to introduce the herbs drug potential (usually as a tincture) to modern English-speaking consciousness. It was famously used to treat Queen Victorias menstrual pains, and was available from shops in the US. By the end of the 19th century its medicinal use began to fall as other drugs such as aspirin took over.

The name marijuana (Mexican Spanish marihuana, mariguana) is associated almost exclusively with the herb's drug potential. Marijuana is now well known in English as a name for drug material is due largely to the efforts of US drug prohibitionists during the 1920s and 1930s, who deliberately used a Mexican name for cannabis in order to turn the populace against the idea that it should be legal.Although cannabis has been used for its psychoactive effects since ancient times, it first became well known in the United States during the jazz music scene of the late 1920s and 1930s. Louis Armstrong became one of its most prominent and life-long devotees. Cannabis use was also a prominent part of 1960s counterculture.

Today in America, there are 10 states that provide some legal protection for patients who use marijuana with the consent or recommendation of a doctor. Most recently, Vermont became the 10th state to pass medical marijuana legislation.On 2005-11-01 the city of Denver Colorado passed in a 53%-46% vote to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults over 21.


Since the twentieth century, most countries have laws against the cultivation, use, possession, or transfer of cannabis (and, naturally, these laws impact adversely on the herbs cultivation for non-drug purposes) but there are many regions where certain circumstances of cannabis handling are legal or licensed and others where laws against its use, possession, or sale are not enforced. Many jurisdictions have also decriminalized possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation and/or a fine, rather than imprisonment. By effectively removing the user from the criminal justice system, decriminalization focuses more on those who traffic and sell the drug on the black market. Increasingly, many jurisdictions also permit cannabis use for medicinal purposes. However, simple possession can carry long jail terms in some countries, particularly in East Asia, and the sale of cannabis can lead to life in prison or even the sentence of death by execution.

Prohibition and criminalization in the US

Until 1937, consumption and sale of cannabis was legal in most American states. In some areas it could be openly purchased in bulk from grocers or in cigarette form at newsstands, though an increasing number of states had begun to outlaw it. In that year, federal law made possession or transfer of cannabis (without the purchase of a by-then-incriminating tax stamp) illegal throughout the United States. This was contrary to the advice of the American Medical Association at the time. Legal opinions of the time held that the federal government could not outlaw it entirely. The tax was $100 per pound of hemp, even for clothes or rope. The expense, extremely high for that time, was such that people stopped openly buying and making it.

The decision of the U.S. Congress was based in part on testimony derived from articles in the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, who was heavily interested in DuPont Inc. Some analysts theorize DuPont wanted to boost declining post-war textile sales, and wished to eliminate hemp fiber as competition. Many argue that this seems unlikely given DuPonts lack of concern with the legal status of cotton, wool, and linen; although it should be noted that hemps textile potential had not yet been largely exploited, while textile factories already had made large investments in equipment to handle cotton, wool, and linen. Others argue that Dupont wanted to eliminate cannabis because its high natural cellulose content made it a viable alternative to the companys developing innovation: modern plastic. Still, others could argue that hemp could never truly compete with the high strength and elasticity of synthetics, such as nylon. Furthermore, hemp would have been an easy target due to its intoxicating effect, while no rational justification could have been made for outlawing cotton, wool, or linen.

During this period, Henry (Harry) Anslinger alleged that the drug could provoke criminal behavior in previously solid citizens. Anslinger also popularized the word marihuana for the plant, using a Mexican derived word (believed to be derived from an archaic Brazilian Portuguese term for inebriation, Maria Joana) in order to associate the plant with increasing numbers of Mexican immigrants, creating a negative stereotype which persists to this day. The 1937 federal marijuana tax act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1969. In a case brought by Timothy Leary, the Court held that the laws requirement that a would-be possessor of marijuana with the local bureau of the IRS, thereby placing his name and address on a file available to local law enforcment, violated the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, given the fact that at the time all 50 states had state laws on the books outlawing marijuana outright. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made possession of marijuana illegal again on a federal level, without the Fifth Amendment issues that scuttled the 1937 act, and without apparent concern for the issues which required the Eighteenth Amendment to effect the prohibition of alcohol. Several petitions for cannabis rescheduling in the United States have been filed, since the Act permits legalization of marijuana through the executive branch.


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Cannabis (drug)


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