Examining the Changes in Marijuana Laws Over Time

The legal status of marijuana is constantly changing. It’s a topic that’s frequently in the news, but the news reports only scratch the surface. The legal history of marijuana is much more complex than you might think.

Cannabis has been cultivated around the world since Egyptian times. Throughout history, different cultures have used the plant for a variety of purposes. Most of these purposes have been medicinal.

Covering the history of cannabis around the world would take forever. To get you started, here is an in-depth look at the history of cannabis in the U.S.

1. Way Back When

The history of marijuana in the U.S. goes all the way back to colonial times.

Cannabis is not native to the Americas, so it was introduced to North America after the Columbian exchange.

In 1615, King James told the colony of Jamestown needed to increase its production. So, the Virginia Company ordered the colonists to produce more hemp plants. That started a long tradition of growing hemp in Virginia.

Hemp was actually one of the main plants that George Washington planted in Mount Vernon. However, the primary use for hemp in the eighteenth century was the production of textiles.

Cannabis did not take on medical use in the United States until much later.

2. State Specific ─ Arizona

Source: vannormanlaw.com

There are a few states that deserve to be highlighted.

One of those states is Arizona, and that’s not just because the state is famous for its college parties. In fact, up until recently, cannabis was outlawed on the state’s college campuses even for medical purposes.

Arizona was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for medical purposes back in 2010. Here is a good overview from Veriheal on the current status of marijuana in the state.

Arizona legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2020.

The state’s first dispensary opened back in 2012. Dispensaries are the safest place to purchase marijuana.

Dispensaries usually open shortly after legalization, but this usually takes a year or two. After all, cannabis doesn’t grow overnight. It is a natural plant.

As with any crop, opening a farm takes time and is not an easy process.

3. Medical Usage

Cannabis has been used for medical purposes for centuries.

However, medication and pharmaceuticals didn’t become an industry until the nineteenth century. So, there was no legislation on cannabis. Nor was there much legislation on other sorts of drugs.

In the late nineteenth century, laws in certain states started restricting the sale of cannabis. By the 1920s, most states had passed laws that prohibited selling marijuana. The restrictions expanded in the 1930s.

Doctors continued to conduct experiments with cannabis. Most of these experiments had to be kept secret due to legal restrictions.

Marijuana has only recently picked up steam in the medical field. Thanks to more research, many studies have shown the plant’s positive benefits.

There are only a few states that have not legalized cannabis for medical use.

4. State Specific ─ Colorado

Source: kktv.com

Colorado is perhaps the most famous state for cannabis.

It was one of the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use in 2014. It was also early in the medical area. Cannabis was legalized in Colorado as early as 2000.

Since then, there have been over $1 billion in sales in the state alone.

The legalization has also increased the amount of tourism the state attracts. If you’re looking for exciting things to do on your next trip, check out some of these ideas from Planetware.

Given the state’s stunning scenery, it’s not surprising that it attracts tourists for a number of other reasons, too.

Contrary to what many anti-cannabis lobbyists expected, there has been no increase in crime. In fact, there has been a huge decrease. That’s mostly because there are no cannabis arrests anymore.

As far as legalization goes, Colorado has always been front and center.

5. The Territories

The U.S. is more than just 50 states.

There are several U.S. territories. Additionally, the District of Columbia, more commonly known as Washington D.C., isn’t a state. There are separate laws governing the nation’s capital.

Cannabis is legal in Washington D.C. for recreational and medical use. However, it is still a federal crime to possess marijuana. And significant parts of the city belong to the federal government.

In Puerto Rico, cannabis is only legal for medical purposes. In American Samoa, cannabis is illegal and there are very heavy fines for possessing cannabis. However, marijuana does grow wild on the island.

The U.S. Virgin Islands fully legalized marijuana this year. As of January 18, 2024, cannabis is permitted for recreational and legal purposes in the Virgin Islands. Cannabis is also legal in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Guam fully legalized marijuana in 2017.

That leaves only the independent Native American Nations. Each nation has its own laws, but most have legalized cannabis.

6. State Specific ─ Washington

Source: newsweek.com

Washington is another model when it comes to legalizing cannabis.

It has also become popular as a tourist destination because of its relaxed laws. Seattle has been a hot spot for weed for a while now.

If you’re headed to Seattle, here is a list of everything you should do while you’re there from Time Out. The city is beautiful, and it’s worth an extra trip.

Since the state’s legalization of recreational cannabis in 2014, boutique cannabis shops have popped up all over the city.

7. The Future

It’s impossible to say what the future will hold.

However, things are looking good for the cannabis industry.

Public opinion regarding cannabis has pivoted a lot in recent years. People are much more accepting of marijuana than they used to be.

Medical professionals have also started to recognize how life-changing marijuana can be. Hopefully, more studies will demonstrate the positive aspects of cannabis.

The best way for the cannabis lobby to succeed is for people to voice their opinions. It’s up to cannabis users to advocate for what they want.


The history of cannabis is a long one. But that just proves it’s a medicine that has proven to the test of time.

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