A History of Marijuana in California and America

Marijuana is one of the world's oldest drugs, but it's had a tumultuous time in America. From wonder drug and industrial power at the turn of the century it turned into a demonic drug by the 1920s. As the debate around marijuana springs up again, learn more about the history of this controversial plant.

This timeline was created as part of the [Republic of Cannabis](http://www.kqed.org/news/bayarea/republicofcannabis/), a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED.;xNLx;;xNLx;Reported by Julia Bernstein and Lisa Pickoff-White;xNLx;;xNLx;Produced by Lisa Pickoff-White

Mass. Prohibits Marijuana

Governor Eugene Foss signs the first law prohibiting marijuana in the United States.

Federal Gov't Bans Recreational Marijuana

The Marihuana Tax Act banned the recreational use of marijuana through prohibitive taxation/penalties.

First People Jailed for Marijuana Possesion

Samuel R. Caldwell, 58, of Denver, Colorado, became the first marijuana seller arrested under federal law. He was also the first convicted, and spent four years in Leavenworth Penitentiary.

United Nations Bans Marijuana

The United Nations creates an international treaty to ban marijuana, along with other narcotics.

Controlled Substances Act Criminalizes Marijuana

While the 1937 tax act prohibited marijuana, it did not ban it. So in 1970 the federal government clarified that with the Controlled Substances Act, which bans specific drugs from any use.


The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws forms with a $5,000 grant from the Playboy Foundation.

Federal Commission Suggests Decriminalizaton

The Nixon-appointed Shafer Commission finds evidence that the "gateway theory" of marijuana use is false.

Oregon Decriminalizes Small-Scale Possession

Oregon becomes the first state to affirm the Shafer Commission's recommendation to decriminalize a small amount of marijuana for adult, personal use.

First Medical Cannibis Patient

Robert Randall becomes the first medical cannabis patient in the U.S.

Pres. Carter Addresses Congress on Drug Use

President Jimmy Carter addresses Congress on the subject of drug addiction and illegal substances. During his campaign he spoke about decriminalizing marijuana.

Program Established to Provide Patients With Marijuana

The Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program is set up to supply individuals with medical marijuana grown by the federal government at the University of Mississippi.

Reagan Establishes National Drug Control Policy

As part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, President Reagan establishes a branch of the executive office to establish federal policies and priorities for drug control.

Judge Rules DEA Improperly Blocking Marijuana Research

A judge rules the DEA has been "improperly blocking medical cannabis research," and that the drug can be used as a safe, therapeutic substance.

Federal Medical Marijuana Program Canceled

President George H.W. Bush cancels Compassionate IND program that produces marijuana for medical use.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is Founded

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens, federal agents and others who want to legalize and regulate drugs. They say that "after fighting on the front lines of the 'war on drugs' [they've learned] firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence."

Obama Administration Defers to State Laws

A Department of Justice memo directs federal prosecutors "not to focus federal resources" on the prosecution of individuals who are in compliance with laws in the states that allow for the sale and use of medicinal marijuana.

Feds Warn Oakland Not to Overstep

A Department of Justice memo directs federal prosecutors "not to focus federal resources" on the prosecution of individuals who are in compliance with laws in the states that allow for the sale and use of medicinal marijuana.

Fourteenth State Decriminalizes Marijuana

The state of Connecticut becomes the 14th to decriminalize marijuana possession.

House Members Introduce Bill to End Federal Ban

Representatives Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Barney Frank (D-Mass) introduced a bill that would take marijuana off the list of federal controlled substances, leaving enforcement of marijuana laws up to each state. The legislation would keep the ban on transportation marijuana across state lines.

Calif. Decriminalizes Marijuana

The "other" Proposition 19 sought to decriminalize personal marijuana usage. The measure did not succeed at the polls.

Berkeley Limits Pot-Related Arrests

Berkeley voters pass BMI I, which prohibits police from making pot-related arrests unless first approved by the city council.

Moscone Act Makes Possession a Misdimeanor

The Moscone Act changed violation for small-scale possession from a felony to a mesdemeanor in California

SF Says Marijuana Arrest Become Low Priority

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors became the first city government to recognize that marijuana could be used medically.

Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215) Passes in Calif.

Voters pass the law by 55.6 percent, legalizing the sale and use of marijuana for medical use in California. This conflicted with federal law at the time.

Calif. Funds Medical Marijuana Research

Legislation is introduced that calls for a three-year program overseeing objective, high quality medical research that will "enhance understanding of the efficacy and adverse effects of marijuana as a pharmacological agent."

Oakland Passes Measure to Tax Marijuana

A measure passes that allows the city to "tax and regulate the sale of cannabis for adult use, so as to keep it off the streets and away from children and to raise revenue for the city, as soon as possible under state law."

Californians Say 'No' to Prop. 19

Prop. 19, which would effectively legalize marijuana, fails at the ballot, with 53.5 percent of voters against the measure and 46 percent in favor.

Small-Scale Possession Downgraded Again

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 1449 making "he possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor into an civil infraction." It's one of his last acts as governor.


On July 28, the Oakland city council voted "to approve on first reading a city-wide plan for the cultivation of medical marijuana in four new large-scale factories."

Industrial Hemp Farming Act Introduced

State Sen. Mark Leno introduces SB 676, which would allow the agricultural production of industrial hemp in California.

Reefer Madness

"Tell Your Children" a cautionary tale of marijuana use was produced by a church group to scare teenagers. But in the 1970s it just made everyone laugh, and was subsequently retitled: "Reefer Madness."

Woodstock Brings Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

The famous rock concert of 1969 was meant for a few thousand people at a field in New York, but about 500,000 showed up. And just about everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Joe Cocker sang about -- or partook in -- mary jane.

Cheech and Chong are 'Up in Smoke'

Billed as a new comedy classic, this film melded California stoner culture with slapstick, becoming a cult classic.

D.A.R.E. is Established

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., program is established in Los Angeles to encourage kids to say 'no' to drugs.

'I Didn't Inhale'

Before running from another scandal, President Bill Clinton admits to smoking pot in college -- but claims he "did not inhale."

'The Chronic' Tops the Charts

Rapper Dr. Dre released his solo album, 'The Chronic,' which went on to being one the top ten best-selling albums of 2003, and Dre a Grammy.

'Weeds' Hit Television

After the success of other shows such as 'Half Baked' and 'That '70s Show,' Showtime decided it was time to get in the game. The show about a suburban widow-turned-pot dealer becomes a major hit.

Beginning of Modern Pharmacology of Cannabinoids

The major psychoactive constituent of cannabis, (what gets you high), D -9-THC, was synthesized in pure form for the first time.

Cannabinoid Receptors Are Discovered in the Human Brain

This was the first crucial step in elucidating how cannabinoids work in the body.

British Journal Finds Link Between Marijuana and Mental Illness

Publication of British Medical Journal article entitled "Marijuana and Psychiatric Illness: The Link Grows Stronger." Those against legalization said the article was "a turning point in the medical literature regarding the connection between marijuana use and mental illness.

Justice Dept. Warns That Marijuana is Illegal

In a new memo to federal prosecutors the Department of Justice says that marijuana dispensaries and state-licensed growers in states with medical marijuana laws could still face penalties for violating federal drug laws.

Feds Say No to Reclassifiction

The D.E.A. rules that marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug in a memo. DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart says that marijuana still “has a high potential for abuse,” “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and “lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

Calif. U.S. Attorneys Target Marijuana Growers, Retailers

The four U.S. Attorneys for the state of California -- Benjamin B. Wagner of the Eastern District, André Birotte Jr. of the Central District, Laura E. Duffy of the Southern District, and Melinda Haag of the Northern District - begin targeting landlords and property owners who rent buildings or land where dispensaries sell or cultivate marijuana.

Federal Gov. Targets Harborside

Workers arrived at Harborside Health Center in downtown Oakland -- which is billed as the largest pot dispensary in the world, but is not near a children's school -- to find notices taped to the door saying that the U.S. government had filed suit to seize the building.

Oakland Sues Federal Government

Oakland city officials file a lawsuit in support of the Harborside Dispensary; saying the federal government misled the city into thinking it could license dispensaries without legal consequences.

Mendocino County Ends Medical Pot Permitting Program

Bowing to federal pressure, Mendocino County announced it will no longer issue permits to medical marijuana growers.

Colorado and Washington Voters Legalize Marijuana

Voters in Washington state and Colorado approve ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana use. In Colorado, the drug will be regulated like alcohol. Residents over 21 years old will be allowed up to an ounce of marijuana.

Obama Says Marijuana Not a Top Priority

President Obama says in an interview with ABC News' 20/20 that he will not focus on recreational drug users in states that have approved marijuana.

Feds Won't Sue Colorado and Washington

In a memo, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole informed the governors of Washington and Colorado that the Department of Justice is likely to allow the states' laws to stand. The DOJ is reserving the right to file a preemptive lawsuit on marijuana at a later date though, since marijuana is still federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act.

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