5 Big Moments in Cannabis History | Turn 420
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5 Big Moments in Cannabis History



First Known Mention in Pharmacopoeia, circa 2800 B.C.


There’s plenty of evidence to suggest the ancient use of cannabis in multiple civilizations, dating back 10,000 years and beyond. According to the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative, Emperor Shennong’s pharmacopeia Classic of the Materia Medica was one of the first to formally list cannabis as a medicine circa 2800 B.C. (It also introduced acupuncture and 365 herbal medicines like ginseng.) Emperor Fu Hsi, whom the Chinese credit with “bringing civilization” to China, mentioned “ma,” which may have referred to cannabis 100 years earlier.

First Arrest Under Marihuana Tax Act, 1937

We’re far from seeing the last cannabis prisoner, but we know who was the first. Ironically adult-use pioneer state Colorado was where the first cannabis arrest took place. One day after the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 went into effect, Moses Baca, 23, was arrested in Denver, Colorado. Police allegedly found a quarter-ounce of reefer in his drawer at a rooming house as they were arresting him for a “drunk & disturbance” charge. A few days later, bootlegger Samuel R. Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with selling marijuana. Baca served about 18 months in the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth in Kansas, the same place Caldwell was held.

First U.S. Medical Cannabis Patient, 1976

One year after getting busted for growing pot, Washington, D.C. Superior Court Judge James A. Washington ruled on Nov. 24, 1976 that Robert Randall had established a defense of medical necessity to use cannabis for his glaucoma. Randall then became the nation’s first medical cannabis patient and received a regular supply of 300 joints per month provided by the federal government from their cultivation site at the University of Mississippi. Randall’s case eventually led to the FDA’s Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program (IND Program) which allows certain people to get experimental cannabis treatments before they have gone through rigorous approvals.

First State Medical Cannabis Law, 1996

New Mexico was the first state to recognize the medical properties of cannabis, establishing a therapeutic research program for glaucoma and chemotherapy on Feb. 21, 1978. But it was California’s Proposition 215, which created the first major statewide medical cannabis program, and resulted in the biggest change. California voters approved Prop. 215 with over 55% in favor via an initiative on November 5, 1996. This established a blueprint for dozens of other states to follow. Proposition 215 was authored by Dennis Peron, Anna Boyce, John Entwistle, Jr., Valerie Corral, Dale Gieringer, William Panzer, Scott Tracy Imler, Leo Paoli, and Tod H. Mikuriya.

First Country to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis, 2013

Uruguay became the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale, and possession of cannabis on Dec. 10, 2013. Uruguay decriminalized possession of the plant in 1974, but it took a lot of time to move forward to the legalization of possession and sale. Nearly one year later in August 2014, Uruguay legalized the cultivation of up to six plants at home, and formed cannabis social clubs and state-controlled cannabis dispensaries. It would take about four years for the country to finalize regulations.

This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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