Cannabis has been in use for thousands of years. In India and Nepal cannabis has long been used in religious rituals.
Under the name cannabis, nineteenth century medical practitioners sold the drug (usually as a tincture), popularizing the word among English-speakers. In 1894, the Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, commissioned by the UK Secretary of State and the government of India, was instrumental in a decision not to criminalize the drug in those countries (See Shamir and Hacker (2001) in ‘further readings’ below.) From the year 1860, different states in the US started to implement regulations for sales of Cannabis sativa. A 1905 Bulletin from the US Department of Agriculture lists twenty-nine states with laws mentioning cannabis. In 1925, a change of the International Opium Convention banned exportation of Indian hemp to countries that have prohibited its use. Importing countries were required to issue certificates approving the importation, stating that the shipment was to be used “exclusively for medical or scientific purposes”.
Around 1840, doctors had realized that marijuana had a medical value, therefore it was freely sold for over a century in pharmacies. Marijuana used to be freely grown, sold, bought, and smoked in the United States up until it was criminalized in 1937.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was the first US national law making cannabis possession illegal, with the exception of industrial or medical purposes. Growers of hemp products were required to purchase an annual tax stand retailers were required to purchase stamps priced at $1 per annum.
The name marijuana (Mexican Spanish marihuana, mariguana) is associated almost exclusively with the plant’s psychoactive use. The term is now well known in English largely due to the efforts of American drug prohibitionists during the 1920s and 1930s. Mexico officially adopted prohibition in 1925, following the International Opium Convention.
The use of cannabis became widespread in the Western world due to the rise and influence of the counterculture that began in the late 1960s. In the late 1990s in California, Dennis Peron started a movement to legalize medical cannabis by opening the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club in 1992. The club became the headquarters for an activist movement that drafted the Compassionate Use Act, which was transformed into Proposition 215—the coalition managed to secure the passage of Proposition 215 with the support of billionaire and philanthropist George Soros in November 1996.
A BBC article, published in October 2011, reported on the actions of local authorities in the border town of Maastricht in the Netherlands. According to the article, the authorities were primarily concerned with those cannabis customers who had traveled from other European countries, such as Belgium and Germany. At the time, broader restrictions, which would apply to the entire nation, were being discussed in the Dutch parliament. From October 1, 2011, only Dutch, Belgian and German residents would be prohibited from purchasing cannabis from venues in Maastricht.
On November 6, 2012, Colorado Amendment 64 and Washington Initiative 502 were passed by popular initiative, thereby becoming the first American states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis under state law. However cannabis is still classified as a schedule I.
On January 1, 2013, an amendment to the Netherlands’ cannabis policy was introduced to “combat drug-related crime and nuisance.” The new rule requires cannabis coffee shop owners to monitor the identities of their customers to ensure that only residents of the Netherlands purchase cannabis. Owners are expected to maintain adherence through procedures such as asking customers to produce valid documents to prove their status.
In a historical event with global significance, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed two bills on May 28, 2013 that made Colorado the world’s first fully regulated recreational cannabis market for adults. Hickenlooper said to the media: “Certainly, this industry will create jobs. Whether it’s good for the brand of our state is still up in the air. But the voters passed Amendment 64 by a clear majority. That’s why we’re going to implement it as effectively as we possibly can.” In its independent analysis, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that the state could expect a to see “$60 million in total combined savings and additional revenue for Colorado’s budget with a potential for this number to double after 2017.”
Uruguay then became the world’s first nation to legalize the production, sale, and consumption of cannabis in December 2013 after a 16–13 vote in the Senate. Julio Calzada, Secretary-General of Uruguay’s National Drug Council, said in a December 2013 interview that the government will be responsible for regulating the production side of the process: “Companies can get a license to cultivate if they meet all the criteria. However, this won’t be a free market. The government will control the entire production and determine the price, quality, and maximum production volume.”
Under the new law, people are allowed to buy up to 40 grams (1.4 oz) of cannabis from the Uruguayan government each month. Users have to be 18 or older and be registered in a national database to track their consumption. Cultivators are allowed to grow up to 6 crops at their homes each year and shall not surpass 480 grams (17 oz). Registered smoking clubs are allowed to grow 99 plants annually. Buying cannabis is prohibited to foreigners and it is illegal to move it across international borders.
In July 2014, president Calzada announced that the implementation of the law is postponed to 2015, as “there are practical difficulties,” and explained that authorities will grow all the cannabis that can be sold legally. The concentration of THC shall be 15% or lower. An opposition presidential candidate claimed that the new law is never going to be applied, because of a perception that it is not practicable.
As of October 2014, the Government of Netherlands website explains that coffee shops are permitted to sell cannabis under certain strict conditions: venues cannot sell alcoholic drinks; the consumption of alcohol on the premises is not permitted; the venues must not create any form of public nuisance; “hard drugs” cannot be sold; cannabis cannot be sold to minors; drugs cannot be advertised; and “large quantities” of cannabis (more than five grams) cannot be sold in a single transaction. Individual municipalities are responsible for permitting the establishment of cannabis coffee shops within their boundaries, and are also allowed to introduce additional rules.
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service does not prosecute members of the public for “possession of small quantities of soft drugs,” which are defined as: “no more than 5 grams of cannabis (marijuana or hash); no more than 5 cannabis plants.” It is illegal to grow cannabis plants in the Netherlands, but in cases in which a maximum of five plants is grown for “personal consumption,” the authorities will most likely seize the plants, without taking any further action. If more than five plants are seized, the police may also seek prosecution.
Possession of marijuana for recreational use will be legalized by the Government of Canada, possibly as early as 2016, according to newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The plan is to remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code; however, new laws will be enacted for greater punishment of providing it to minors and impairment while driving a motor vehicle. In late November 2015, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that she and the ministers of Health and Public Safety were working on specifics as to the legislation.