December 8, 2020

The use of cannabis predates most of modern civilization. The ancient Chinese used cannabis for its intoxicating qualities during surgeries (anesthesia translating from cannabis intoxication). In fact, once Chinese immigration increased in California, they brought with them cannabis and opium use. The Progressive Era spurred a moral reform toward limiting consumption of narcotics, and the United States, British, and Chinese governments moved to limit opium traffic. Once opium became criminalized, the path to criminalizing cannabis was not far behind.

Whether legal or not, cannabis has a longstanding history in the Golden State. The cultivation of cannabis in California dates back to 1795, when the San Jose Mission, under Diego de Borica, cultivated cannabis to be used as fiber and rope. While the rope spread throughout southern California, it became a staple crop of the missions. During the early cultivation of cannabis in California, the plant was intended for industrial purposes, rather than its psychoactive elements.

In just 10 years, California produced over 13,000 pounds of cannabis, quickly increasing to 220,000 pounds a few years later. A Mexican rebellion against the Spanish Crown reduced production greatly, and by the 1840s, California had all but abandoned hemp farms. That is, until the Armenians and Arabs began cultivating cannabis, and quickly grew California’s cannabis reputation. Now the leading state in decriminalization and legalization. California also led the way to the initial prohibition of cannabis in the early 1900s. In 1907, California passed the Poison and Pharmacy Act, banning the sale of cocaine, morphine, opium, and six years later, cannabis. Critics of cannabis produced a film in the 1930s, “Tell Your Children,” warning people of the addictive nature of cannabis, furthering the rhetoric against cannabis use.

At a federal level, the government passed the Marihuana Tax Act (spelled with the Spanish spelling of the term), banning recreational use of cannabis. While the federal government increased regulations and penalties for the possession and use of cannabis, California began relaxing its regulations and, in 1972, California attempted to legalize cannabis.

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This article is based on the law as of the date posted at the top of the article. This article does not constitute the provision of legal advice, and does not by itself create an attorney-client relationship with Eskridge Law.