Brief History of Recreational Marijuana in California

California has had a tumultuous relationship with recreational marijuana. Though the state legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, it did not legalize recreational use until Proposition 64 passed in 2016. Proponents of legalization cite its economic benefits while opponents focus on potential harm to public health and safety. A brief history of recreational marijuana in California is outlined below.

Brief History of Recreational Marijuana in California

Cannabis Introduction To The Western Hemisphere

Cannabis has been used in prehistoric African and Eurasian communities, but it was not introduced into the Western Hemisphere until the mid-15th century when Spanish merchants carried the plant to Chile. The plant was then grown at many missions along North America's southern Pacific coast, in a location that would later become California after the state's admittance to the United States in 1850. Mexican immigrants arriving during the mid-1800's introduced recreational marijuana to California, and by 1906 cannabis was widely used in both medical and non-medical settings.


The Purpose Of Cultivating Cannabis In California

The plant was originally cultivated for the manufacture of industrial hemp, fiber, and rope. Cannabis was first produced for recreational usage in California during the Gold Rush in the 1850s. A 1913 modification to The Poison Act of 1907 made it illegal to possess cannabis due to rising prohibitionist fervor. This was the first state-level cannabis prohibition legislation.


The Reefer's Madness Campaign

In the 1930s and 40s, there was a movement to criminalize marijuana further. This campaign is called "Reefer Madness" or sometimes referred to as the "Marijuana Conspiracy". The Reefer's Madness Campaign consists of efforts by Harry J. Anslinger who served as the first commissioner of the US Bureau of Narcotics (predecessor agency of today’s Drug Enforcement Administration). He successfully influenced Congress with his campaigns against cannabis use stating that they caused users to become psychopathic bestial creatures such as rapists and murderers. By 1937 he had managed to make “marihuana” illegal at both State and Federal across America through the Marihuana Tax Act.


In 1972, California became the first state to vote on a ballot proposition to legalize marijuana. Proposition 19, also known as the California Marijuana Initiative, sought to legalize cannabis use, possession, and production but did not allow for commercial sales. The project was developed by Amorphia (a nonprofit formed in 1969 by Blair Newman), which used hemp rolling papers to help fund its operations. It was ultimately crushed by a huge margin of votes (33–67%), but supporters were heartened by the results, which encouraged numerous reform efforts in California in the following years.


Proposition 215 - Compassionate Act Use

In 1996 however, Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana use for individuals who received a doctor's prescription.  This was a huge shift in the history of marijuana, as it changed views on medical effects and allowed many people to use marijuana without legal ramifications.


  • Proposition 19

In 2010 Proposition 19 legalized recreational marijuana for Californians who were over twenty-one years old. Unfortunately, it failed by three percentage points despite polls showing support from more than fifty percent of voters ahead of election day.


However, this did not stop efforts to legalize recreational use through other means such as ballot measures and state legislation. These efforts have been successful but only passed within specific municipalities or counties thus far. For example, in 2017 cities such as West Hollywood and Santa Ana passed ordinances decriminalizing recreational marijuana.


The history of recreational use shows that legalization is inevitable but the details are still unclear on how exactly this will manifest for Californians. However, most people agree that it will come with strict regulations to ensure safety standards which means increased access via dispensaries around California rather than through unregulated sources like homemade brownies or street dealers.


  • Proposition 64 (The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act)

Recreational marijuana is now legal throughout California after voters approved adult-use legalization via Proposition 64 in 2016; this made history as its passing marked America's first state legalizing through a ballot measure.


Given that history has shown Californians' open-mindedness when it comes to recreation and medicine - there are currently no restrictions on medical marijuana use in California - it seems the future of cannabis is bright.


We hope you enjoyed this article on the brief history of recreational marijuana in California. As cannabis becomes more accepted by society, it is important to understand what has happened over time. The legalization of medical marijuana brought with it an increased number of people who are able to experience its benefits for themselves firsthand. With that said, we encourage you to call us today if you have any questions about our services or want help choosing a plan that best suits your needs!

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