A Brief Global History of the War on Cannabis

I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana … I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them. … By God we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss. … I want to hit it, against legalizing and all that sort of thing.

—Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States

Before the war on drugs put marijuana farmers firmly in its crosshairs, cannabis was being grown openly and with commercial success on every continent on earth, much as it had been for centuries.

This ancient and extensive history of cannabis farming has given rise to the idea that prohibitions put in place in the mid-20th century were the first of their kind — a whirlwind of racial, political, and economic forces that successfully used marijuana prohibition as a pretext for suppression. By contrasting prohibition with our ancient history of cannabis farming, some historians make our modern-day drug laws appear irregular and shortsighted. In his seminal (and controversial) book on cannabis, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” (referred to by many legalization advocates as “the Hemp Bible”), Jack Herer opens with the following line:

For thousands upon thousands of

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