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History of Marijuana: How Did Pot Become America's Most Popular Illegal Drug?

By    |   Monday, 30 March 2015 12:25 PM

Marijuana’s popularity in America is enjoying an all-time high. In the last three years, the leafy milder brother of psychoactive drugs has become legal for recreational use in four states: Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska. Another 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana for certain regulated uses like medical treatment.

Considering marijuana’s history in the last century, that’s a significant legal and social shift. Marijuana was vilified as a dangerous, addictive drug for most of the 20th century, with state and federal laws imposing harsh sentences, including up to 10 years in prison, for first-time possession.

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But since the counterculture heyday of the 1960s, marijuana has steadily gained traction as a recreational drug much like alcohol. Since the 1980s, it’s been the country’s third most popular recreational drug. The first and second most used drugs are tobacco and alcohol. 

The changing legal posture of many states reflects Americans’ growing support for legalization and decriminalization of a drug many see as benign and non-addictive, experts say

More than half of Americans support legalizing the intoxicating weed, particularly for medical use, according to recent opinion polls. Last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that 52 percent of Americans favored legalizing marijuana, while a Gallup poll put the number at 51 percent.

Vote Now: How Do You Feel About Marijuana Legalization?

Perhaps even more telling about the drug’s popularity are the number of Americans who have personally used marijuana. According to the 2014 Pew Research survey, about one in 10 Americans say they have smoked or ingested marijuana in the last year. Nearly half, 48 percent, of all Americans say they have tried the drug at some point in life.

Those numbers include politicians, presidents and pundits from both sides of the aisle who admit to prior marijuana use, including GOP 2016 potential candidate Jeb Bush, President Barack Obama, and New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks.

So just how did weed get to its present state of popularity?

Trend watchers say it’s been a long rocky climb for the illegal drug, which was introduced to American society in 1910 by Mexican immigrants. The backlash was almost immediate. For the next 50 years, marijuana was viewed as immoral, dangerous, and a link to violent crime and insanity. During this period, all 48 states put laws on the books regulating marijuana while Congress established hefty prison terms for possession.

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Public opinion began to shift during the 1960s, when young white middle class and upper middle class Americans began openly smoking pot. Yet even then, only 12 percent of Americans supported legalization of marijuana, according to Gallup’s first poll on the issue.

Marijuana continued to rise in popularity through the 1980s and 1990s with support for legalization reaching 31 percent by 2000, hovering just above 50 percent since 2011, according to Gallup.

Experts say money, the growing evidence of medicinal benefits, and a widespread perception of pot as a benign non-addictive drug are driving the current push for legalization. States like Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana for recreational and medicinal use, hoping to regulate and collect additional revenue by taxing drug sales.

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Marijuana's popularity in America is enjoying an all-time high despite marijuana laws history. In the last three years, the leafy milder brother of psychoactive drugs has become legal for recreational use in four states: Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.
marijuana laws history
Monday, 30 March 2015 12:25 PM
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