How Much Do You Know About the History of Marijuana?

Jonnathan Chadwick

Image: Ian Philip Miller/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Marijuana has had its ups and downs throughout history. It was one of the first crops to be cultivated by humans, and its use dates back to about 8000 B.C. in Asia. Whether growing hemp for rope and fabric or using a different strain for medical or spiritual purposes, Cannabis Sativa is grown all over the world. The plant is native to China, and China produces more than 70% of the world's industrial hemp, but cannabis is not legal for recreational use in the country. 

Dozens of countries across the globe have bounced back and forth between legalizing and criminalizing cannabis. Today, it's entirely legal in four countries and decriminalized in dozens more. In 2019, there were 46 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C. that allowed marijuana use in some capacity, and more than 60% of Americans were in favor of legalizing the plant. It's been one of the most significant crops in American history, and even Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington all farmed the plant. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all admitted to using it, and more and more millions of Americans use marijuana every day. Cannabis wasn't always so popular, though. Let's see how we got to this point.

The cannabis plant was discovered millennia ago. What religious text lists cannabis as one of the five sacred plants?

The Vedas are an extensive collection of Hindu texts dating as far back as 1700 B.C., and they list cannabis, along with asvattha, darbha, soma and rice, as the five sacred plants. This is likely the first mention of cannabis in writing.

Cannabis use dates back to 8000 B.C. Which of these famous historians first recorded the recreational use of cannabis?

In "The Histories" by Herodotus (written in 440 B.C.), the author wrote about Eurasian nomads who placed hemp upon beds of coals, hunkered under felt coverings and inhaled the smoke fumes as they shouted for joy.

We are learning more about the medicinal uses for cannabis every day. Which of the following medical texts mentions the medicinal benefits of cannabis?

All of these Ancient Egyptian medical texts mention cannabis for medical use. The Ramesseum medical papyri are the oldest texts on this list and date back to around 1800 B.C. The Ebers Papyrus (1550 B.C.) features a cannabis-based treatment for inflammation.

The Chinese Book of Rites lists the ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty. How did it require mourners to pay respect to the dead?

The Zhou Dynasty ruled China for seven centuries, and during its reign the Book of Rites (Liji) was written, detailing the practices and customs of the dynasty. It instructs mourners of the dead to wear clothes made from hemp to pay respect.

What substance is derived from the resin of cannabis and gained popularity in the Middle East during the 12th century?

The first known mention of hashish use in writing appeared in Cairo in 1123. Around this time, the use of hashish spread through the Middle East and Arabia, and its inebriating effects were documented by travelers and historians.

Two smoking pipes dating back to 1320 were excavated from the Lalibela Cave and tested positive for cannabis. Where is the Lalibela Cave?

The Lalibela Cave is in the Begemeder Province of Ethiopia. Two ceramic smoking pipes were excavated from the cave in 1971 and tested positive for cannabis residue, which is significant because it predates the arrival of tobacco to the area.

What famous explorer reached North America in the 16th century and noted in his journal that the land was full of hemp?

In the 16th century, explorer Jacques Cartier landed in North America and claimed Canada for France. In his writings, he noted that he found "as good hemp as that of France" growing wild on the land.

Hemp is ideal for naval supplies like rope, sails and nets because of its durability in salt water. What "Father of the Royal Navy" required all farmers to grow hemp or pay a fine?

In 1533, the second Tudor King, Henry VIII of England, directed all farmers to set aside about 1/4 acre of land to plant either hemp or flax. The hemp was used to create supplies for the navy, and Henry earned the name "the father of the Royal Navy."

The Virginia Assembly is the oldest law-making body in America. In what year did it enforce legislation that required landowners to grow hemp?

King James VI of Scotland (aka King James I of Ireland and England) oversaw British colonization of America. In 1619, he ordered that all landowners in Jamestown had to grow and export 100 hemp plants for England.

Oxford Scholar Robert Burton wrote "The Anatomy of Melancholy" where he recommended cannabis to treat which of these ailments?

"The Anatomy of Melancholy" is a medical book about melancholia, which is an ancient concept that covers what is today described as clinical depression. The book was written in 1621, is still popular today and describes the use of cannabis to treat depression.

George Washington grew dozens of crops including hemp, tobacco and wheat. Where did he grow his crops?

George Washington experimented with dozens of crops, but wheat, tobacco, flax and hemp were his cash crops. Washington grew his crops at his 500-acre plantation, Mount Vernon, which is on the Potomac River in Fairfax County, VA.

George Washington wasn't the only founding father to grow hemp. Where did Thomas Jefferson grow his hemp crops?

Thomas Jefferson farmed hemp at both Monticello and his plantation in Bedford County, VA. His Monticello crops (flax, hemp and cotton) were used for making clothes, and there is no evidence he was an avid hemp or tobacco smoker.

One of the first cannabis laws was created in 1787 when the King of Madagascar banned cannabis. What was the penalty for anyone caught with cannabis during this time?

The king assumed the throne in Madagascar in 1787 and banned cannabis shortly after. The penalty was capital punishment, and the accused were forced to consume poison. Those who survived were considered innocent.

Hemp can be used to produce everything from oil and paper to clothing and fabric. The invention of what machine made it more lucrative for farmers to grow cotton instead of hemp?

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, and cotton production skyrocketed. Cotton took over as the premiere cash crop of the United States. It was much more lucrative for farmers to grow cotton instead of hemp because hemp had to be split apart by hand.

Which of the following military leaders is commonly credited with banning hash in Egypt?

Legend has it that Napoleon observed his men smoking hashish with Egyptians and banned the substance in 1800. The truth is Napoleon was about 3,000 miles away when General-in-Chief Jacques-Francois Menou banned hashish in Egypt in 1800.

Legend has it that Queen Victoria regularly used cannabis for pain relief. Who is credited with introducing medical cannabis to Western medicine?

In the 1830s, Irish physician William Brooke O'Shaughnessy spent time in India researching and validating the folk uses of cannabis in the medical field. In 1841, he introduced his findings to England and continued his research.

There are at least 100 known uses for medicinal cannabis. In what year was cannabis first listed as a medical treatment in the United States Pharmacopoeia?

Cannabis was first listed as a medical treatment in the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1850. Medicinal tinctures were created and sold to treat ailments like typhus, cholera, rabies, alcoholism, opiate addiction, gout, insanity and more.

American currency has undergone a multitude of changes since the birth of the country. What monetary note once featured an image of hemp farming?

The 1914 $10 bill featured Andrew Jackson on one side and a vignette of hemp farmers and factories on the other side. The drawing was designed by a Philadelphia native where hemp cultivation was prevalent in the early 1990s.

Cannabis has dozens of nicknames. What word was first used in 1873 and became popular in the 1930s?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the word marijuana is attributed to an American ethnologist documenting the native races of North America in 1873. Other alternatives that popped up around the same time were marihuano, marihuma and mariguan.

The pros and cons of marijuana were hotly debated around the world by the 20th century. What was the first U.S. state to outlaw marijuana?

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the first instance of federal regulation surrounding cannabis. It called for the proper labeling of cannabis products. Massachusetts banned cannabis in 1911. Maine and New York City followed suit in 1914. New York state banned it until 1927.

What movie tells the stories of high school students who turn to rape, murder and insanity after smoking marijuana?

The movie "Reefer Madness" was released in 1936, and it was a propaganda film used to warn parents about the dangers of marijuana, which made kids rape, kill, torture, go crazy and commit suicide. It was in no way based on a true story.

The U.S. didn't outlaw marijuana at first but instead levied an impossible tax against it. When did the Marihuana Tax Act go into effect?

The Marihuana Tax Act was signed into law in 1937 by President FDR, and it effectively banned marijuana possession. Anyone who wanted to import or sell marijuana needed to pay a tax and possess a stamp that may or may not have existed. Anyone looking for the stamp would simply be arrested.

The first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics relentlessly pursued the prohibition of marijuana. What was his name?

Harry Anslinger was the first narcotics commissioner and held the position for 32 years. He became famous for launching a nationwide anti-marijuana propaganda campaign that blamed marijuana for everything bad.

What media titan was integral in spreading anti-marijuana propaganda across the country?

William Randolph Hearst was a tremendously successful newspaper publisher, and his newspapers were well known for printing gossip and propaganda. He repeatedly printed sensationalist headlines that helped the anti-marijuana efforts of the early 1900s.

Why did the U.S. government secretly create and release a film titled "Hemp for Victory" in 1942?

The 15-minute movie "Hemp for Victory" educated farmers on the uses and values of hemp and instructed them to grow as much as possible for WWII efforts. The government denied creating the film, but it was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is widely available online.

The Controlled Substances Act lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug. What U.S. president signed the act into law and kicked off the War on Drugs?

The Controlled Substances Act was signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1970, and it lists cannabis, along with heroin and LSD, as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use in the United States. Cocaine and meth are listed as Schedule II drugs.

What country listed marijuana as a "less-dangerous" substance in 1972 and made possession of less than 30 grams a misdemeanor?

Amsterdam has been known for its lenient cannabis laws. Leniency started in 1972 when the Dutch government decriminalized cannabis, and by 1976, cannabis was regularly being sold in coffee shops. Today, it is legal in small amounts for personal use.

Marijuana celebrations are held all over the world. What marijuana festival was started by an American magazine and has been held in Amsterdam since 1988?

The High Times Cannabis Cup has been held annually in Amsterdam since 1988, and it was started by High Times magazine, which was founded in 1974, two years before the Netherlands decriminalized cannabis. The Cannabis Cup is the No. 1 cannabis festival in the world.

What presidential candidate famously told reporters on the campaign trail that he tried marijuana but never inhaled?

In 1992, Arkansas governor and presidential front-runner Bill Clinton told reporters he tried weed when he was at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar but never inhaled it. The moment went down in history, and presidential candidates have since been more open about the subject.

The first arrest for marijuana possession happened in 1937. How many marijuana arrests happened between 1995 and 2018?

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, of the 15 million arrests since 1995, more than 90% of them are for possession only. Close to 700,000 people were arrested for marijuana in 2017 alone, and hundreds are arrested daily.

Almost every country in the world banned marijuana by the year 2000. Which of these countries was last to ban marijuana?

Poland criminalized possession in 1997. Both Iceland and Denmark banned cannabis one year before the United States did, and Lebanon banned it in 1992. The first places to ban cannabis were Madagascar, Egypt and Rio de Janeiro.

Recreational use of marijuana is legal in four countries. What country was the first to legalize marijuana?

Comoros was the first country to legalize marijuana when a revolutionary seized power and legalized it from 1975 to 1978. It is fully legal for recreational use in Canada, South Africa, Georgia and Uruguay as of 2019.

Decriminalization is the downgrading of marijuana penalties. What was the first U.S. state to decriminalize marijuana?

Oregon decriminalized cannabis in 1973, and anyone with less than an ounce was only subject to a $100 fine. Texas also decriminalized that same year, making possession of less than four ounces a misdemeanor.

The first state to legalize medical marijuana was California. What year did it happen?

In 1996, Prop 215 passed with 55.6% of the vote to allow for the use of medical cannabis. By the new millennium, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Nevada and Colorado had all legalized medical cannabis.

What were the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana?

Both Colorado and Washington had cannabis initiatives on the ballot in 2012, and both states voted to legalize recreational cannabis. Massachusetts legalized medical cannabis that same year, and Vermont decriminalized it the next year.

In 2019, there were 10 states that had legalized recreational marijuana use. Which state has not legalized recreational use?

In 2004, Montana legalized medical cannabis, but as of 2019, the state had not legalized recreational cannabis. California, Nevada and Massachusetts approved recreational cannabis in 2016. Washington, Oregon, Colorado and others have also legalized recreational use.

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