Book:Past, Present, and Future of Cannabis Laboratory Testing and Regulation in the United States/Overview of the cannabis industry in the United States/Brief history of cannabis in the U.S.

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Before getting directly into testing and regulations surrounding cannabis testing in the U.S., it's useful to review the past and current state of the cannabis industry in general. This chapter talks about the U.S.'s past with cannabis; how it's used medically and recreationally; how it's cultivated, tested, and distributed; and other industry aspects affected by the political and social climate in the U.S.

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1. Overview of the cannabis industry in the United States

The following is a brief overview of the cannabis industry in the United States. It's meant to give a quick and concise review of where cannabis use, regulation, testing, and research have been and where they are now. Many of the topics touched upon here will be expanded upon later in this guide.

1.1 Brief history of cannabis in the U.S.

Drug bottle containing cannabis.jpg

Cannabis is a rapid-growing, flowering plant that has been used for centuries for industrial, medicinal, and recreational purposes. The plant includes three species or subspecies: indica, ruderalis, and sativa.[1] Broadly speaking, both "industrial hemp" and "recreational marijuana" are scientifically similar in that they both refer to the Cannabis plant. The important difference between the two is how they've been bred by humans, particularly in regards to their biochemical composition. Hemp—which has historically been used to create clothing, food and feed, paper, textiles, and other industrial items—tends to be bred to have lower levels of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and higher levels of the non-psychoactive component cannabidiol (CBD).[2][3] However, some cannabis strains have intentionally been bred to maximize the psychoactive component THC; this is often referred to as marijuana (or the older term "marihuana"), a change arguably driven by newspaper reporters post-1900.[4][5]

Cannabis cultivation began in England's Jamestown colony of America in earnest around 1611, via formal orders. Several years later those orders turned into a royal decree, enacted by the Virginia Company, asking colonists to each grow 100 hemp plants for export to England.[3] Colonial America continued its growth, use, and exportation of hemp, even beyond the formal founding of the United States. During that time, growers undoubtedly were using the female plant (which flowers and has higher levels of THC) to treat aches and pains, as well as enjoy it recreationally. By the time the U.S. Civil War arrived in the 1860s, however, the growth and use of industrial hemp declined as increased cotton and wood use took away much of the profitability of hemp.[3] Around the same time, local governments began recognizing tonics, tinctures, and extracts from cannabis plants as potentially dangerous substances, labeling them as hypnotics, narcotics, or even poisons.[6] In the early twentieth century, U.S. labeling and prescription laws—such as the the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 at the federal level, as well as various state laws—saw further restrictions put on cannabis, effectively culminating in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. With the passage of those acts, hemp and marijuana essentially became illegal, controlled substances.[7][8][9]

State efforts to decriminalize marijuana were somewhat successful in the early 1970s, though progress towards that goal slowed again with the Reagan Administration's war on drugs.[10] Progress picked up steam again in the late 1990s into the 2000s, particularly in states such as California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington, and Colorado.

As of July 2022, thirty-eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have approved broad legalization of medicinal marijuana, with 19 U.S. states and D.C. also approving recreational marijuana.[11] Additionally, neighboring Canada has legalized the purchase, growth, and consumption of marijuana in small amounts across the country[12], while Mexico's Supreme Court has legalized "all forms of non-commercial adult use" of the plant[13], though, as of July 2022, fully implementing the decision continues to be an ongoing process.[14][15][16]

Industrial hemp has also been addressed in a more serious fashion in the U.S., with 47 states having introduced some sort of hemp cultivation and production programs, and the federal government making certain concessions on it (Cannabis sativa containing no more than 0.3 percent THC, grown under a state-sanctioned agricultural pilot program).[17][18] In December 2018, those concessions seemingly transformed into what became outright legalization of industrial hemp in the United States (with significant shared state-federal regulator restrictions[19]) via the full passage and reconciliation of the 2018 Farm Bill.[17][20][21][22] However, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, as determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)[23], including extracts and other derivatives such as CBD that come from cannabis.[24] (However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] moved CBD-based prescription drugs with a THC content below 0.01 percent to Schedule V classification in September 2018.[25] The status of CBD extracted from industrial hemp appears to be in a legal quagmire with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill; see The National Law Review from late 2018[22], the FDA's consumer update from late 2019[26], and it's most recent regulatory news[27] for further details.) This federal classification continues to clash with changing state laws and regulations at an increasing pace, creating both opportunities and difficulties for involved citizens at all points along the industrial, economic, and social chain.


  1. "Genus: Cannabis L.". U.S. National Plant Germplasm System. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1 January 2011. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  2. Swanson, T.E. (2015). "Controlled Substances Chaos: The Department of Justice's New Policy Position on Marijuana and What It Means for Industrial Hemp Farming in North Dakota" (PDF). North Dakota Law Review 90 (3): 599–622. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Deitch, R. (2003). Hemp – American History Revisited. New York City: Algora Publishing. pp. 232. ISBN 9780875862262. 
  4. Bacca, A. (5 June 2014). "What's the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?". Alternet. Independent Media Institute. Archived from the original on 15 June 2020. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  5. Thompson, M. (22 July 2013). "The Mysterious History Of 'Marijuana'". NPR. National Public Radio. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  6. U.S. Senate (16 February 1860). "Senate". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 04 February 2018. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  7. Walton, R.F. (1938). Marijuana, America’s New Drug Problem. Philadelphia: B. Lippincott. p. 37. 
  8. Woodward, W.C.; House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means (4 May 1937). "Taxation of Marihuana". Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  9. Cavers, D.F. (1939). "The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938: Its Legislative History and its Substantive Provisions". Law and Contemporary Problems 6: 2–42. 
  10. Meier, K.J. (2016). The Politics of Sin: Drugs, Alcohol and Public Policy: Drugs, Alcohol and Public Policy. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 9781315287270. 
  11. Berke, J.; Gal, S.; Lee, Y.J. (6 January 2021). "Marijuana legalization is sweeping the US. See every state where cannabis is legal". Business Insider. Insider, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  12. Porter, C. (11 November 2018). "Canada’s Message to Teenagers: Marijuana Is Legal Now. Please Don’t Smoke It". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  13. Timmons, P. (31 October 2018). "Mexico's Supreme Court legalizes cannabis for recreational use". UPI. United Press International, Inc. Retrieved 07 July 2021. 
  14. Williams, S. (16 November 2019). "News Flash: Recreational Marijuana in Mexico Is Going to Have to Wait". The Motley Fool. Retrieved 07 July 2021. 
  15. Westfall, S. (29 June 2021). "Mexico’s top court rolls back marijuana prohibition, opening door to legalization". The Washington Post. Retrieved 07 July 2021. 
  16. Busby, M. (12 May 2022). "Mexico’s Supreme Court rules personal marijuana possession legal, again". Leafly. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 "State Industrial Hemp Statuses". National Conference of State Legislatures. 16 April 2020. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  18. "Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp". Federal Register 81 (156): 53395–6. 12 August 2016. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  19. Hudak, J. (14 December 2018). "The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer". FIXGOV. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  20. Good, K. (20 December 2018). "Farm Bill Signed, SNAP Proposal Released, and Trade Aid Payments Approved". Farm Policy News. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  21. Milligan, S. (4 December 2018). "Legalization of Hemp Could Be First Step for Federal Marijuana Protections". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Stewart, I.A.; Kloss, J.M.; Willner, N.M. (4 December 2018). "Will Hemp-Derived CBD Be Fully Legal with Passage of the 2018 Farm Bill? Not Quite…". The National Law Review. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  23. Leger, D.L. (11 August 2016). "Marijuana to remain illegal under federal law, DEA says". USA. Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  24. Wallace, A. (13 January 2017). "Legal challenge filed against DEA’s new marijuana extract rule". The Cannabist. The Denver Post. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  25. Romza-Kutz, D. (1 October 2018). "CBD drugs moved to Schedule 5; no promises for cannabis". Thompson Coburn LLP. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  26. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (5 March 2020). "What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD". Consumer Updates. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  27. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (22 January 2021). "FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)". Public Health Focus. Retrieved 08 July 2022.