04/20/2013 04:26 pm ET Updated Jun 20, 2013

Issue Spotlight: Marijuana


Throughout early American history, marijuana use was legal under both federal and individual state laws. In fact, from 1850 to 1941, cannabis was included in the United States Pharmacopoeia as a recognized medicinal. By the end of 1936, however, all 48 states had enacted laws to regulate marijuana.

The federal government's first attempt to regulate marijuana, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, made possession or transfer of cannabis illegal throughout the U.S., but for medical and industrial uses. An excise tax was established for these permitted uses. In 1969, the Supreme Court held the Marijuana Tax Act to be unconstitutional. In 1970, with President Nixon's urging, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act placing marijuana in Schedule I -- the most restrictive of five categories for substances with "no currently accepted medical use" -- along with heroin, LSD, peyote and psilocybin (mushrooms). Drugs of abuse with recognized medical uses, including opium, cocaine and amphetamine, were assigned to Schedules II through V based on their potential for abuse.

Marijuana and Hemp Legislation

In November 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana use. Meanwhile, 18 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana. California led the way in 1996 when its voters passed Proposition 215, legalizing medical marijuana. This state-level activity may prompt greater interest in federal marijuana legislation. Already, nearly a dozen bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress.

Congressional Research Service

Cross-posted from POPVOX.