The world of cannabis is continuously evolving. When our parents were teens and young adults, marijuana usage was more frowned upon, laws prohibited the use of the drug and outrageous myths suggested one could even lose their mind from consuming cannabis.
These days, states nationwide have legalized the use of marijuana — either medically, recreationally or both — celebrities are investing in marijuana products, and familiar brands and retailers are venturing into the industry.
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“These high school boys and girls are having a hop at the local soda fountain,” begins the trailer for Louis Gasnier’s film “Reefer Madness.” “Innocently they dance. Innocent of a new and deadly menace lurking behind closed doors: marijuana! The burning weed with its roots in hell!” This low-budget exploitation film depicts the crimeful life of marijuana-smoking teens. The film sent parents into a panic and destroyed the relationship some parents had with their children. A year later, the Marihuana Tax Act began regulation of marijuana importation, cultivation and possession.
“Hemp for Victory” was an informational film released in 1943 that encouraged farmers to grow hemp to benefit soldiers in WW2. According to the film, hemp could be used to produce cloth, cordage and other topical products.
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In 1948, Robert Mitchum, the star of classics like “Cape Fear” and “Night of the Hunter,” was arrested and sentenced to prison for two months after being caught smoking a joint at a party in Los Angeles. At the time of his arrest, the consumption of marijuana was largely frowned upon, even on the West Coast. However, after his release, Mitchum returned to the spotlight in the box-office hit “Rachel and the Stranger.”
The Beatles have been credited with inspiring the birth of many music legends, but it was another star that introduced them to marijuana. According to Paul McCartney, Minnesota-born iconic musician Bob Dylan gave the group marijuana after mistaking the lyrics “I can’t hide” in their song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for “I get high.” When the group corrected Dylan and told him they’d never smoked before, he gave them their first joint.
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Roughly 400,000 people traveled to Bethel, New York, in the August heat of 1969 to attend Woodstock, a festival of arts and music. Tickets were sold but crowds stormed the gates and organizers stopped checking tickets. Performers over the three days included Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, The Grateful Dead and Joan Baez. In the decades since, Woodstock has become symbolic of ‘60s America at large. Rampant marijuana use is just one part of that history.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, crafting a system of categorizing and regulating drugs at the federal level. Shortly after, in June 1971, he became the first of several presidents to declare a war on drugs, calling drug abuse “public enemy number one.” He followed his declaration by increasing federal funding for drug control agencies, introducing mandatory prison sentences for drug crimes and creating the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973. His law would go on to affect the U.S. for decades.
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Hunter S. Thompson’s classic work of gonzo journalism heavily mixes fact, fiction and drug-induced hallucination in its telling of the journalist’s trip to Las Vegas with his attorney. Together, they rode across the country in a convertible truck, the trunk so stocked with drugs Thompson wrote it looked like “a mobile police narcotics lab.” Thompson’s ultimate road trip would go on to inspire the 1998 film of the same name starring Johnny Depp.
After American poet, writer and political activist John Sinclair was sentenced to prison for the possession of two joints, Michiganians gathered in April 1972, to protest the law and demand his release. Thus the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, one of the first U.S. events all about cannabis, was born. Today, the Ann Arbor Hash Bash is held the first Saturday of April at noon at the University of Michigan.
High Times, a publication dedicated to the world of marijuana, was founded in 1974 by Thomas King Forçade, a marijuana smuggler. One story suggests that, originally, the publication was intended to have a single issue and satirically replicate Playboy by replacing photos of women with pictures of marijuana. Another claims that Forçade created High Times as a jab at Nixon's war on drugs campaign. More than 40 years and 500 issues later, High Times is now a legendary publication commended for being ahead of its time. Stars like Ozzy Osbourne, Cypress Hill, James Franco and more have graced the cover. High Times continues to inform the world about marijuana.
Arguably the spark that ignited the medical marijuana movement, Robert Randall was granted access to government marijuana after being arrested and prosecuted for growing his own plants on his Capitol Hill porch to treat his glaucoma. Without the drug, he argued, he would be blind. In 1976, the D.C. Superior court found Randall not guilty, stating that Randall’s right to sight was greater than the state’s need to enforce the drug laws and uphold public safety. Randall, who died in 2001, later founded ACT, or the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, and further championed medical marijuana legalization.
In this quintessential stoner flick, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong play two young men who, by happenstance, meet and share a joint. Following a stint in jail, the two smoke several other joints before forming a band and performing their hit “Earache My Eye” at the Battle of the Bands. Here’s a fun fact: No marijuana was actually smoked on set. Today, Cheech and Chong are in the cannabis business with two separate lines of cannabis products: Chong’s Choice and Cheech’s Stash.
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At a school in Oakland, California, a young girl raised her hand to ask First Lady Nancy Reagan what she would suggest she do if someone offered her drugs. “Well,” Mrs. Reagan responded, “you just say no.” Thus began the First Lady’s decades-long campaign to curb school-age drug use. By 1988, there were 12,000 “Just Say No” clubs worldwide, and the First Lady’s message was taught in schools nationwide.
Following in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps, President George H.W. Bush took a tougher approach to the war on drugs campaign. By the time he left office in 1993, more than $12 billion was invested in the federal drug control budget. Much like Reagan’s tactics, Bush’s efforts were largely criticized for targeting underprivileged communities.
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There are many stories that detail how the 20th of April became an unofficial marijuana holiday, but one story claims that the American rock band Grateful Dead is largely responsible for the national spread of the holiday. While a reporter was wandering through a crowd of fans awaiting the start of the band’s concert in 1990, he was handed a flyer from a “Deadhead” that said, “We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing.” High Times reported the story, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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When the Seattle Hempfest first launched in 1991, it was known as the Washington Hemp Expo and had only 500 people in attendance. Today, it is one of the most well-known cannabis policy reform events in the world. Famous musical artists, politicians and activists alike all take part in Hempfest and speak on both the lies and truths that surround marijuana consumption.
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During the height of the AIDS epidemic, clubs supplying marijuana to terminal patients grew across the country. San Francisco was home to the largest Buyers’ Club, which was founded in 1991 and grew to over 8,000 members. Along with illegally selling marijuana to terminal AIDS patients, the clubs also provided relief for cancer patients and others with illnesses marijuana was known to alleviate.
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History buffs and political fanatics might know this famous story. While campaigning for president, Bill Clinton was repeatedly asked whether he had ever used drugs. In response, Clinton usually asserted he had never broken the laws of the country. But when he was later asked whether he had broken international law in regards to drugs during a candidates’ forum, Clinton said that although he had experimented with marijuana, he “didn’t inhale.”
In 1980, Mary Jane Rathbun, already well into her 50s, was arrested for selling marijuana-laced brownies. During her 200 hours of mandatory community service, Rathbun worked with the Shanti Project, an organization that cared for terminally ill AIDS patients. Soon, Rathbun began bringing in her “special” brownies to the patients twice a week to ease their pain and boost their appetite. As word of Rathbun’s operation spread, bags of marijuana began appearing at her door. By 1992, Rathbun was campaigning nationally for medical marijuana. Rathbun is regarded as a woman who was a pioneer for the weed industry.
On Dec. 15, 1992, rapper Dr. Dre released his debut studio album, and, arguably, one of his most famous albums to date, “The Chronic.” Named after a nickname for marijuana, “The Chronic” features numerous guest verses from a rapper who would later drop his own debut album: Snoop Dogg, who has built his own image around his marijuana use.
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“Alright, alright, alright.” Matthew McConaughey debuted his now-signature catchphrase in his breakout role as older stoner David Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused.” The movie chronicles the last days of high school for a group of teens in 1976. In a famous scene, the group comes to the consensus that George Washington smoked weed and grew the plant at his historical mansion in Mount Vernon.
While writing the movie script for “Friday,” Ice Cube and DJ Pooh took inspiration from “hood classics” and famous stoners Cheech and Chong. In their endlessly quotable stoner film, two friends, portrayed by Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, try to pay back drug dealer Big Worm by 10 p.m. The movie was filmed in Southern California and fans of the film still go to visit its famous filming locations.
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In 1996, marijuana legislation took a major step forward thanks to California. The Golden State became the first in the union to legalize medical marijuana via the Compassionate Use Act.
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In the cult classic movie “The Big Lebowski,” Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski is played by Jeff Bridges. “The Dude” loves bowling and weed and, at one point, crashes his car as he ignores the rules of the road while both smoking a joint and sipping a beer.
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“Hello, Wisconsin!” High school friends Eric, Donna, Kelso, Jackie, Hyde and Fez all navigate life in the ‘70s in “That 70s Show.” The show centered around life, love and family relationships, but more often than not, the friends could be found in Eric’s basement smoking weed together.
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Anthems are hard to make, but when rapper Afroman dropped his hit single “Because I Got High” in 2000, he made one that was embraced by the marijuana community. The song depicts how Afroman has a plan to clean, organize and seemingly get his life together, but after getting high, he no longer feels the energy to do so.
Many celebrities have admitted to consuming marijuana, but some individuals were shocked when Oscar Award-winner Frances McDormand graced the cover of High Times magazine in May 2003.
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The film “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” details the adventures of Harold Lee and Kumar Patel, played by John Cho and Kal Penn, as the two friends go on an epic quest for White Castle burgers to satisfy their marijuana-induced munchies. The duo deal with every problem beneath the sun in efforts to satisfy their hunger and claim some delicious burgers.
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In 2005, Doug Wead, an author and close friend of George W. Bush, released recorded conversations he had with the future president from 1998 to 2000 as the then-Governor of Texas weighed and ultimately accepted a presidential nomination. In the tapes, George W. Bush said he would refuse to answer questions about his past behavior, particularly about drugs because he wouldn’t want kids to follow in his footsteps.
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In the TV show “Weeds,” widowed mother Nancy Botwin, played by Mary-Louise Parker, starts selling marijuana to support her family’s comfortable lifestyle in this eight-season HBO series. Botwin’s most frequent clients include several of her affluent neighbors in suburban LA.
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In the modern classic stoner movie “Pineapple Express,” Seth Rogen plays Dale, a stoner and sole witness to a murder committed by a cruel drug lord and police officer. At the crime scene, Dale drops his joint, a specific strain dubbed Pineapple Express with a high THC concentration. The film follows Dale and his dealer Saul, played by James Franco, as they run from the officer and drug lord who rightly connects them to the forgotten joint.
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Michael Phelps is famous for being the most decorated Olympian of all time. However, in 2009, Phelps made headlines for a reason other than his outstanding swimming talents: smoking marijuana. Phelps was photographed smoking from a marijuana pipe. The photo led to a three-month suspension from all competition and the loss of his endorsement deal with the iconic breakfast food brand Kellogg’s.
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Both Colorado and Washington made history in November 2012 when they made big changes to marijuana laws and legalized recreational marijuana. They did so by permitting personal possession for anyone 21 or older. While Washington at the time of legalization still banned “grow-your-own” pot, Colorado limited cultivation to six plants per person.
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Rihanna, a music sensation, fashion guru and beauty cosmetics pioneer, made headlines in 2012 when a photo was taken of her rolling a joint on her body guard’s head as she sat perched on his shoulders at Coachella, a star-studded music festival.
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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend and Grammy Award-winning artist Bob Marley is known for creating songs that aimed to unite individuals around the globe and empower those in their fight against injustices. Marley was also known for his advocacy for marijuana consumption. In 2014, Marley Natural — the world’s first global cannabis brand — was announced in honor of Marley’s life, legacy and beliefs in the benefits of cannabis.
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Comedian Sarah Silverman has pulled many hijinks in her long career, but while walking the E! Red carpet at the Emmy Awards in 2014, she shocked hosts when she showed what was in her clutch for the night. Along with a cell phone and gum, Silverman was also carrying a vaporizer pen.
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Grammy Award-winner 2 Chainz is known for dropping catchy bars in his numerous rap songs that sum up his life, beliefs and work ethic, but in 2015, he put the mic down to school TV host Nancy Grace on the legalization of marijuana. After Grace showed an inflammatory video and argued that marijuana use causes poor judgment, 2 Chainz spoke on how marijuana positively affects communities and has many beneficial uses.
Netflix’s hit show “Grace and Frankie” premiered in 2015. The show, starring Jane Fonda as Grace and Lily Tomlin as Frankie, follows the lives of two older women who are polar opposites as they build a friendship that will stand the test of time. Frankie is a creative type who often starts her day with a joint in hand, while Grace is a straight-laced business owner who focuses on keeping her brand alive and well.
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What would have been an odd pairing 20 years ago now somehow makes so much sense. Together, rapper Snoop Dogg and lifestyle expert Martha Stewart have hosted a television show since 2016 called “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.” The unlikely duo invite guest stars onto the show as they cook up delicious recipes and discuss marijuana usage in front of a studio audience.
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“Real Time with Bill Maher” is an Emmy-nominated weekly talk show airing on HBO. Hosted by comedian Bill Maher, each show features actors, activists, politicians and more who serve as guest panelists as Maher discusses the previous week in news. On an episode that aired on Feb. 12, 2016, Maher smoked a joint during his closing remarks while encouraging marijuana enthusiasts to continue their fight for pot legalization.
Country music icon Willie Nelson is known for being a prominent figure in the marijuana community, but in a 2019 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Nelson claimed that marijuana “saved his life.” Without cannabis, Nelson said that he would have never lived 85 years. The beloved country star is known for creating some of the most popular songs of the past few decades.
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