A potted history of cannabis in the United States

A history of US government policy on marijuana since the early 20th century.

Book cover of ‘Marijuana: a short history’, by John Hudak

Marijuana: a short history is a concise summary of the political, social and legal developments surrounding the drug’s recreational and medical use in the United States.

However, it does cover many topics that Pharmaceutical Journal readers are likely to be interested in, such as in depth clinical or pharmacological aspects of the use of cannabis or its derivatives and information about its use in other countries.

Nevertheless, the illustration of marijuana as a political football and a clear reference point for the social and political environment of the times will chime with readers from all walks of life and all over the world. Drug use reformers will learn much from the American experience, as clearly and objectively described by John Hudak, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution think tank.

This 217-page, small paperback covers the history of government policy since the early 20th century, changes in public opinion over this time, the constant battle between reformers and conservatives and between state and federal decision makers, and also looks to the more liberal future. As of summer 2016, 25 states and the District of Columbia had legalised marijuana for medical use, while four plus the District of Columbia has legalised recreational use.

Marijuana can be a divisive subject, both socially and politically. The Republicans, for example, have generally attempted to restrict use, with Presidents Nixon and Reagan making it a key plank of their ‘War on drugs’ and first lady Nancy Reagan creating the ‘Just say no’ slogan.

The word ‘marijuana’ originally comes from Mexican Spanish and references have been used to denigrate Mexican immigrants. But the author remains impartial throughout, presenting both sides of each argument without bias.

There are no illustrations or diagrams in this book, but a significant notes section supports the main text well.


Marijuana: a short history, by John Hudak. Pp xii+217 Price £12.17. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press; 2016. ISBN 978 0 8157 2906 8

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2017, Vol 298, No 7899;298(7899):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20202084

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