003: The Early History of Cannabis in America (19th Century – 1970s) with Adam Rathge

Cannabis usage in America didn’t start a few years or even a few decades ago. In fact, cannabis has a long, storied history including a period of extensive medical use before the prohibition that is just now coming to an end.

Few know more about this history than Adam Rathge. Adam Rathge holds a Ph.D. in American history from Boston College and has written extensively on the history of cannabis and marijuana in the United States. He served as a contributing editor to the Alcohol and Drug History Society’s Points Blog and is the author of numerous articles about cannabis. When he’s not writing, Adam is Director of Strategic Operations and Projects for Enrollment at the University of Dayton, where he also teaches undergraduate courses in the Department of History.

Today, Adam joins our podcast to talk about the rise and fall of cannabis in the 19th and early 20th centuries, what ultimately led to the prohibition of marijuana across the United States, and what he’s thinking about as we continue to advance as a country toward full legalization.


  • How cannabis was introduced into American medicine in the 1830s and 40s – and how early medical journal articles set the stage for regulation, rather than prohibition.
  • What led to recreational cannabis use in the 1910s and 1920s – and how this led to fears of insanity and so-called “reefer madness.”
  • Why cannabis fell out of favor as a medicine in the early 20th century and how racism and xenophobia played major roles in both  early prohibition laws in states such as Arizona, Utah, and Texas and the 1937 Federal Marihuana Tax Act.
  •  The reason Adam sees medical and adult cannabis use potentially undermining one another – and the concerns he has with these markets overlapping, especially as major corporations get involved.


“In the 19th century, we have this classification of cannabis alongside arsenic and chloroform and opium and all these other drugs. That can be both helpful and harmful right there. They’re both medicine and poison.” – Adam Rathge




If you enjoyed today’s episode of The Green Repealhit the subscribe button so future episodes are automatically downloaded directly to your device.

And don’t forget to leave us a rating & review! Reviews on Apple Podcasts are greatly appreciated and will allow us to build awareness for the show. If you received value from this episode, please take a moment and rate and review the podcast by clicking here.


Do you have a question you would like answered on a future podcast? Email us at greenrepeal@sohoexp.com and we’ll do our best to answer it!

Scroll to Top