004: The Recent History of Cannabis in America, 1970s-Present, with Emily Dufton

In the last episode of our podcast, we talked all about how cannabis was widely prescribed in the 19th century, fell out of favor, and was ultimately outlawed at the federal level. Today, we continue this guided tour throughout cannabis history as it ping pongs from being celebrated to vilified (and back again), and there’s no one more qualified to be our guide than Emily Dufton.

Emily is a writer, researcher, and widely-published drug historian. She is a senior researcher at George Washington University’s documentary center, the managing editor of Points, the blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, and the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America.

Today, Emily joins the podcast to talk about the changing perception of marijuana in America and its impact on our culture. You’ll learn how marijuana became a Schedule I substance as a consequence of the culture wars of the late 1960s, the rise and fall of the early decriminalization and legalization movements, and the key figures in this story who often go undiscussed when we talk about this vitally important history.


  • The events that led to the passage of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.
  • How Richard Nixon took marijuana from being subject to a series of patchwork drug laws across the United States to a Schedule I substance in order to curtail the counterculture.
  • How legislators shaped American drug policy without the input of doctors or users – and how states retaliated.
  • Why peaking adolescent marijuana use, a rising paraphernalia industry, and angry parents killed national decriminalization initiatives in the late 1970s and led to the rise of Nancy Reagan in the 1980s.
  • How the first medical marijuana movement took shape alongside the HIV/AIDS epidemic – and how California pioneered modern marijuana laws.
  • Why Emily thinks the road to full federal legalization is a rocky one.


  • Nixon realized that he could not arrest people for protesting, so he looked for ways to put the clamp down on the massive waves of youthful protesters. He realized that drug laws were one way to do that.” – Emily Dufton
  • Cannabis was made out to be worse than cocaine in terms of potential for abuse.” – Emily Dufton
  • Richard Nixon kind of gaslighted everybody.” – Emily Dufton




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