Stoned History: From Illegal to Essential

Currently, if you live in a Green state, cannabis is as easy to get as a delivery pizza. There are countless ways to consumetons of brands to choose from, and even tourist attractions like cannabis cafes and weed museums popping up around the country! We are in what we like to call the ‘Golden Age of Cannabis.  

If you’ve followed along with our Stoned history lessons you can see it’s taken over 100 years to normalize the use of cannabis and end the negative stigmas instilled by previous politicians. For our final lesson we’re covering how cannabis has gone from illegal to essential from 2000-2020. 

2000 – DEA busts and Mexican drug tunnels 

The 2000’s were a weird grey period as some states started easing into the medical market. Plenty of Americans were smoking marijuana, but it was still very illegal in recreational sense. Cue the televised DEA helicopter raids and widely publicized drug tunnel busts. In 2006, American Federal agents found a 2400-foot-long tunnel that led from Tijuana into San Diego. This obviously caused tension and added to the negative stigma of cannabis use. 

Until this point cannabis consumers had been thought of as lazy, hippie dope heads that just liked to get high and dance to music. However, hippies and artists weren’t the only ones making headlines. Professional athletes like NFL star Ricky Williams and Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps were caught smoking weed and suspended from their teams. Phelps was dropped as the face of Kellogg’s Cereal and Williams was suspended for a minimum of one year. Controversy arose as the stigmas were put in question: How could a professional athlete perform at such a high level if they were under the influence of cannabis. Didn’t this ‘drug’ make you lazy? If these over-achieving individuals were smoking weed, who else was? 

From 2000-2010 there was a sharp increase in cannabis arrests in California. Weas a nation, were starting to experience economic issues during the Great Recession and as a result funding was cut from the prison system. The notorious War on Drugs was finally starting to slow down. 

2010 – almost there but not quite  

Cannabis took center stage on the West Coast in 2010 during the first ever High Times Cannabis Cup. It was held exclusively for medical patients in San Francisco, California. For 20 years, the Cup had always been held in Amsterdam, but it finally landed on domestic soil. Right around this time solvent based hash oils were making their way into the market and the art of dabbing was born 

Despite these advances, there was an undeniable truth that the DEA was still lurking  around the corner.  


  • On April 2, 2012, the federal government led a raid on Oaksterdam University while a man opened fire at a nearby college killing seven individuals. This tragic event made critics skeptical of the DEA and urged policy makers towards reform. Later that year Colorado and Washington made history by legalizing cannabis for adult-use through Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 

2014 – Recreational Adult-use Cannabis begins

  • Alaska and Oregon legalized recreational cannabis through ballot measure. 


  • California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts approved ballot measures to legalize recreational cannabis. In December of 2018 the Federal Hemp Bill was legalized allowing the manufacture and distribution of hemp products in the U.S. and it felt like the century long battle was finally ending.  

Dispensaries transitioned from seedy back alley shops into beautiful retail stores resembling Apple and Starbucks. New cannabis brands and products were coming onto shelves and shaping the industry into what it’s become today. Normalization was on the horizon as major celebrities, activists, and influential leaders came out of the closet about their cannabis use. 

For example, Snoop Dogg always had a stoner reputation, but he really shook America in 2018 when he teamed up with Martha Stewart to release a cookbook, ‘From Crook to Cook’ and show on VH1 the Potluck Party Challenge. The jokes are endless and seeing the two personalities meld is priceless. Their partnership publicly proved weed can create relationships and unite individuals from different backgrounds. 

From Willie Nelson to Wiz Khalifa to Rihanna celebrities made their love for cannabis VERY publicly known and started to capitalize on the legal industry. Celebrity backed cannabis brands have become the hottest trend. Wiz Khalifa created his own strain ‘Khalifa Kush, Willie launched Willie’s Reserve, Tommy Chong is the face of Chong’s Choice, and list goes on.. 


  • Cannabis was never a stranger to music festivals, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the first major American festival allowed cannabis brands as sponsors. Outside lands made history when it created a separate 21+ space inside the festival called ‘Grasslands where cannabis brands could create educational retail experiencesFestival goers were now able to purchase cannabis directly from licensed cannabis partners.  

2020 – Current state of cannabis 

  • As of today, more than two-thirds of the United States have legalized cannabis in one form or another.  
  • Recreational adult use cannabis is now legal in 11 states, 1 Federal Territory (DC), and in two of our island territories (Northern Mariana islands & Guam).  
  • Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states (including the 11 recreational states) and four U.S. island territories including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. 
  • And for the first time in history, licensed cannabis retailers have been deemed essential businesses among the COVID-19 global pandemic.  


In California anyone over the age of 21 can visit a dispensary in-person or place their order online for delivery. Options for products are endless as the industry has grown to feature everything from flower to cannabis infused lubricant. There are infused lotions, bath soaks, patches and pens to help relieve aches and pains. Capsules, vapes, or tinctures can help you get a better night’s sleep. Not to mention the flower these days has been grown to perfection. There is truly something for everyone whether it’s your first time or 50th  

The last 100+ years opinions have swayed from side to side concerning cannabis. While we are in a Green Rushwe’d be foolish to say we are in the clear. Cannabis is still federally illegal resulting in issues with banking services, loans, and federal relief during a crisis (like a global pandemic). 26 states have decriminalized or removed the threat of jail time for small amounts of marijuana, but tons of individuals across the nation are still incarcerated or being arrested for cannabis crimes. Cannabis might be considered essential in some states, but until marijuana is legalized on a federal level, retailers and brands remain far from essential in the government’s eyes.

Although progress has been made, the fight isn’t over yet!

Click here to listen to our ‘Illegal to Essential’ playlist on Spotify

Download our free ‘illegal to essential’ coloring sheets below:

Stoned History U.S. Cannabis legalization Coloring Sheet

Stoned History Modern Cannabis Coloring Sheet

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