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Brief History of Marijuana in the U.S. and its Use During Pregnancy

The political landscape and social acceptability of marijuana use has drastically changed since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs over 50 years ago. Marijuana is also known as cannabis and is referred to by several other names. How many words can you think of to name marijuana? Marijuana was once referred to as the “poor man’s pain reliever.” However, the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 banned nonmedical uses and restricted possession of marijuana, which served as a justification to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. The U.S. federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” In other words, the federal government contends marijuana is unsafe even for medical purposes; thus, marijuana remains an illegal narcotic under federal law.

Ironically, state laws have paved the way for medical marijuana legalization in 38 states, including Washington, DC, and 4 U.S. territories. Simultaneously, 18 states legalized adult-use cannabis for recreation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana is the most commonly used federally illicit drug in the United States, and its past-month use has increased across various groups. One group of note is pregnant U.S. women. A recent study on U.S. maternal marijuana use showed a more than 100% increase in marijuana use from 2002 to 2017.

Research on marijuana use, including frequency of use, dosing, modes of consumption (e.g., oral, inhalation, ect), and its health and safety risks, continue to evolve. There is no consensus if marijuana is unequivocally safe or harmful, but you need to understand the impact it can have on a fetus (baby) during pregnancy.

According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, Black populations aged 18 years or older had lower lifetime use of marijuana compared to White populations of the same age (SAMHSA, 2019). Despite lower marijuana usage among Blacks, the American Civil Liberties Union found Black individuals were 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than Whites. This point brings us back to the political history of marijuana in the United States and why researchers state prohibition reformers assert their efforts to rebrand marijuana as cannabis. These efforts are an attempt to disassociate the racialized, harsh realities of the war on drugs from the multi-billion dollar legal market.

Here Are Three Takeaways:

1. Marijuana is used for countless reasons and purposes. According to a recent study, Black women used marijuana during pregnancy due to intimate partner violence. Marijuana use is often described as a means to cope and decrease stress. In all, marijuana use during pregnancy may come with advantages and disadvantages. Some benefits to pregnant women may include reduced morning sickness, pain reduction, and stress relief. However, an unintended consequence of marijuana use could lead to social stigma, possible criminal legal involvement, or cannabis hyperemesis. Cannabis hyperemesis is a condition that causes persistent vomiting and feelings of nausea and can result in abdominal discomfort and dehydration. This condition tends to impact chronic and novice users of cannabis alike.

2. Due to racial and criminalized history of marijuana use along with mandated reporting, a prenatal woman and her newborn can be drug tested without her consent. If she or her newborn test positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana can act as a depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogenic. She would be at risk of being investigated by child protective services and potentially experiencing child removal. The National Institute for Children’s Health Quality identified the disparate application of mandated reporting of child engagement as not uncommon, especially among Black women. In addition, women who opt to give birth in a birthing center or remain at home for a planned home birth instead of going to a hospital are not exempt from drug testing, especially if they require a hospital transfer due to complicated labor.

3. Marijuana has fluctuated sociopolitically from legality to prohibition, back to legality (or a love-hate-love relationship). As more states legalize marijuana, it is important to know the distinctions between legalization, commercialization, decriminalization, reciprocity, and social equity. Each of these categories can impact us individually and as a community. We can discuss these specific points in detail at a later date.

Make sure to show love and let The Black Women’s Wellness Agency know your interest in the comments section. The opinions here are my own. That said, marijuana use is an individual choice that should meet one’s health and lifestyle needs.

In health and solidarity,



DeJa Love
DeJa Love

Minerva, Thank you so much for writing this timely article! Marijuana use is highly polarizing (for many reasons)in our community. I appreciate you amplifying the inequities Black women experience, especially since cannabis has been gentrified/capitalized by non-Black Women using it during their pregnancies (to mitigate morning sickness) without consequence or legal implications. I love the concise history you provided on marijuana, explaining the impetus for the current inequities. I'm eager to read other's thoughts after reading your article!

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