Psychedelic Medicine


Cannabis History and Legality with Professor Mike Vitiello


Distinguished Professor of Law Michael Vitiello is a nationally-recognized expert on criminal law, sentencing policy, and cannabis law. His work on California’s three-strikes law has been cited by the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court. This year, Prof. Vitiello along with two co-authors from the University of Michigan published cases and material regarding cannabis law.

Today’s episode is an examination of the history and legality of cannabis in the United States. Prof. Vitiello starts off with a brief history of how people have grown and consumed cannabis throughout the ages. In fact, a couple of centuries ago, there were few regulations around cannabis and it was widely used for many purposes, including as medicine.

Prof. Vitiello explains how that all changed towards the end of the 19th Century when regulations began limiting access to cannabis. He describes how attitudes about the plant have shifted and changed over the last one hundred years and how this is and isn’t reflected in the law.

We then examine the shifts in regulations and attitudes of recent years that have allowed some states to decriminalize or even legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. This has led to a divergence between federal law and many states’ law, something which further clouds the issue. To help make sense of this, Prof. Vitiello describes how we can navigate a situation in which state laws and federal laws diverge over the legal status of cannabis.

In This Episode

• The fascinating yet little understood history of marijuana in America
• The factors that initially led to the criminalization of marijuana
• How cannabis played a role in the culture wars throughout the 20th Century
• The legal rollercoaster that marijuana has gone through over time
• Recent developments that have led to states changing their laws concerning marijuana
• How to make sense of conflicting laws concerning the legality of cannabis


“During the Civil War, there were more regulations of tea than there were on marijuana.” [4:12]

“Marijuana got into Schedule 1 because of a political compromise. The government’s original position was that it couldn’t accept the petition to reschedule because it didn’t have the power to do that. It was an asinine position.” [25:19]

“When we talk about legalization, we’re only saying that some states have decided not to make it a violation of state law.” [30:44]

“The possibility of the federal government prosecuting you just based on you purchasing and using in-state is almost is almost certainly not going to happen.” [48:23]


* The Psychedelic Medicine Podcast has allowed the Psychedelic Medicine Association to post episodes as an educational resource, and in return the PMA is hosting the podcast show notes.