Cannabis. Culture. Two words when combined conjure images of a rebellious spirit. A large community who stand up against an imperialist government who use their capitalist instincts to keep their poorest citizens incarcerated and spread war around the world. The rebels stand up not with violence but with messages of peace and love. That was the hippie movement. That was the beginning, of the war on drugs.
In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs that would have ramifications for decades. The counter-culture that challenged traditional American “values” was seen as a threat to the administration and its conservative supporters. Tensions ran high in a nation that was fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam. Marijuana would not only be the drug of choice among hippies but it would be a symbol for peace.
Counter culture would form into marijuana culture. In the 70s and 80s the war on drugs bred corruption and violence across the United States. Big cities with large minority populations saw the worst of it. In the early 80s President Regan would cut social programs designed to help people out of poverty by providing assistance to the poor. That decision resulted in large portions of inner city citizens to fend for themselves. With no help from the government the only way to survive on the street was to join the drug game.
The 80s saw a giant influx of coke from South America. Cocaine was the top drug but it had the distinction of being extremely expensive. It was called the rich mans drug but that didn’t mean lower class citizens couldn’t enjoy a piece. Lower level drug dealers only needed a small amount of coke to mix up a concoction known as a crack rock. A single gram of coke could produce multiple rocks. It was addictive. Extremely addictive.
Now that “entitlement” programs were scrapped poor people in big cities were being poisoned by a crack epidemic. It was cheap and selling it was seen the only way to survive. Some gangs didn’t just survive- they thrived. Millions of dollars were made off of junkies looking for their next hit. Massive metropolis cities like New York City in the 80s was a nightmare.
Nancy Reagan had more campaigns and paid ads than any First Lady in American history. Her slogan was simple, just say no. While at the time it sounds like common sense, the drug war and crack epidemic was the fault of that eras administration. Unfortunately for the Reagan administration cocaine didn’t believe in democracy. It already won by making thugs and gangsters some of the richest people in the world. You could say no all you want. It changed nothing.
What Does This Have To Do With Pot?
Marijuana was illegal. VERY illegal. Today, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug. That is the same category as cocaine and heroine. It’s prohibition spawned a black market that would finance organized crime for decades.
Still, there were those that saw the drug as a safer alternative to alcohol. While there were very few studies conducted due to marijuana’s illegality, it was becoming clear the cannabis plant had various medicinal properties. Those that were passionate about the plant decided to grow their own. They accepted the risk because it was better than contributing to the black market.
Richard Nixon’s war declaration on drugs carried a stigma that still persists today. Specifically, marijuana was seen as just as dangerous as harder drugs. On the surface the argument was made that marijuana was a gateway drug. Any user was labelled a criminal and thrown in jail immediately. When Nixon wanted to go after the hippies and protesters against the Vietnam war police were given new powers to throw pot heads in jail. Marijuana was a symbol and anyone supporting that symbol was thrown in jail. In Canada, publications such as High Times magazine were deemed explicit because of the nature of the articles and the high detail pictures of marijuana flowers.
This authoritarian action evolved into something much uglier. Racism. Minorities, mostly black people, were targeted and arrested much more frequently than their white counterparts. The most frequent crime they were guilty of was possession of marijuana. The marijuana movement was not just for peace and love anymore. It was a rebellious reaction to unjust laws and civil rights.
Legality Finally Begins
In 2014 California became the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana. This would be the start of a trend in other states that would table legislation for legal recreational use. The push for legalization from the efforts of heroes like Dennis Peron who broke outdated laws to get medicinal marijuana to those that were suffering.
Unfortunately before marijuana was even debated for legalization there were high profile casualties. Marc Emery aka The Prince of Pot was extradited to the US from Canada for selling cannabis seeds. Tommy Chong was entrapped by the US government for selling bongs in states where marijuana paraphernalia is illegal. He was sent to prison. Not to mention the millions of black Americans that were incarcerated.
In 2017 recreational marijuana became legal in Canada. It wasn’t long before multiple states in the US followed suit. Mexico also legalized marijuana in 2021 (should of been 2020 but it was delayed due to the Covid 19 pandemic). In the US marijuana is still a schedule 1 drug and is still illegal federally.
Legal Cannabis Culture vs Illegal Cannabis Culture
This brings us to our question of the day, how do we define current cannabis culture? Right up until legalization it was a symbol of protest against prohibition and the civil rights of minorities. It was a symbol representing a number of issues that affect society no matter what race or financial situation you find yourself in. In Canada we are in year 3 of legalization (October 2021 will be year 4) and I’ve already seen a change in attitude when it comes to cannabis.
It’s a little strange to see a substance that stood up against so much be turned into something so mainstream. Every celebrity that has anything to do with branding themselves as a pothead now has their own marijuana brand. See Snoop Dogg (Lion) and Seth Rogan. Even celebrities that wouldn’t think had anything to do with pot are getting in the game now like Sir Patrick Stewart. I can’t help but compare it to alcohol because a very negative stigma has all but been removed when referring to cannabis. Next time you’re at the liquor store look at all the brands that are now endorsed by celebrities. That cool looking skull bottle of Vodka is from Dan Ackroyd who also has his own wine. Even the Great One, Wayne Gretzky has his own whiskey and wine.
Think about the temperance movement in the early 20th century and how alcohol was vilified. It was branded the devil’s elixir. All of society’s ills were blamed on booze and before you know it that stigma spread like wildfire. That brought in prohibition which in effect brought in more crime. Organized crime like Al Capone’s cartel and Lucky Luciano’s costra nostra would give rise to the American mafia that thrived into the late 20th century. The reason I bring up alcohol prohibition is because it mirrors what we see with marijuana. Prohibition of cannabis gave rise to drug cartels in South America and societal issues were blamed on it. It didn’t matter if you were caught with a gram of coke or a joint, you were going to carry the same label: criminal.
Now you go to the liquor store and you get a cute little booklet on how to make fancy cocktails for your next dinner party. There’s classy music on the radio and wine is treated like works of art from all over the world. The booze is celebrated. No one feels ashamed when they walk out of the store and no is being branded a criminal. While the opposite was true a hundred years ago it didn’t take long for the culture to change.
Now in year 3 of legalization we can already see the culture change. Dispensaries are classy and don’t look like your drug dealers apartment. Thirty years ago a publication like High Times was illegal and now yours truly can have his own blog discussing weed and uploading all the high detailed pictures of bud I want.
A mass protest against marijuana prohibition in front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada on every April 20th is now a celebration. There are those that don’t care about the medicinal or psychedelic properties of marijuana and just want to see its value skyrocket in the stock market. There are those that don’t care about money and use horticulture science to create effect strains that can help people. There are scientists here in Canada that may have found a strain that can prevent Covid 19 infections. There are those that prefer to smoke a joint after work instead of always hitting the bottle or drinking a bunch of beer. There are those who use it help the negative side effects of chemotherapy. There are those who smoke too much and are always late for work. There are those who only want to use CBD to help alleviate their pain or fight anxiety. There are those who want it to become illegal again.
The good news is that the industry is up and running and now it is legal in Canada, Mexico and most of the USA. There’s no chance it will decline into prohibition again. Like alcohol, the negative stigma of the lazy pothead who will rob you and go on a raping spree is obsolete. Just as the criminal label wears off so does the label of the rebel fighting the man with peace and love. Now you have connoisseurs who discuss THC and CBD percentage and growing techniques. Scientific studies are now underway to unlock the mysteries of this miracle plant. Weed culture will always have its detractors but I predict it will have a much more positive image than alcohol in the years to come. How often have you heard of a domestic disturbance because someone smoked too much weed?
The New Culture
While this seems like the good guys won against the big bad government (and we totally did) it doesn’t mean the future will be all sunshine and rainbows. The important thing to remember is, now that it’s legal massive corporations are in charge of its mainstream cultural impact. You may not want to admit it but there is far too much money involved for it not to be. Right now in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty one it may not seem that way. Give it 10 years. How about in 20 years? Can you honestly say that you or someone you know won’t be downing a Coca Cola infused beverage at your buddy’s BBQ in the 2030s?
That’s not to say you have to like it. Anyone of legal smoking age and over appreciates its legality because we remember what it was like. If you think you’re paranoid after vaping some Purple Kush think about how that paranoia felt like when it was illegal. Sometimes we were too afraid of ordering a pizza because we thought the delivery guy would narc on us.
I doubt the era of cannabis prohibition will be forgotten anytime soon. You better believe those big companies will be using it as a theme to market their products for you. Even alcohol brands do it to embrace the prohibition era. There are speakeasy themed bars and Canadian Club Whisky still brags that their products were smuggled across the border to the USA in the 1920s. Prohibition of alcohol and marijuana has taught our democracies a lot but one thing you should take away from it is this: no matter what the culture is don’t let the mainstream label you.