It is April 20, 2016 and my goodfriend from UCSC has invited me to stay with her in Santa Cruz for a “420celebration”. Surrounded by police enforcement, students and Santa Cruzcitizens have gathered in the iconic Porter meadow and were already smokingweed left and right. Seeing that the police had no control over the marijuanause on this day, hundreds join in on the celebration. At 4:20pm a general waveof excitement passes through the crowd as one huge cloud of smoke covers themeadow.
I had never seen so many people smoking weed in one place. My friendbeamed as she looked around at the community she saw herself a part of; acommunity that all seemed to enjoy getting high. Cannabis has become increasinglypopular throughout time due to health research and cannabis legislation. Byanalyzing the cultures surrounding cannabis and how we have adapted cannabisinto our culture today, I hope to understand how cannabis has become a culture.
Cannabis,also known as marijuana, weed, pot, hash etc., has made its appearancethroughout history in many various places in the world. Going back to 2737B.C., Chinese emperor, Shen Nung had used it during his reign as a remedy forrheumatism, gout, malaria and oddly, ‘absent-mindedness.
‘ Muslims in Indialater recreationally used cannabis due to the prohibition of alcohol by theKoran; cannabis made its way through Persia and North Africa where the Englishand Spanish colonizers joined in on the trade. During the 1920’s cannabisemerged in America at a larger rate due to the prohibition of alcohol and itwas often associated with jazz musicians. In the 1930’s cannabis was coined theterm, “gateway drug” and soon became a symbol for the rebellious “hippies”during the 1950’s and 1960’s. During the “War on Drugs” era in 1975, cannabisbecame harder to get from the usual outside farms in places like Mexico andCanada (Narconon). Today, cannabis farms throughout America supply to themillions of Americans who have become part of the cannabis culture (Narconon).
This brief overview of the history of cannabis can give some insight on how itbecame a culture in America, but it also sheds light on other major influencesthat contributed to the cannabis culture we see today. Cannabis culture is alsoinfluenced by cultures such as the Rastafarian and hip-hop culture. BobMarley and the Jamaican colors are often symbols associated to cannabis.Cannabis users in popular film and media are often seen listening to Bob Marleyor rocking a “rasta-colored” t-shirt (Red, Green, and Yellow).
Although BobMarley is a symbol often associated to the recreational use of cannabis today,he himself only used cannabis, ritually, in the Rastafarian religion (Romer,ThoughtCo). Rastafarian translates to marijuana and is from the sanskrit word,holy sacrament (Romer, ThoughtCo.). Even though Bob Marley would not fit intoour cannabis culture today, his thought provoking, peace inducing music and easy-goinglife style still influences people today. In the hip-hop world, Snoop Dogg, DrDre, the Notorious BIG and Wiz Khalifa are some of the most well-known artistswho have rapped about marijuana (Benjamin, WikiLeaf). Hip-hop is a major partof American culture and media; people who may idolize these rap artists mayfind themselves more open to smoking or accepting cannabis.
Hip-hop does notdirectly influence the use of cannabis but those who use cannabis often listento these artists and therefore hip-hop and Bob Marley can be seen as symbolsthat can be associated to the cannabis culture in America. “Today, cannabisusers remain supportive of anti-authoritarian groups (Pedersen, 2009;Stevenson, 2012), and attend rock festivals at high rates (Hesse et al., 2010;Lim et al., 2010)” (Holm et al.
, 252). We would call these groups of people whouse cannabis as, “hipsters”, “stoners”, or the classic, “hippie”. Open opposingthe “normal or traditional lifestyles” and overall advocating for peace andequality, hipsters are often directly associated to cannabis culture inAmerica.
The term, “hipster”, is one of many of the terms associated tocannabis culture. MaureenMeehan points out in her High Times article, “dictonary.com recently added 300 new worldsand definitions to its online databases reflecting the year’s new and boomingpot culture with words such as “dabbing” and “kush” (High Times). As she pointsout in her article, new worlds and definitions reflect cultural trends.
Ascannabis paves way for new words in our language and slang, it becomes easierto see those who use these words as part of a separate culture. Holm et al.(2013), point out a qualitative study which included one hundred cannabis usersin Norway (251-256). Holm et al. (2013) concludes that in, “both the Danish andNorwegian study, cannabis users emphasize the fact that cannabis is a naturalproduct and that it has medical value (Dahl & Frank, 2011; Pedersen &Sandberg, 2013). Together, such beliefs and more general narratives of cannabisusers can be seen as part of current cannabis culture, that is, a homogeneousset of symbols, rituals and narratives (Holm, 254).” The new dictionary ofwords that are associated with cannabis create a community of people thatbecome part of its own separate cannabis culture. In Santa Cruz, I couldoverhear discussions about sativa versus indica strains, bongs versus pipes,jays versus spliffs, all to which I could not keep up with or understand.
Language is a major part of culture and with cannabis use growing in America,more and more words are added to our social dialect. Accordingto a Gallup poll taken July 5-9th of 2017, forty five percent of adults in theUnited States have used marijuana at least once in their lives and one in eightpeople use marijuana regularly (Nierenberg, Live Science). Twenty-nine stateshave passed medical marijuana laws and because of this and several otherfactors, cannabis has become more and more popular (Nierenberg, Live Science).Other reasons for the increase of popularity is due to medical research pointedto positive health benefits of experimenting with cannabis. One being the reductionof opioid use when smoking cannabis. According to a STAT study, one hundredAmericans die per day due to opioid overdose (Robinson, Merry Jane). A studydone by the University of New Mexico used 37 patients with chronic pain duringa twenty-month period.
Eighty percent of participants reduced opioid use whileforty percent of participants ceased all opioid use in favor of weed (Robinson,Merry Jane). Aside from this study, cannabis has also been used recreationallyfor anxiety, insomnia, physical pain and other mental and health disorders(Welsh and Loria, Business Insider). Many other studies have been and are beingconducted on the health benefits of using cannabis. The health aspect ofcannabis culture is a narrative that widens the scope as to who and whyAmericans choose to partake. The symbols and narratives ofcannabis culture transcend from those who use cannabis for health-relatedissues and those who use it recreationally and for fun.
Either way, cannabis isthen used in many ways for many various reasons and therefore this createsspace for many different rituals associated to cannabis. “Waking and baking”,smoking with friends, attending a 420 celebration, meditating, or smoking whenin physical pain are a few different ritualistic ways to experiment withcannabis. Marijuana dispensaries (or clinics) and doctors are easily accessibletoday and the younger generation advocates for the legalization of cannabis.
Ifound several online journals and websites focused on cannabis which providesreaders with up to date news and research within the cannabis community.Cannabis culture cannot be assigned to any specific location, but it islocations such as Santa Cruz that have a high rate of cannabis use andacceptance. Participating in UC Santa Cruz’s 420 celebration opened my eyes tocannabis culture and how it is becoming more and more accepted today.