It herself a part of; a community that all

 It is April 20, 2016 and my good
friend from UCSC has invited me to stay with her in Santa Cruz for a “420
celebration”. Surrounded by police enforcement, students and Santa Cruz
citizens have gathered in the iconic Porter meadow and were already smoking
weed left and right. Seeing that the police had no control over the marijuana
use on this day, hundreds join in on the celebration. At 4:20pm a general wave
of excitement passes through the crowd as one huge cloud of smoke covers the
meadow. I had never seen so many people smoking weed in one place. My friend
beamed as she looked around at the community she saw herself a part of; a
community that all seemed to enjoy getting high. Cannabis has become increasingly
popular throughout time due to health research and cannabis legislation. By
analyzing the cultures surrounding cannabis and how we have adapted cannabis
into 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 appearance
throughout history in many various places in the world. Going back to 2737
B.C., Chinese emperor, Shen Nung had used it during his reign as a remedy for
rheumatism, gout, malaria and oddly, ‘absent-mindedness.’ Muslims in India
later recreationally used cannabis due to the prohibition of alcohol by the
Koran; cannabis made its way through Persia and North Africa where the English
and Spanish colonizers joined in on the trade. During the 1920’s cannabis
emerged in America at a larger rate due to the prohibition of alcohol and it
was often associated with jazz musicians. In the 1930’s cannabis was coined the
term, “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, cannabis
became harder to get from the usual outside farms in places like Mexico and
Canada (Narconon). Today, cannabis farms throughout America supply to the
millions 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 it
became a culture in America, but it also sheds light on other major influences
that contributed to the cannabis culture we see today. Cannabis culture is also
influenced by cultures such as the Rastafarian and hip-hop culture.

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            Bob
Marley and the Jamaican colors are often symbols associated to cannabis.
Cannabis users in popular film and media are often seen listening to Bob Marley
or rocking a “rasta-colored” t-shirt (Red, Green, and Yellow). Although Bob
Marley 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 into
our cannabis culture today, his thought provoking, peace inducing music and easy-going
life style still influences people today. In the hip-hop world, Snoop Dogg, Dr
Dre, the Notorious BIG and Wiz Khalifa are some of the most well-known artists
who have rapped about marijuana (Benjamin, WikiLeaf). Hip-hop is a major part
of American culture and media; people who may idolize these rap artists may
find themselves more open to smoking or accepting cannabis. Hip-hop does not
directly influence the use of cannabis but those who use cannabis often listen
to these artists and therefore hip-hop and Bob Marley can be seen as symbols
that can be associated to the cannabis culture in America. “Today, cannabis
users 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 who
use cannabis as, “hipsters”, “stoners”, or the classic, “hippie”. Open opposing
the “normal or traditional lifestyles” and overall advocating for peace and
equality, hipsters are often directly associated to cannabis culture in
America. The term, “hipster”, is one of many of the terms associated to
cannabis culture.

            Maureen
Meehan points out in her High Times article, “dictonary.com recently added 300 new worlds
and definitions to its online databases reflecting the year’s new and booming
pot culture with words such as “dabbing” and “kush” (High Times). As she points
out in her article, new worlds and definitions reflect cultural trends. As
cannabis paves way for new words in our language and slang, it becomes easier
to 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 users
in Norway (251-256). Holm et al. (2013) concludes that in, “both the Danish and
Norwegian study, cannabis users emphasize the fact that cannabis is a natural
product and that it has medical value (Dahl & Frank, 2011; Pedersen &
Sandberg, 2013). Together, such beliefs and more general narratives of cannabis
users can be seen as part of current cannabis culture, that is, a homogeneous
set of symbols, rituals and narratives (Holm, 254).” The new dictionary of
words that are associated with cannabis create a community of people that
become part of its own separate cannabis culture. In Santa Cruz, I could
overhear 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.

            According
to a Gallup poll taken July 5-9th of 2017, forty five percent of adults in the
United States have used marijuana at least once in their lives and one in eight
people use marijuana regularly (Nierenberg, Live Science). Twenty-nine states
have passed medical marijuana laws and because of this and several other
factors, cannabis has become more and more popular (Nierenberg, Live Science).
Other reasons for the increase of popularity is due to medical research pointed
to positive health benefits of experimenting with cannabis. One being the reduction
of opioid use when smoking cannabis. According to a STAT study, one hundred
Americans die per day due to opioid overdose (Robinson, Merry Jane). A study
done by the University of New Mexico used 37 patients with chronic pain during
a twenty-month period. Eighty percent of participants reduced opioid use while
forty percent of participants ceased all opioid use in favor of weed (Robinson,
Merry Jane). Aside from this study, cannabis has also been used recreationally
for anxiety, insomnia, physical pain and other mental and health disorders
(Welsh and Loria, Business Insider). Many other studies have been and are being
conducted on the health benefits of using cannabis. The health aspect of
cannabis culture is a narrative that widens the scope as to who and why
Americans choose to partake.

            The symbols and narratives of
cannabis culture transcend from those who use cannabis for health-related
issues and those who use it recreationally and for fun. Either way, cannabis is
then used in many ways for many various reasons and therefore this creates
space for many different rituals associated to cannabis. “Waking and baking”,
smoking with friends, attending a 420 celebration, meditating, or smoking when
in physical pain are a few different ritualistic ways to experiment with
cannabis. Marijuana dispensaries (or clinics) and doctors are easily accessible
today and the younger generation advocates for the legalization of cannabis. I
found several online journals and websites focused on cannabis which provides
readers with up to date news and research within the cannabis community.
Cannabis culture cannot be assigned to any specific location, but it is
locations such as Santa Cruz that have a high rate of cannabis use and
acceptance. Participating in UC Santa Cruz’s 420 celebration opened my eyes to
cannabis culture and how it is becoming more and more accepted today.