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A start with no firm roots

Despite being able to pinpoint exact timeframes for when humans first started using cannabis, and when most of civilization outlawed any form of the crop, the date of its cultural birth remains a mystery. For decades now, people have been congregating around, and medicating with, cannabis. Yet, because every relationship with the plant  after the early, and before the late, 1900s was kept quiet, exact traces of when cannabis culture came into fruition remains a mystery.

Without a textbook answer to the question of the culture’s origin, most experts would suggest the cannabis community formed with the inception of the hippie movement. Toward the late 50s and early 60s, the threat of nuclear war, the reality of the atrocities at play in Vietnam and other social factors culminated in the hippie movement. Borrowing from the Beat Generation, the group rallied for peace, justice, and free will and speech.1

Lumped into the ethos of many in the hippie movement was a penchant for drug experimentation. While LSD is often cited as a drug almost synonymous with the movement, so too is the image of the pot leaf. That portrait – a green fan leaf from a flowering cannabis plant – is nearly as tied to the hippie movement as tie-died shirts, long hair, free love, or Woodstock 69 itself. For this reason alone, the hippies can, at least in some loose sense, likely make the claim that they popularized the image of the pot plant.

Where did 4/20 come from?

Like most cultures, cannabis has its images and its traditions. While the former is characterized by almost bygone artifact, and the latter has one common denominator. Like other aspects of cannabis culture, traditions have suffered somewhat due to strict drug policies in almost every country across the globe. One celebration that seems to transcend even legal boundaries, however, attendance at 4/20 has become something of a pre-requisite to cultural membership.2

Held in major cities across the world on April 20, precisely at 4:20 p.m., the celebration typically includes thousands of people congregating in one public place to light up, and simultaneously protest current cannabis laws. The largest of these celebrations is held in cities like Los Angeles, Ottawa and Vancouver, where thousands gather to smoke and celebrate a culture that has slowly moved into the mainstream.3 

A glimpse into the future

Largely, cannabis culture has remained almost untouched since the 60s. Tie-died shirts, lava lamps, hash pipes and the general stoner image have dominated the collective consciousness for 50 years. Perhaps because the culture was claimed by so few, and isolated only to extremely liberal regions like Holland, Canada and California, cannabis has really experienced little evolution, until very recently.

With the legalization of recreational cannabis in dozens of American states, the face of cannabis culture has unquestionably started to change. The image of the stereotypical stoner is beginning to be replaced by that of an informed patient and sophisticated consumer. Where traditional products like whole flowers, basic resins and baked goods once made up the bulk of the options for medicating with cannabis, now softgels, pre-loaded vape cartridges and topicals also have a place on the shelf.

As these options have started to broaden, so too has the brand of patient and consumer seeking them out. The contemporary cannabis consumer no longer needs to fit one specific mould – a long-haired hippie with a pipe in mouth – but he or she can be anyone. Because the stereotypical image of a stoner no longer defines anyone who consumes cannabis, more people are now joining the culture, and its definition may finally be starting to take firm root.

  1. What the guys who coined 420 think about their place in history. http://time.com/4739364/420-marijuana-history/
  2. Hippies vs hipsters: the evolution of cannabis culture. https://herb.co/marijuana/news/hippies-vs-hipsters-evolution
  3. Vancouver pot activists smoke up a cloud at 4:20 p.m. https://globalnews.ca/news/4157089/vancouver-sunset-beach-4-20/

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