A Brief History of Cannabis Commercialization

Zoomers might not remember, but back in the day, cannabis wasn’t as widely accepted by society as it is now, and it certainly didn’t have the broad commercial appeal that it’s garnered now with non-intoxicating products like CBD. In fact, just a short ten years ago, most people in the cannabis community didn’t even know what CBD was.

Today, cannabis is a major legitimate business, and much to the chagrin of certain old heads, more of a commercialized product than a symbol of counterculture. However, one thing for certain is, the commercialization of cannabis has introduced more people to the plant and makes its therapeutic benefits more accessible for thousands of people. 

Regardless of where you stand on commercialization, it looks like it’s here to stay. Let’s take a look at how cannabis became a mass-marketed product.

Medicinal Marijuana

medical cannabis for medical use

Arguably, you can trace the beginnings of commercialization back to the birthplace of medicinal marijuana—California. 

During the late ‘80s and ’90s, the AIDS epidemic ravaged the country. The virus was particularly deadly in the Castro District of San Francisco. Those afflicted suffered terribly from “wasting,” an effect that caused the patient to become slowly emaciated, getting thinner and thinner, until eventually the body completely wasted away. One of the most effective treatments for this wasting, surprisingly, was marijuana.

Witnessing the horrors caused by the illness and realizing that one of the few effective treatments was made illegal by the government spurred LGBTQ activists like Dennis Peron to vigorously campaign for medicinal marijuana allowances. They also set up proto-dispensaries called buyers clubs to distribute cannabis illegally to those in need.

The tireless efforts of these activists finally culminated in 1996, when California became the first state in the union to legalize medical marijuana. The idea caught like wildfire, and soon, other states implemented their own medical marijuana programs—including the mile-high state of Colorado. 

Recreational Marijuana

Medicinal marijuana may have opened the door to commercialization, but recreational marijuana stepped into the house. 

In the early days of medical marijuana, acquiring a prescription wasn’t always easy, and the cannabis was primarily used by the sick and elderly who genuinely needed it. However, as the programs became more robust and widespread, it became significantly easier for anyone who wanted cannabis to get access to a medical card. The Venice Beach Boardwalk, for example, became littered with “doctor’s offices” where you could complain about anxiety, pay a fee, and walk out with a medical marijuana card. 

recreational cannabis for adult use

For all intents and purposes, it seemed like medical marijuana had legalized pot. Citizens in Colorado decided to go ahead and make it official through a ballot initiative, Amendment 64, which would permanently change Colorado’s drug policy, and allow for marijuana to be regulated and sold in a similar fashion to alcohol. Citizens of Washington State introduced their own initiative that same year, and both bills passed with record-breaking voter turnout numbers. Other states watched as Colorado and Washington’s marijuana market created jobs, produced millions in taxable revenue, and encouraged tourism, all while allowing for residents to light up, and soon other states were creating their own ballot initiatives. In the last election alone, we ended up with four more states with recreational weed

The Proliferation Of CBD Products And The 2018 Farm Bill 

2018 farm bill allows cbd to be legal

So far, we’ve mostly only discussed marijuana and THC-rich cannabis flower. However, it’s not the only form of the cannabis plant to recently get commercialized. Around the same time Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, people were beginning to learn about CBD through a resident of the state named Charlotte Figi.

Charlotte was a young girl with Dravets Syndrome, a rare disorder that caused her to have upward of 300 seizures a month. After all conventional treatments failed, her mother turned to marijuana to try and save her dying daughter. THC only seemed to worsen Charlotte’s condition, but low THC strains with high CBD content worked wonders, reducing her seizures to just a few times a month. However, these kinds of strains were rare in Colorado’s recreational marijuana market, where THC reigned supreme. Eventually, the Figi family linked up with the Stanely Brothers, a family of cannabis cultivators who experimented with hemp and marijuana crossbreeds. They were one of the first people to grow cannabis for CBD, and they named their strain Charlotte’s Web after the little girl who got so much benefit from the plant.

Charlotte’s story became an international sensation when Dr. Sanjay Gupta featured her on his CNN Documentary “Weed.” Soon after, CBD experience exponential growth in popularity. Researchers uncovered more about the endocannabinoid system and CBD’s effect on the human body. Alternative medicine and wellness communities found myriad therapeutic applications. Even the beauty industry took advantage of CBD’s sebum inhibiting properties by including the compound in all sorts of serums and moisturizers. All of this was made possible on a national level in 2018, when the Farm Bill legalized hemp on the federal level.

Cannabis has gone through a massive shift in the last decade, and we can’t wait to see what the next ten years will bring!