The Golden State has a reputation for producing some of the loudest and most potent marijuana in the country, but how did California earn its status as a cannabis capital? Has the West Coast always been on the cutting edge of cannabis, and if so, why? Keep reading to learn more about the history of cannabis in California.
A Brief History Of Cannabis Worldwide
According to anthropologists and archeologists, people have grown and used the cannabis plant for an extremely long time. In fact, it might be one of the first plants early humans ever cultivated.
Originally, cannabis grew natively in Eastern Asia, around the area of what is now Mongolia and China. The ancient cultures from these lands began harvesting hemp around the pre-neolithic period, mostly for the fibrous stalks which were used to make textiles. The seeds also functioned as an important part of these early human diets.
A growing collection of evidence also suggests that these burgeoning civilizations also employed cannabis for ritualistic and spiritual purposes, which means they may have been aware of the plant’s psychoactive effects much earlier than we originally assumed.
Soon, cannabis cultivation would spill over to the west to the Scythians and eventually be adopted by the Arab world during the height of the Islamic Golden Age. From there, it would spread to Europe. Spaniard conquistadors would have been the first to cultivate the plant in the Western Hemisphere during their colonization of the present-day Americas and would have been the first to cultivate the crop in California. English settlers coming from the mayflower also most certainly brought hemp seeds with them to plant in the New World, as the fibers would be necessary to sustain the colonies.
How Cannabis Got To Humboldt County
Today, Humboldt County has strong associations with the commercial cannabis trade—both the legal and illicit varieties. Have you ever wondered how that started?
Back in the 60s, California functioned as the epicenter for America’s counterculture movement. Many of the country’s youth flocked out west to be a part of a radical shift in consciousness. By the ‘70s, however, California hippies were looking to show their contempt for the system by completely disengaging with it. The residents of urban centers like Los Angeles and San Francisco sought to escape the daily grind of traditional life by returning to nature, and there was no better place than underneath the shelter of the towering redwoods in Humboldt County.
Those rebellious hippies brought marijuana seeds along with them and sold marijuana to help pay for their new land—shaping the area into the cannabis powerhouse it is today.
California At The Forefront Of Cannabis Legalization
Before California became a hotbed of cannabis cultivation, the state was at the forefront of legalization efforts, largely thanks to the efforts of LGBTQ activists. The Castro District in San Francisco was particularly devastated by the AIDS epidemic, and without any federal assistance or progress made by the mainstream medical community, many patients turned to marijuana to combat the wasting that came with the disease.
However, it was still deemed an illegal substance despite the immense therapeutic benefits it brought the community. Early champions of medical marijuana like Dennis Peron set up what they called “Buyers Clubs,” which functioned as proto-dispensaries to help safely distribute cannabis to the patients who needed it most.
Eventually, through the tireless efforts of people like Peron, Proposition 215 passed in ‘96, allowing for patients to legally access medical marijuana in California. It was the first bill of its ilk, and it helped pave the way for all future legalization efforts. Twenty years later, the state would pass Proposition 64, allowing for the sale of recreational marijuana.