Cannabis is more than just a plant. It’s more than just an alternative medicine, and it’s more than just a way to catch a buzz in your buddy’s basement. Cannabis brings people together—artists, musicians, free-thinkers, and radicals have enjoyed it for years while imbuing a bit of cannabis culture into their own communities. Let’s take a look at how the cannabis community has evolved over the last century and the impacts it’s had on all of American culture.
Cannabis And The Jazz Age
Cannabis culture in America goes all the way back to the roaring twenties when swinging jazz ensembles were ubiquitous in bordellos and illegal speakeasies. During this era, most conservative white families had little real-life experience with cannabis, aside from the propaganda they might have seen in exploitation films and poorly made PSAs. However, for the primarily African American jazz community, marijuana use was extremely common.
Despite the modern perception of Jazz being somewhat milquetoast, the progenitors of swing music were the of their era.
Not only were musicians smoking dope with regularity, the plant often took the role of muse, inspiring many a marijuana-themed tune. In fact, one 1989 compilation album titled Reefer Songs famously assembled some of the most famous cannabis-themed jazz songs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. It includes tunes like Barney Bigard’s Sweet Marijuana Brown and Buck Washington’s Save The Roach For Me, with explicit cannabis references right there in the title.
Cannabis And The Beat Literary Movement
Marijuana’s influence on popular music continues into the modern era, but it was specifically jazz that helped introduce cannabis to the literary world.
The beat generation, a group of poets and authors who explored post-war American culture while focusing on themes like freedom and improvisation, was drawn to jazz culture and was heavily influenced by it. Beatniks like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg adopted more than just the rhythm of jazz; they also adopted cultural idiosyncrasies like cannabis use. That’s right, many of the American classics from the ‘40s and ‘50s you read in school were composed under the influence of marijuana.
Cannabis And The Social Movements Of The ‘60s And ‘70s
The ‘60s and ‘70s are perhaps the two decades most associated with widespread cannabis use in America. What had once only been relegated to the outermost fringe of society quickly began to enter a more mainstream place in the culture.
During this time music festivals like Woodstock were widely attended and completely shrouded in hazy pot smoke. It’s during this era where we first start to see cannabis become associated with social and political movements in a real tangible way.
The war in Vietnam raged on for twenty years despite becoming increasingly unpopular back stateside. Student-led anti-war movements harnessed the youth’s dissatisfaction and channeled it towards other radical causes like the civil rights movement. Cannabis was a staple among these young activists, and you best believe that the air around protests and demonstrations was teeming with the skunky smoke of marijuana.
As you can tell, cannabis has been integral in shaping the culture of America. It’s even more impressive considering that the plant’s been illegal for nearly a century. However, that’s finally starting to change.
Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is now federally legal again for the first time in almost a hundred years. Currently, 18 states have made allowances for the sale of recreational marijuana products, and even more have medical programs. Today, the cannabis community isn’t just made up of counterculture figures and Avant-garde artists. Your traditional grandmother is just as likely to use cannabis as the Soundcloud rapper across the street.
The community is growing, the culture is shifting, but more people than ever are able to access the curative benefits of cannabis. We can’t wait to see what the future holds!