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Beyond the High: A Brief History of Cannabis

Table of Contents:


High-end pre-roll packs, CBD-mushroom tinctures, and other modern products are hot topics in cannabis right now. But how did we get here? Cannabis has taken a tumultuous path to get to the (mostly) legal market we see today.


1. A Look Back into History

Vintage illustration of flowering hemp/cannabis plant.
Illustration by: Unknown

Long before it was ever a sought-after good, cannabis had humble beginnings by serving the public as a mass-produced fiber. Hemp is a cannabis byproduct that is low in THC and has been cultivated for thousands of years for its strong fibers, which can be used to make a variety of products, including rope, cloth, and paper.


At this time, hemp was treated like any other crop and was particularly important to the development of colonial America. By the 17th century, hemp was struggling to become established in Northern states. Because of this, hemp was primarily grown in the South, where large numbers of enslaved African Americans were forced to cultivate and process the crop. As the United States became industrialized, cotton became the favorable fiber for its softer feel, causing hemp to fall out of popularity.


By the mid-19th century, the Western mainstream had accepted the cannabis plant for its medicinal properties. It was included in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942. Medical professionals for the following decades continued to research the benefits of cannabis and found that this medicine could be used to treat a wide range of ailments, including pain, inflammation, anxiety, and even seizures.


Soon pharmacies across the United States were stocked with cannabis, usually prescribed in the form of an alcohol-based tincture. However, as the 20th century began, attitudes toward cannabis began to shift.


2. Forced into Hiding

Vintage cannabis propaganda poster saying "Devil's Harvest"
Illustration by: Unkown

By the turn of the century, the United States had begun to impose regulations on the pharmaceutical industry. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act listed cannabis as an "addictive and/or dangerous" drug, alongside alcohol, opium, and morphine. This was the early framework of the federal government playing a role in regulating food and drugs.


In the 1910s and 1920s, newspapers began running sensationalist stories about the supposed dangers of "marijuana" (a term that was largely unknown at the time), linking the drug to violent crime and deviant behavior. These stories often featured racist depictions of Mexican and African American users, portraying them as dangerous. This moral panic caused by the introduction of 'marijuana' was eventually used as a tactic to search for and deport Mexican immigrants.


Over the next century, cannabis was treated as a dangerous drug. Minorities and people struggling economically were being convicted disproportionately for cannabis use. By the 21st century, the public demanded change. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis use.

Today, we have progressed to where over half of U.S. states have legal recreational programs.


Unfortunately, racial inequality is still rooted in the modern cannabis industry.


Today, there are disproportionate rates of arrests and convictions for cannabis-related offenses among minority communities. Additionally, access to resources has posed significant challenges for aspiring minority entrepreneurs, hindering their ability to thrive in the legal industry.


Limited representation and leadership opportunities have further contributed to the marginalization of minorities within the cannabis sector.


3. The Future of Cannabis

Today, cannabis is legal for recreational use in 23 states. For many legacy operators in the industry, this was a difficult transition. Obtaining dispensary licenses, keeping up with changing label requirements, and dealing with outdated social structures have prevented minority groups, particularly women and POC persons, from gaining positions of leadership in cannabis.


Industry leaders are positioned now more than ever to redefine the social standards of cannabis. By providing clear product information, in-depth testing, and transparent labeling, cannabis leaders can help eliminate barriers to entry and empower consumers to make informed choices. Supporting diverse, ethical brands will be the first step to empowering communities that have been harmed by cannabis prohibition.


Summary:

The future of the cannabis market holds tremendous potential for innovation, accessibility, and inclusivity. Through this, we can break free from historical constraints and create an industry that aligns with our values and aspirations, fostering a sense of inclusivity, diversity, and enjoyment for all. How are you fostering a better tomorrow for the cannabis industry? Let us know in the comments!

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