Modern Cannabis Culture: An excuse to get high or something more?

Cannabis laws are changing. The very same substance that your educators, parents or even your friends may have once warned you about, is on its way to legalization. The stuff you may know as a drug is now being used as a medicine in cutting edge facilities. Even such states as Washington and Colorado have legalized the plant recreationally, allowing any citizen of these states the right to possess and privately smoke it if they wish.  The debate about legalization is over, the question is, what is coming of it and what links the users of this plant? In my exploration of this culture, I found these links or commonalities to take the form of common beliefs or ideas people are rallying around.

Some people are outraged over the changes in legislation, but what do you think? After speaking with a past peer, Matt Grenshaw*, about how he is enjoying his new freedoms in Washington, I’m more than convinced there is a segment of his, and my generation which would join him in rejoicing over the new laws.

But as with any legislation, there are advocates, and opponents. I was able to touch base with a true opponent of the changes made in my own grandmother, Mary George. She is not only representative of the opinions of another generation, but also of someone personally aware of the asserted cons of cannabis. As a high school English teacher, she was also recruited to instruct health lessons about the health risks associated with drugs and alcohol use, at South Milwaukee High School.

Views coming from either side of the topic are out there, but what is the greater truth in this situation?

There’s the idea that you’ve quite likely heard growing up from one source or another, that “weed” or “pot” (as slang), is a bad thing. Something that can only really affect you negatively and will make you a bad person for partaking in the plant, regardless of medical versus recreational use.

And then there’s the opposing side of the thought spectrum. The idea that cannabis or marijuana has some legitimate medical applications and benefits. And that recreational use of the plant, through smoking or otherwise is NOT especially harmful to you, physically or mentally

Of these two main directions of thought I obviously found that pretty much the entire modern marijuana culture of today falls into the latter of the two. They think it’s a good thing for more reason than one, and that it comes without negative consequence in its use. And then, I found that this modern marijuana culture can be split into two further categories. First there is the purely medical community, which only studies/applies the plant and accepts its asserted medical value. And the other being the segment of the modern movement which smokes the plant recreationally to enjoy its high, while reaping some medical benefit secondarily.

I was thrilled to get a call back from Matt Grenshaw, an old friend from high school who has made his new home in Washington state while he attends Gonzaga University. He tells that he feels he has fairly easily assimilated himself into the local cannabis culture out there.

I started out by asking Matt what his involvement was and is with marijuana in general. He was quick to correct me that “We just call it weed, or mary for short. People don’t generally go around calling it by those technical of terms.” But he went on to explain that he “smokes the plant recreationally about every other day, more or less depending on what I’m feelin’.” He went on to tell me that his recreational smoking can either be personal or social in nature.

I then followed the tangent of social smoking. I was looking to find out how this custom/recreation of his fit into his social groups. Matt’s solo testimony is helpful but seeing it through the group mentality, I feel would give greater insight into the culture. I then asked Matt about his social life near a collage campus and how his marijuana use fits into that. Matt enthusiastically replied, that “It fits in most everywhere!” He went on to say, “Yeah, I’d say my crowd has somewhat replaced alcohol with weed.” When I ask what exactly he meant by this, he further explained too me that many young, college aged people with whom he hangs out are somewhat sick of drinking alcohol as a fixture to the party scene. In Matt’s words, “No one really feels good after a night of binge drinking, and sometimes it can lead to serious accidents or death. At the parties I go to we just smoke. It’s nice because everyone enjoys a mood-lifting high without over-dosing or getting violent. And if anyone passes out, they are just sleeping, not choking on their own vomit.” I had heard this, that too much marijuana will never lead to death or over-dose. And Matt seems to think that he has confirmed this as a fact. I followed up Matt’s  story by asking him, “So, you don’t think you or your friends have ever been hurt or affected negatively by smoking?” And Matt’s quick, short reply was “No. Though to much of anything isn’t generally good for the human body, moderate weed [cannabis] intake appears to be perfectly safe.”

MARIJUANA

MARIJUANA

Though Matt may be biased as a member of this culture, I am not to doubtful of his assessment. His perspective is one that I am comfortable trusting in, as a double major for physical training and pharmaceutical science.

It would seem to me that the common ideas about Matt and his friends share about cannabis are pretty clearly laid out in my interview with him. They feel general comfort with the safety of recreational cannabis use as opposed to more dangerous alternatives.

Matt’s final suggestion for me in my endeavor, was to look to the history of Marijuana. He told me I ought not be so surprised over this revitalization in cannabis culture, because its medical and recreational use appearently go back thousands of years. This was news to me!
My understanding of Marijuana while growing up was that it was just a street drug, but I’m now finding that view to be a bit limited.

The earliest record of Cannabis being mentioned comes to us from the empire of Ancient China, first mentioned at about 2900 BC. This mention is translated loosely to: “Marijuana is becoming a popular medicine”. However, I found that these are only the earliest records, not the earliest connections between humans and the plant!

Archaeologists have recovered remains and unearthed ancient graves dating back more than 10,000 years, which contained human remains and quantities of the Cannabis plant. . It has even been recorded that Jesus Christ himself used Anointing oil derived from the Cannabis plant! As some of the very first texts start to be published, the main focus is medicine. Some recovered journals from China and India list Cannabis as a cure/treatment for specific ailments, more than 100, including leprosy. A timeline giving the exact order and dates of these developments can be found on http://www.pro-con.org.

Reading all this made a lot of sense. I had never heard that marijuana had been used to treat such a variety of illnesses. I can also understand the appeal of treating ailments with something that’s grown, instead of manufactured. As I stated earlier, I found that the modern cannabis culture is divided mainly between those interested in it for medical use, and those interested in it for recreational use. But, why has this culture been pushed into the underground, why is it still considered counter-culture in America? After all, this stuff has been used for thousands of years, why is it “bad” now? The real answer is because of its legal status, but I found through my interviews that most people didn’t know why it became illegal in the first place.

The fact is that some people decided it would be better for them, if cannabis were illegal. They launched a bit of a smear campaign as part of a plan for better business.

As stated earlier, Cannabis has been utilized by human kind for thousands of years, for all types of purposes. The female part of the plant used medically and recreationally while the male plant is later discovered for its physical properties and is labeled “Hemp”.  So, “When did use of this plant first become controversial? And why?” Well, up until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the progression of the Cannabis plant had come very far, and with consistent growth of the industry. When the 1900’s came along, America was a bustling capitalist/industrial powerhouse. At this time both Cotton and Hemp are produced industrially for a wide variety of applications. The biggest markets in this industrial production, were Paper, textiles, and ropes/cordage. Paper producers had a decision to make, invest in hemp production exclusively, or invest in timber exclusively. Many went to timber because it was viewed as a near endless source of material that was already in place, no need to grow anything; the forests were there for the harvest. But other paper producers knew that hemp is not only the strongest and most durable fiber out there, but also that it is the easiest to grow. It was easier to grow than cotton, and exponentially easier to grow than trees. And at that point William Randolph Hearst came on the scene. He was the maker of the popular newspaper “The New York Journal”. For the production of his paper Hearst chose to invest all he could into the timber industry. But Hearst didn’t stop there; he was a journalist at heart and used the media to his advantage. He used his newspaper to launch one of the largest smear campaigns ever to exist outside of a political election’s context.

Hearst’s campaign furthered all sorts of propaganda which all pointed to the conclusion that: Cannabis is a bad thing. Hearst asserted that the plant, which had been used medically for thousands of years before his time, was now negatively affecting the health of Americans. One of the most famous of these tales spun was the tale of “Reefer Madness”. This is, the idea that, if a black man smoked marijuana, he would be possessed by an overwhelming urge to rape white women and potentially kill their families.

However untrue the contents of this campaign might have been, the core message that, “Cannabis is a bad thing”, stuck with the American public. The plant becomes completely illegal by the 1930’s across most of America. Subsequent generations followed the same line of thought that was furthered originally by Hearst. This was confirmed in an interview conducted with Mary George, a former South Milwaukee High School English teacher, who was born in 1944. When asked about her general thoughts on the plant she replied “The stuff rots your brain and it’s just bad for you. Smoking it leaves you dumb and can cause long term brain damage. It [the modern medical marijuana movement] is just an excuse to get high.” This is certainly a conformation that Hearst’s ideology is still alive in America today.

The viewpoints gathered from my two primary sources are completely opposite. But, I was not able to find anything grounded in science that noted cannabis to have any long-term, negative side effects. This would lead me to believe that most anyone still carrying around this outdated ideology could likely trace it all the way back to William Randolph Hearst. Some American’s, including my Grandmother, think this modern cannabis culture is all just an excuse to get high. Young people trying to get there hands on what the government has outlawed for good reason. But I no longer share that view with her. I see this culture as something a bit bigger. I now understand what an impact this plant has made, medically, recreationally, throughout history and again today.

*=Changed upon request

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