About the history of cannabis sativa

In the 2020 election, the voters of the state of New Jersey decided it was time to decriminalize the recreational use of cannabis. Some political cognoscenti believe this change will accelerate the drive to legalize cannabis in New York. The theory is that the Empire state will not be willing, over the long term, to lose out on tax revenue to its tri-state neighbor – particularly during the current economic crisis.

While I've known people over the years who have used cannabis for recreational purposes, I don't know much about it. I mean this botanically, culturally, and historically. What I know of cannabis comes from popular culture, drug war propaganda, or the endorsements of cannabis users. Since it seems that legal cannabis will become more more normalized in the next decade, I figure I should learn more about it. I've already read Tom Standage's wonderful “A History of the World in 6 Glasses”, so I searched around for a similar book on cannabis. I managed to find “Getting High: Marijuana through the Ages” by John Chasteen, a professor from UNC-Chapel Hill.

I am still working my way through this book, but I have already learned much about the history and language of cannabis usage. There are two prominent observations I can make from my reading. First, recreational use of cannabis has typically been associated with poor or lower class people in multiple societies. Where alcohol has been almost universally considered the mainstream intoxicant, cannabis has been enjoyed by those who do not have the means to purchase alcohol in significant quantities. Cannabis has always been a much less expensive alternative. Second, cannabis has long been associated with the counterculture elements of society – from 60's hippies to Sufi mystics. Cannabis use has been a means for members of the counterculture to enhance their philosophical or religious explorations.

These associations go back pretty far in history and across cultures. For me, this seems to indicate that cannabis use – legal or otherwise – will continue to be considered deviant or outside of the social norm. Alcohol will continue to be king, especially for those who can afford it.