HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL USES OF CANNABIS AND THE CANADIAN "MARIJUANA CLASH"
Prepared For The Senate Special Committee On Illegal Drugs
Law and Government Division
12 April 2002
LIBRARY OF PARLIAMENT
Part I – Cultural Uses of Cannabis Throughout the World
A. Historical Origins and Uses of Cannabis
2. Central Asia
3. Ancient Near East
b. Biblical Origins
B. Properties of the Production of Cannabis
1. Climatic Conditions for Cannabis Production
2. Classes of Psychoactive Cannabis Preparations
C. Cultural Uses of Cannabis
3. South America – Brazil
a. Ganja Socialization in the Home and Use Primarily by Males in Lower-Class Working Families
c. Working Class Women in Jamaica
Part II – North American Context of Cannabis Use
A. History of Cannabis in North America
B. Cannabis Use in Canada
Conclusion – The Marijuana Clash in Canada:
A Moral Debate
This paper provides a brief summary of the cultural uses of cannabis throughout history. As far back as the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, the cannabisplant was originally harvested for the fibre from its thick-stemmed girth for use in everything from a ships’ rigging, to the noose that hangmen slipped around the necks of the condemned.() Even today, cannabis is cultivated for similar industrial purposes such as making paper and clothing.
The focus of this paper will be on the much more controversial usage of cannabis. In addition to its production of fibre, the cannabisplant also became known as early as pre-historical times for its thick sticky resin (delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC()), which produces psychoactive effects in humans.
Presently, in some countries this intoxicating resin is illegal (e.g., Canada). Yet, in other countries the use of cannabis is tolerated (e.g., Netherlands). These wandering legalities of cannabisare not rootless and can be best understood with cultural and historical perspectives in mind. As anthropologists and historians have revealed, cultural traditions, climatic differences, medicinal practices, as well as historical, political, legal and economic forces play a large part in the type of role cannabis has in different societies and cultures.() This creates marked cultural differences in uses of the plant as well as the context of its use. For instance, many cultural groups from around the world believe that “the smoking of marijuana is a valuable means of relaxation, introspection, and sociability”() while other cultural groups believe that “marijuana has the immediate effect of producing a burst of energy sufficient for completing laborious tasks.”() The realization that cannabis plays significantly different roles in various cultures is of great significance for Canadians since Canada is a mosaic country containing a cross-section of immigrants from countries throughout the world with varying cultural values regarding cannabis. Recognizing different cultural usages of cannabis is challenging however, because ‘we do not like to see other people defend something we [as Canadians have historically] regard[ed] as morally wrong.’() However such an understanding is important not only for gaining insight into why the cannabis issue has come to a boiling point in Canadian society (as well as many other countries), but also for informing future policy developments on cannabis in Canada.
begin, this paper gives a brief description of the historical origins of the
cultural psychoactive uses of cannabis. Before continuing with further
cultural uses of psychoactive cannabis, a description of the climatic growing
conditions and the potency levels of psychoactive cannabis is given in order
to emphasize that environmental conditions play a significant part in the
cultural use of the cannabis plant. Following this is a discussion of
the various cultural uses of cannabis in regions such as India, Africa, Brazil
and Jamaica. The second half of the paper then discusses the North
American and specifically the Canadian cultural context of the use of the
cannabis plant, including an examination of the economic, political and legal
factors that have influenced its use. It illustrates that Canadian
society did not use cannabis for psychoactive purposes until the middle of the
20th century. The paper concludes by emphasizing that since
Canadians have recently been exposed to different cultural uses of
psychoactive cannabis, knowledge of other cultural uses of cannabis is
important for future policy development of the cannabis issue in Canada.
PART I – CULTURAL USES OF CANNABIS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD
It is difficult to say exactly where and when the cannabisplant originated. Some believe its origins were in central Asia. Others however, believe that because of its extensive medical and agricultural documentation in ancient Chinese literature, the cannabis plant actually originated in China. “Although the body of literature concerning hemp (cannabis) has grown rapidly in the last decade, the exact origin of the plant has yet to be established; the historical routes of its diffusion remain obscure.”()
Archaeologists discovered an ancient village in China, containing the earliest known record of the use of the cannabisplant. This village dates back over 10 000 years to the Stone Age. Amongst the debris of this village, archaeologists found small pots with patterns of twisted hemp fibre decorating them. This use of the cannabis plant suggests “men have been using the marijuana plant in some manner since the dawn of history.”() Cannabis fibre (hemp) was not only used in China as decoration, but it was also used to make clothes,() ropes, fishing nets() and paper.() It was also important as a food plant and was originally considered one of China’s five cereal grains.() The cannabis plant took on such great importance in the Chinese culture that early priest doctors began using the cannabis plant’s stalk as a symbol of power to drive away evil.
Eventually, when the process of extraction was developed, the Chinese realized the psychoactive use of the oil (resin) from the cannabis seed and applied this to their medicinal practices. The first evidence of the medicinal use of cannabis is found in the book Pên-ts’ao Ching, attributed to the Emperor Shen-nung of about 2000 B.C. Since Chinese medicine has its origins in magic, this book provides records of the Chinese using marijuana both in their medicinal and ritual practices. It was used in cases involving menstrual fatigue, gout, rheumatism, malaria, constipation, and absentmindedness, and to anaesthetize patients during surgical operations.() Other historical therapeutic uses of cannabis that are also emphasized in folk medicine throughout modern Asia include ‘wasting diseases.’ For example, in Thailand, “cannabis is frequently used to stimulate the appetite of sick people and make them sleep… its use to counteract diarrhoea and dysentery is equally common.”()
There is debate in Chinese history over the hallucinogenic use of the cannabis plant’s psychoactive properties. Some Chinese denounced marijuana as the “liberator of sin.”() This may have been due to the growing Chinese religion of Taoism in which “anything that contains yin, such as marijuana, was regarded with contempt since it enfeebled the body when eaten. Only substances filled with yang, the invigorating principle in nature, were looked upon favourably.”() However a late edition of the Pen Ts’ao asserted that while “ma-fen (the fruits of cannabis)… taken in excess will produce hallucinations (literally ‘seeing devils’), if it is taken over a long term, it makes one communicate with spirits and lightens one’s body.”() By the first century A.D., Taoists were using cannabis seeds in their incense burners to provide hallucinations that they valued as a means to achieving immortality.
However, by the 8th century A.D. cannabis had fallen into the background as a hallucinogen and opium took on much greater significance as a hallucinogen in Chinese culture. This non-adoption of cannabis as a hallucinogen can be explained on a cultural basis.
Opium is an Euphorica, a sedative of mental activity. Cannabis, on the other hand, is a Phantastica, a hallucinogenic drug that causes mental exhilaration and nervous excitation. It distorts the sense of time and space. Overuse may cause rapid movements… these effects were duly noted by Chinese physicians at least from the second century A.D. or earlier. They were in every respect inconsistent with the philosophy and traditions of Chinese life. The discontinuation of the use of cannabis by the Chinese can perhaps simply be referred to its unsuitability to the Chinese temperament and traditions. The conformity of an individual in Chinese society is regulated by a culturally instilled sense of shame. The Confucian personality is a shame-oriented personality. The adoption of opium and the non-adoption of cannabis reflect a behavioural response to traditional Chinese society. The opium user was more likely to remain pacific and sedated, and thus not challenge social norms. Cannabis, with its stimulating of erratic effects, was likely to induce acts that might bring shame upon the user or his family.()
Thus, while the psychoactive properties of cannabis have been cited as used by the Chinese, the value of cannabis in China was primarily as a fibre source. There was, however, a continuous record of hemp cultivation in China from Neolithic times, suggesting that cannabis use may have originated in China, rather than in central Asia() where the origination of cannabis has long been attributed.
Many western scholars attribute the origins of cannabis to the Scythians around the 7th century B.C. in and around Siberia, North Central Asia. According to Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived in the fifth century B.C., marijuana was an integral part of the Scythian cult of the dead wherein they honoured the memory and spirits of their departed leaders.() These funeral ceremonies involved the erection of small tents, into which they placed metal censors containing rocks heated from the funeral fires. The Scythians would throw cannabis seeds onto the heated stones to create a thick vapour that they would inhale and become intoxicated. “Seemingly, the purification was the Scythian counterpart to the hard-drinking frazzled Irish wake, with marijuana instead of alcohol as the ceremonial intoxicant.”()
This first ethnographic description of ancient peoples inhaling marijuana as a psychotropic stimulant was further confirmed by a Russian archaeologist, Professor S.I. Rudenko in 1929, who discovered that marijuana was also used by the Scythians in everyday life.() Not only did Rudenko come across the embalmed body of a man and a bronze cauldron filled with burnt marijuana seeds, but he also found some shirts woven from hemp fibre and some metal censors designed for inhaling marijuana smoke, which did not appear to be connected with any religious rite. “To Rudenko, the evidence suggested that inhalation of smouldering marijuana seeds occurred not only in a religious context, but also as an everyday activity, one in which Scythian women participated alongside the men.”()
As recently as 1993, Russian archaeologists confirmed Rudenko’s theory when they discovered a 2000-year-old woman’s body frozen in a tomb in the same Siberian burial ground where Rudenko had made his first discovery. The female Russian mummy was so well preserved that intricate tattoos were found on her left arm, leading the archaeologists to conclude that she was both a Scythian princess and a priestess. Buried in a hollowed tree trunk, the archaeologists found a few of her possessions buried alongside her, including a small container of cannabis, which ‘archaeologists believe was smoked for pleasure and used in pagan rituals.’()
Several cannabis commentators believe that the peoples of the Near East were the first to use cannabis for religious purposes due to man’s inability to engage in introspection.() The theory is that the cannabis plant assisted in giving man the ability for introspection, but that man initially believed his own introspection was actually the gods speaking to him. According to Julian Jaynes, a psychologist who wrote, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, “ancient people from Mesopotamia to Peru could not ‘think’ as we do today, and were therefore not conscious… they experienced auditory hallucinations – voices of gods, actually heard as in the Old Testament or the Iliad – which, coming from the brain’s right hemisphere, told a person what to do in circumstances of novelty or stress.” Terrence McKenna expanded this theory in his book called Food of the Gods, and suggests that, “psychoactive plants, like the psilocybin mushroom and cannabis, acted as catalysts and accelerators for mankind’s transition into consciousness and self reflection. The hallucinations and mystical insights experienced by those who consumed these plants convinced the ancient worshippers that they had come into contact with the divine.”()
In an example of this, the Sumerians of the Ancient Near East each developed their own ‘personal deity’ whom they would worship each day by burning cannabis. The Sumerians believed that the daily worship of their personal deity assisted them in earning a living and being courageous in battle. However, commentators believe that this ‘personal deity’ was actually just a “personification of a man’s luck, and his capacity for thinking and acting.”() In other words, cannabis became entrenched into Sumerian religion because they believed it was putting them in touch with their gods. Researchers believe however, that cannabis inhalation was actually just facilitating the Sumerians’ discovery of personal inner thinking.
There are many contested theories of the appearance of the use of cannabis by peoples of the Near East in the Old Testament. These theories are often challenged as being quite obscure with no clear history.() However as C. Creighton wrote in his article, On Indications of the Hachish-Vice in the Old Testament, “there are reasons… why there should be no clear history. All vices are veiled from view, and that is true especially of the vices of the East. Where they are alluded to at all, it is in cryptic, subtle, witty and allegorical terms. Therefore, if we are to discover them, we must be prepared to look below the surface of the text.”()
In Creighton’s text, he asserts that cannabis appears to have been eaten by both Saul and Jonathan in I Samuel 14, 25-45. In Jonathan’s case, the Bible passage is as follows:
And all [they of] the land came to a wood, and dropped; but no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath; wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in an honey-comb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened.()
Creighton asserts that over the years the Hebrew words ‘yagarah hadebash’ have been translated incorrectly into ‘honey comb.’ He says that, “The earlier [translations], however obscure, show that the ‘honey’ was of a peculiar kind”() and that the Syrian version of the text is actually a better account. The Syrian account says that Jonathan dipped his rod in a field of flower-stalks with resinous exudation, which would be produced in times of heat – similar to the behaviour of cannabis resin.
If proof exists that peoples in the Old Testament used cannabis, this in fact predates the belief that the word ‘cannabis’ originated with the Scythians. Like Creighton, commentators such as Sula Benet, Sara Bentowa and Chris Bennett also delve below the surface of the Biblical text to argue that the word cannabis was actually borrowed by the Scythians from Semitic languages such as Hebrew. The word ‘kaneh bosm’ appears several times in the Old Testament() “both as incense, which was an integral part of religious celebration, and as an intoxicant,”() but a specific example sees Moses using it in Exodus 30:23 when God commanded him to make “holy anointing oil of myrrh, sweet cinnamon, kaneh bosm, and kassia.” Benet explains that in this passage the Hebrew definition of kaneh bosm is ‘aromatic reed,’ kan meaning ‘reed’ or ‘hemp,’ while bosm means ‘aromatic.’() The linguistic resemblance of the word ‘kaneh bosm’ to the Scythian word cannabis, and the Hebrew definition of kaneh bosm provide Benet and Bentowa with enough evidence to assert that the intoxicating properties of cannabis were probably first used by the peoples of the Near East and then spread through contact with the Scythians.()
Today, there are groups such as The Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church who fully believe in the teachings of the Bible and that “marijuana is a godly creation from the beginning of the world… Its purpose in creation is as a fiery sacrifice to be offered to our Redeemer during obligations… Ganja (cannabis) is the sacramental rights of every man worldwide.”() As further confirmation of this belief, they point to the Encyclopedia Brittanica’s section on Pharmacological Cults, which states: “the ceremonial use of incense in contemporary ritual is most likely a relic of the time when the psychoactive properties of incense brought the ancient worshipper into touch with supernatural forces.”()
Before continuing with an outline of several cultural uses of the cannabis plant’s psychoactive properties, it is important to describe the climatic conditions required for growing cannabis since this is an influential factor in the cannabis plant’s production of the psychoactive resin (THC). In addition, it is necessary to clarify that there are different classes of psychoactive cannabis preparations, as well as various cultural names for each class.
Cannabis is like a weed and will grow almost anywhere. However, its optimum resin-producing environment is in very hot climates where cannabis protects itself from death by producing as much resin as is needed in order to trap in water. “Depending on the conditions under which it grows, cannabis will either produce more resin or more fibre. When raised in hot, dry climates, resin is produced in great quantities and fibre quality is poor. In countries with mild, humid weather, less resin is produced and the fibre is stronger and more durable.”() Thus, since Europe has milder, humid weather, it is not surprising that “most Europeans knew very little of the intoxicating properties of cannabis until the 19th century when hashish was imported from India and the Arab countries.”() Prior to the 19th century, most Western countries used the cannabis plant only as a source of fibre.
The cannabis plant has two significant varieties that were catalogued in 1753 by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. The most common is cannabis sativa, which is gangly, loose-branched, can reach a height of twenty feet and is productive of fibre and inferior seed oil. Cannabis indica grows to three or four feet in height, is densely branched, shaped like a pyramid and yields higher quantities of intoxicating resin.() There are three separate resin potency levels in cannabis plants, subject to which part of the plant is used. Each potency level has a different name dependent upon cultural language.
Mild Potency: Marijuana (Europe and North America), Mariguango (Mexican) Dagga (South Africa), Kif (North Africa), Bhang (India):
The flowering leaves of ripe male and female hemp plants secrete a sticky resin which is the source of all, or almost all, of the THC (delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol, the ingredient which reproduces in man all the mind-altering effects that follow smoking or eating marijuana or hashish) in cannabis. In this form of cannabis use, the leaves and sometimes the stems and even seeds or entire plants are ground up and smoked or baked into cookies. The potency varies with the THC content. Bhang is a little different as it usually involves only leaves, is drunk and is usually somewhat richer in THC than North American marijuana.
Intermediate Potency: Ganja (India):
The dried flowering tops of cultivated plants are covered with THC as a result of not having released their seeds. These are harvested and used in ‘ganja.’ Ganja is usually smoked, however it is also drunk, or baked into sweets. Outside of India, it is virtually unknown.
High Potency: Charas (India), Hashish (Arabia and North America), Hashishi (Syria):
Almost all of the THC is contained in the resin on the leaves near the flowering tops. The resin is scraped off of the leaves, pressed into blocks, and usually smoked. Hashish is about 10 times as powerful as marijuana and is the only cannabis derivative that has the capacity to produce hallucinogenic and psychotomimetic effects with any regularity. An Indian pharmacologist, Chopra, has described another method of harvesting charas: Sometimes men, naked, or dressed in leather suits or jackets, passed through the fields of cannabis sativa rubbing and crushing roughly against the plants early in the morning just after sunrise when a fall of dew has taken place. The resinous material that sticks on is then scraped off them and forms the charas resin of commerce.
Other common names for cannabis include grifa in Spain and Mexico; anascha in Russia; kendir in Tartar; konop in Bulgaria and konope in Poland; momea in Tibet; kanbun in Chaldea; dawamesk in Algeria; liamba or maconha in Brazil; and bust or sheera in Egypt.()
Cannabis has always been a customary part of life in India, and was “intimately associated with magical, medical, religious, and social customs in India for thousands of years.”() This may partially be due to India’s semi-arid climate, perfect for growing an abundance of cannabis.
According to legend found written in a collection of four holy books called the Vedas, an Indian god named Siva is described as The Lord of ‘Bhang,’ the drink made of cannabis leaves, milk, sugar and spices. Historically and continuing today, “bhang is to India what alcohol is to the West.”() Orthodox Hindu rules have traditionally prohibited the use of alcohol except for the warrior Rajput caste who, despite the rules, indulge in alcohol. For Members of the Brahmin caste, cannabis was unequivocally sanctioned for social use in order to help achieve the contemplative spiritual life they strive to lead. According to one historian of cannabis, even in the 1940’s bhang was integral to social activities including special festivities and in the home.() In special festivities such as weddings, it was said that a father must bring bhang to the ceremonies to prevent evil spirits from hanging over the bride and groom. Bhang was also a symbol of hospitality. “A host would offer a cup of bhang to a guest as casually as we would offer someone in our home a glass of beer. A host who failed to make such a gesture was despised as being miserly and misanthropic.”()
Cannabis is also renowned in India for its use in the Tantric religious yoga sex acts. About an hour before carrying out the yoga ritual, the devotee would put a bowl of bhang before him and after reciting a mantra to the goddess Kali, the devotee would drink the bhang potion. “The goal of the Tantra initiate was to achieve unity of mind, body, and spirit through yoga and marathon sexual episodes. This was fuelled by bhang, which heightens the experience.”()
The most potent Indian preparation of cannabis called ‘charas’ has the same religious importance to many Hindus that wine has to Christians celebrating the Eucharist. The Hindu mystics who smoked charas in the prayer ceremony called Puja especially favoured charas.() As well, the holy men called ‘fakirs’ who were famous for walking on hot coals and sleeping on beds of nails, believed that charas put them in closer communion with their gods.()
While the cannabis plant’s pre-eminence in India was, and continues to be its association with religious life and as a social lubricant, cannabis was also used as a medicinal aid. In Indian folk medicine, hemp boughs were thrown into fires in order to overcome evil forces. Sushruta, a legendary physician of ancient India, recommended it to relieve congestion, a remedy for diarrhoea and as an ingredient in a cure for fevers.() A number of years later, when the Indian Hemp Drug Commission of 1893-1894 heard testimony from hundreds of both native and Western doctors about the cannabis plant’s therapeutic uses in treatment of everything from cramps and headaches to bronchitis and diabetes as well as its use as an analgesic for toothaches and anaesthetic for minor surgeries, the Commission realized that “hemp drugs appear now to be frequently used for precisely the same purposes and in the same manner as was recommended centuries ago, [and] many uses of these drugs by native doctors are in accord with their application in modern European therapeutics. Cannabis must be looked upon as one of the most important drugs of Indian material medica.”()
the fact that the Indian Hemp Drug Commission rejected total prohibition of
cannabis because of its importance in medicine as well as in cultural rituals
and traditions, in 1896 the British Indian Government passed Act XII to
discourage the habitual use of cannabis and its use as an intoxicant.
The Act requested that state governments improve their local excise systems.
Later in 1930 the Dangerous Drugs Act was passed, empowering state
governments to make rules permitting and regulating the inter-state import and
export from the territories under their administration, the transport,
possession and sale of manufactured drugs (which included medicinal cannabis).()
While there continued to be no national legal provisions for the control of
the cannabis plant, the India national government persisted in pressing state
governments to discourage the use of cannabis. By 1964 India had both
signed and ratified the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 and
then in 1985 the cultivation, possession, use and consumption of any mixture
of cannabis came to be prohibited with severe penalties by the national
government of India under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances
Act, 1985. Today, although cannabis continues to be an integral
element of cultures in India, the laws seem to have succeeded in discouraging
its use. “From the numerous popular stories that are current among the
people, it would appear that the habitual use of cannabis existed on a much
more extensive scale in India in past centuries.”()
The cultural use of cannabis is widespread throughout Africa. While the plant is not indigenous to Africa, several traditions of religious, medical and recreational cannabis smoking have developed since its introduction to Africa over six centuries ago.
Aside from Egypt, where cannabis has been grown for over a thousand years due to the influence of India and Persia, the first archaeological evidence of cannabis in central and southern parts of Africa comes from 14th century Ethiopia where two ceramic smoking-pipe bowls containing traces of cannabis were discovered.() Researchers hypothesize that since cannabis was outlawed in Egypt in the 3rd century A.D. and was punishable by religious law and judicial authorities, several Muslim communities who wanted to continue to grow cannabis migrated south and introduced cannabis to Ethiopia.() Researchers also believe that later on, around 1500 A.D., the fully developed trade routes between Arabia, Turkey, India and Persia with the East African coast, permitted the Arab traders to introduce cannabis to the more southern parts of Africa.()
While Arab traders and North Africans brought cannabis to the central and southern parts of Africa, they did not import techniques of psychoactive cannabis use. For the Hottentot tribe of the Cape of Good Hope, “the simple but efficacious practice of throwing hemp plants on the burning coals of a fire and staging what might today be called a ‘breathe-in’ seems to have been popular initially.”() The King of another tribe called the Kafirs, also of the Cape of Good Hope, administered cannabis through beverages very similar to the Indian ‘bangue.’ “Those the chief desired to entertain were offered food and intoxicating spirits which they must drink, although against their stomach, not to condemn the king’s bounty.”()
Eventually, by 1705, the Hottentots learned the art of smoking. The habit of smoking cannabis, which many tribes called ‘dagga,’ spread from tribe to tribe quite quickly. The primary method in which southern and central African tribes learned of smoking dagga was through their trading relations with the nomadic ‘San’ tribe hunters. “The hunters were addicted to smoking and so in exchange for tobacco and dagga they supplied feathers, game, and other products collected in the hunt.”() Learning the art of smoking dagga altered African culture from chewing to smoking, and elaborated the techniques of dagga consumption.() Several different pipes began to be developed out of gourds, bamboo stalks and coconut bowls. When smoking cannabis reached the northern areas of Africa, “it was the North Africans who developed the water pipe, which cooled and to some degree purified the smoke.”() North African tribes referred to cannabis under the name kif in this apparatus.
There are several examples of how cannabis took on different prominent symbols in African tribes. In North Africa, “music, literature and even certain aspects of architecture have evolved with cannabis-directed appreciation in mind. Some homes actually have kif rooms, where family groups gather to sing, dance, and relate histories based on ancient cultural traditions.”()
A researcher visiting the Congo, discovered that around 1888, the King of the Balubas tribe, which had conquered several tribes near it with similar rituals,
ordered all the ancient idols and fetishes of conquered territories to be publicly burned. He realized that a multiplicity of tribal gods would hardly serve as a unifying force, so he acted to strengthen his lordship and bind his subjects into one ‘nation’ by replacing the old idols with a new and more powerful one – Cannabis!()
Thus for the Balubas tribe, cannabis took on ritualistic importance on state and feast days and as an evening pastime.
Cannabis was also incorporated into many African tribes’ religious and magical beliefs. The Bashilenge was a religious cult that developed out of several small clubs of hemp smokers who had their own plots of land for the cultivation of hemp.
Each tribesman was required to participate in the cult and show his devotion by smoking as frequently as possible. They attributed universal magical powers to hemp, which was thought to combat all kinds of evil and they took it when they went to war and when they travelled. The hemp pipe assumed a symbolic meaning for the Bashilenge somewhat analogous to the significance that the peace pipe had for American Indians. No holiday, no trade agreement, no peace treaty was transacted without it.()
The Bashilenge tribe also made cannabis an important part of their jurisprudence.
Any native accused of a crime was required to smoke dagga until he either admitted his crime or lost consciousness. In cases of theft, the robber had to pay a fine, consisting of salt, to each person who witnessed his smoking. The crime of adultery required that the guilty male smoke dagga as well. However, there was no fine. The amount of dagga to be smoked depended on the status of the man who had been cuckolded. If the latter were important, the guilty man had to smoke until he lost consciousness. He would then be stripped, pepper would be dropped into his eyes and/or a thin ribbon would be drawn through his nasal bone.()
Several tribes such as the Zulu and the Sothos were known to smoke cannabis prior to going to war. “Young Zulu warriors were especially addicted to dagga and under the exciting stimulation of the drug were capable of accomplishing hazardous feats.”() There are those historians who also believe that the Zulus were intoxicated with dagga when they attacked the Dutch at the Battle of Blood River in 1838.() Similarly, the Sothos tribe used dagga to strengthen their spirits prior to an onslaught.
Besides for Northwest Africa where “cannabis either was not introduced or was not accepted until after the Second World War”() African tribes throughout the rest of the continent also used cannabis in folk traditional medicinal practice. “The plant was used as a remedy for snake bite (Hottentots), to facilitate childbirth (Sotho), and among Africans of Rhodesia as a remedy for anthrax, malaria, blackwater fever, blood poisoning, and dysentery. It was also famous in relieving the symptoms of asthma.”()
Africa became a country of cannabis cultures long before the arrival of Europeans. Despite the Europeans’ attempts to outlaw the psychoactive use of cannabis, it continues to be deeply ingrained in the cultures of several African tribes.
In 1549, the French and the British imported Angolan slaves from the southwest coast of Africa to work as labourers on the sugar plantations of northeastern Brazil. “The slaves carried the seeds in cloth dolls tied to their ragtag clothing. The planters permitted slaves to grow their maconha between the rows of cane, and to smoke and dream during the periods of inactivity between harvests. But the planters stuck to their perfumed cigars.”() Many planters felt that allowing their slaves to smoke marijuana, encouraged them to work hard.()
Cannabis came to be regarded in Brazil as the opium of the poor, used for cordage and clothing, comestible and spice, energizer and invigorant, as well as medicine and euphoriant.() This pattern of cannabis use replicated a pattern that Vera Rubin calls the “ganja complex.” “Except for ritual purposes involving members of the priestly class, regular multipurpose use in the folk stream has been generally confined to the lower social classes: peasants, fishermen, rural and urban artisans and manual labourers.”()
Upper class use of cannabis in Brazil was not unheard of however. In 1808, the Portuguese Royal Court, threatened by Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, escaped from Portugal to Brazil, settling in Rio de Janeiro. The Court spent approximately six years in Brazil, returning to Portugal at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1817, Queen Carlota Joaquina, wife of Emperor Don Joao VI, King of Portugal and Brazil, was dying. She asked her favourite Angolan slave who accompanied her back to Portugal from Brazil to “bring an infusion of the fibres of damba do amazonas, with which we sent so many enemies to hell.” The slave made an infusion of cannabis and arsenic and gave it to her. “Upon taking the infusion, Dona Carlota felt no pain while dying because of the analgesic action of diamba.”() With this account, there are some anthropologists who believe that it was actually the Portuguese Court who introduced cannabis to Brazil during their short stay.
Whether it was the Angolan slaves or the Portuguese Court who introduced cannabis to Brazil, there are indications that smoking marijuana was also observed among the Indians during the Colonial period.() The Catimbo Indians used marijuana in their own practices in order to receive spirits to cure sick people. An influence of the African Angolan practices led the Catimbo to also use marijuana to induce divination, revelation of secrets and mystic hallucinations.
In the 19th century the use of marijuana was prohibited in Rio de Janeiro. However, the prohibition was not enforced in the provinces where smokers continued to enjoy marijuana use and began growing their own plots next to their houses for personal use.() Often cannabis was used for medicinal and therapeutic purposes: “usually, a preparation of tea, mixed with marijuana leaves is swallowed by the patient to relieve rheumatism, “female troubles,” colic and other common complaints such as toothaches in which marijuana is packed around the aching tooth.”()
Near the beginning of the 20th century, the ‘ganja complex’ had fully developed and many lower class individuals were smoking marijuana both in rural areas and within the cities. Groups of canoemen and fishermen as well as other lower-class Brazilians gathered together on a weekly basis for sessions of collective smoking. This custom, was called Club de Diambistas() in which the primary goal was the search for psychedelic experiences.() It was also smoked in the military barracks and in the prisons, to alleviate boredom and despair.()
Cannabis did not take root in Jamaica until the mid-nineteenth century when East Indian indentured labourers were brought over by the British to work in Jamaica.() Eventually, their knowledge of the cannabis plant and methods of smoking cannabis, or ‘ganja,’ diffused to the black working class.
cannabis is presently officially illegal in Jamaica, ‘cannabis is integrated
with many dimensions of Jamaican culture and is governed by social rules that
guide its use and inhibit abuse.’()
For Jamaicans, ganja is thought of not only as a recreational drug, but
certain cross-cultural groups within Jamaica also view it as an herb that has
both religious and medicinal value. Anthropological studies have shown
that the use of ganja in Jamaica is extraordinarily widespread.()
It is possible to recognize three major groups who use it in culturally varied
ways. First and traditionally, lower-class Jamaicans are socialized to
the uses of ganja at a very young age because of its domestic use in the home.
In addition, young children become exposed to their fathers social use of
ganja. Secondly, members of the Rastafarians, a politico-religious
movement in Jamaica, use ganja as a religious sacrament. Thirdly and
most recently, perhaps due to the growth of Rastafarianism, it is no longer
unusual to see Jamaican women smoking ganja in the manner of their male
a. Ganja Socialization in the Home and Use Primarily by Males in Lower-Class Working Families
Through the ingestion of teas and tonics in herbal remedies, all young children in lower-class working families in Jamaica have at one time or another been exposed to ganja. This social strata of Jamaican society holds the belief that ganja helps to ‘maintain good health and prevent illness and is therapeutic for a variety of complaints including upper respiratory infections, asthma, intestinal problems, glaucoma, gonorrhea, wasting due to malnutrition, and infant diarrhea, endemic fevers, discomfort of teething, and skin burns and abrasions.’() Although the child may have been well aware of the basic ingredient of the teas or tonics, the child never heard the ganja ingredient spoken of by any of the family members because “an aura of secretiveness often surrounds this ordinary practice.”()
Subsequently in a youngster’s adolescent years, even though young boys were cautioned against it, they would often be introduced to smoking ganja by their older peers, who had discovered that their fathers were regular smokers. Not to take part in smoking ganja classified the non-smoker as an outsider because it was symbolic of courage, and of crossing the line from child to man, as well as a sign of friendship and trust.
On one level, smoking the substance is considered adventurous by the adolescent boy: by participating in an illegal practice, even though it is widespread among his elders, the young smoker believes he is demonstrating courage, defiance, and, most importantly, manhood. In subtle ways, the smoking of ganja is considered by the young almost as a rite de passage, an audacious act signifying transition from adolescence to maturity. On another level, particularly for males from the lowest socio-economic rung of the society, smoking symbolizes camaraderie, equality, and belonging; it is a sign of friendship and trustworthiness.()
Not all boys become regular smokers however. To become a regular ganja smoker is dependent on the boy’s reaction to his first experience, and this is determined by the boy himself, as well as his peers through a culturally standardized ‘vision.’ During the first ganja smoking experience, the boy is supposed to see a little dancing person or creature, symbolizing a positive ganja smoking experience. If a boy’s peers decide that he did not see the vision, they say “he doesn’t have the head for it” and this means the boy had a negative ganja smoking experience.() Although a negative experience has the potential of giving the boy social marginality, it is not entirely detrimental, since members of the Jamaican middle and upper class have traditionally disapproved of ganja smoking and considered it illegal. Those who did not participate in ganja smoking had much better chances for upward social mobility.()
When working-class men establish their own households in their twenties, regular users of ganja plant their own supply in an inconspicuous place near their homes. Unlike in younger years when ganja smoking was a central part of social life, at this stage ganja smoking becomes “a natural part of the daily round, an almost unnoticed routine at work parties, lunch breaks, evening visits, and the like.”() Ganja is valued for its ability to increase work capacity, specifically manual labour. The working-class man believes that regular doses of ganja build his blood as well as his strength. In addition, ganja provides immediate bursts of energy.()
Traditional ganja smoking at the working-class level is thus highly based on customary behaviour depending on age, peers and work. Sex could also be another category since traditionally, the female ganja smoker was rare and considered disreputable.()
The Rastafarian cult, unique to Jamaica, is a movement whose members believe that Haile Selasssie, Emperor of Ethiopia, is the Black Messiah who appeared in the flesh for the redemption of all Blacks exiled in the world of White oppressors. For Rastafarians, Ethiopia is the Promised Land where Black people will be repatriated through a wholesale exodus from all Western countries where they have been slaves.()
The Rastafarian movement began to take shape around 1930-33. In 1940, Leonard Howell launched the doctrine of the Rastafarian movement and recruited a large following (between 500-1600 people) to join him in the hills of St. Catherine, overlooking Kingston where he would not be harassed by the police for the radical principles of his doctrine.() Howell became leader of this cult known as “Ethiopian Salvation Society” at the commune called “Pinnacle.” For a living, the people of the commune grew cash crops, including the ganja herb. Many Rastafarians continue to be ganja farmers today.
Ganja became a predominant symbol in the Rastafarian movement and its use became a religious sacrament. Even today, it is believed that ganja is a holy herb and when inhaled, it allows the Rastafarian to ‘loosen up’ his head and truly perceive himself as a Black person without the pre-conditioned forces of European society. This in turn permits the revelation that Haile Selassie is truly their God and Ethiopia, the home of the Blacks.()
The herb is the key to new understanding of the self, the universe, and God. It is the vehicle to cosmic consciousness; it introduces one to levels of reality not ordinarily perceived by the non-Rastafarians, and it develops a certain sense of fusion with all living beings.()
In defence of the belief that cannabis forms part of their heritage, Rastafarians cite several sections of the Bible. They believe that “God who created all things made the herb for human use” and will cite Genesis 1:12 as their proof text:()
And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
also cite the following sections of the Bible as further proof that their use
of cannabis is legitimate:()
…thou shalt eat the herb of the field. (Genesis 3:18)
…eat every herb of the land. (Exodus 10:12)
… Better is a dinner of herb where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. (Proverbs 15:17)
…He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man. (Psalm 104:14)
Ganja smoking was also a symbol of protest for the Rastafarians against the Jamaican establishment and representative of the Rastafarians freedom from Jamaican laws.
Although Haile Selassie passed away in 1975, ganja continues to be an ideological symbol for Rastafarians and continues to be used in the Rastafarian faith to reinforce their liberating ideology.()
Although traditionally it was socially inappropriate for women to smoke ganja, the present situation in Jamaica shows that the number of women who smoke cannabis in a similar recreational manner to their male counterparts has increased dramatically.() This may be due to the influence of Rastafarianism or possibly due to men’s lack of ability to provide support to women and children due to the harsh economy. “When there are no benefits for conforming to the social norms, social rules tend to be observed less stringently.”()
There are a widespread number of views amongst Jamaican women regarding ganja smoking. Similar to Western medical belief, many Jamaican women believe that it is especially harmful to smoke ganja while pregnant. However a number of other Jamaican women believe that ganja smoking actually aids the mother’s care-taking abilities as well as the health of both the baby and the mother.() In a study carried out in Jamaica in 1980 of 30 ganja smoking pregnant women and 30 non-ganja smoking pregnant women it was found that ganja smoking was indeed beneficial for both mother and baby.()
Of significance in relation to cultural uses of cannabis, the study showed that rather than acting as a recreational outlet, ganja smoking helped the pregnant women to deal with the difficulties of pregnancy in a society where, multiple pregnancies are common, families are often in financial difficulty and women must continue to perform hard labour throughout their pregnancy.
For many women, ganja was seen as an option that provided a solution to problems during pregnancy such as loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue. Ganja helped to increase their appetites, control and prevent the nausea of pregnancy, assist them to sleep, and give them the energy they needed to work. For women who are responsible for the full support of their households and who need to accomplish work while not feeling well, ganja smoking is an available and inexpensive solution to this problem. The women with several pregnancies, in particular, reported that both social and private smoking alleviated the feelings of depression and desperation attending motherhood in their impoverished communities.()
Melanie Dreher illustrates in her study that ganja smoking not only has become a recreational activity for many women who decide to breach lower-class social norms it also has a symbolic meaning attached to it for many pregnant women in Jamaica.
While there is strong historical evidence illustrating that the psychoactive properties of cannabis have been used as part of cultural practices of several societies throughout the world, it is unclear when the psychoactive properties of cannabis were discovered in North America. Some scholars believe that cannabis probably existed in North America long before the Europeans arrived. In Chris Bennett’s book Green Gold: Marijuana in Magic and Religion he says, “there is some very good physical evidence that indicates cannabis played a part in some of the native cultures prior to the arrival of Columbus.”() In 1985, Bill Fitzgerald discovered resin scrapings of 500-year-old pipes in Morriston, Ontario containing “traces of hemp and tobacco that is five times stronger than the cigarettes smoked today.”() Other archaeological evidence includes stone and wooden pipes and hemp fibre pouches that were found in the Ohio Valley from about 800 A.D.()
Elders of some North American native tribes can also remember their ancestors using cannabis in a ritual manner. According to Richard L. Lingeman in his book Drugs from A to Z, a 79 year old member of the Cinco Putas tribe in California
recalls his grandmother’s daily ritual when he was a small child. She took some cannabis flower tops out of an intricately carved box then rolled it in handmade corn paper. She held the resulting ‘joint’ upright in front of her and, watching the rising swirled smoke, prayed: “Oh thank-you Great Mother!” for each of the gifts the day had brought, as well as thanks for her present relaxation.()
Even today, there are some North American tribes, especially those from Mexico, who have used cannabis as sacred gift under the name Rosa Maria or Santa Rosa, and continue to use it today.
Indians in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Hidalgo, and Puebla practice a communal curing ceremony with a plant called Santa Rosa, identified as cannabis sativa, which is considered both a plant and a sacred intercessor with the Virgin. Although the ceremony is based mainly on Christian elements, the plant is worshipped as an earth deity and is thought to be alive and to represent a part of the heart of God.()
However, some scholars are doubtful that cannabis was an integral part of the cultures of North American native tribes. “With few exceptions, cannabis has not penetrated significantly into many native religious beliefs and ceremonies.”() These scholars believe that the cultivation of cannabis in the New World originated by its introduction through white settlers. Even if North American natives had been using cannabis prior to White man’s arrival “unfortunately much of the religion and culture of the aboriginal peoples of the western hemisphere was destroyed or driven underground by the European invaders.”()
Hence, there is little evidence that the natives of the continent introduced the white settlers to the cannabis plant or its psychoactive properties. The earliest known evidence is that Louis Hebert, Champlain’s apothecary, introduced the cannabis plant to North American white settlers in 1606. However, the white settlers did not discover the psychoactive properties of cannabis until the end of the 19th century. Rather, the cannabis plant was widely grown across North America for its use as a fibre in clothing and cordage and to provide sails and rigging for ships. The pilgrims also planted hemp soon after its introduction, and used it to cover their wagons.
Colonial governments realized quite quickly the profits that could be made from the production of cannabis fibre (hemp). King James I commanded the American colonists to produce hemp, and later in 1619, the government of the colony of Virginia imposed penalties on those who did not produce cannabis, and awarded bounties for cannabis culture and manufacture.
Similar attempts to stimulate the industry occurred in Eastern Canada as well. Hemp was grown under the French regime, and was the first crop to be subsidized by the government. In 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada distributed hemp seeds to farmers. Later, in the 1820’s, a gentleman by the name of Edward Allen Talbot, Esq., wrote Five Years’ Residence in the Canadas. He believed that if Canada produced enough hemp to supply Britain, this would end their dependence on a foreign power and greatly benefit Canadian settlers. In 1822, the provincial parliament of Upper Canada allocated 300 pounds for the purchase of machinery to process hemp and 50 pounds a year over the next three years for repairs. The 1823 budget also offered incentives to domestic producers. Mr. Fielding, Finance Minister said that there was a market in Canada and with some government encouragement a mill could be established in Manitoba to draw from crops in the vicinity. There were six hemp mills in Canada at the time, and the government financed a seventh, the Manitoba Cordage Company. Near the end of the 19th century however, cannabis production became overshadowed by cotton production since it was less labour intensive. Even with the invention of a new machine in 1917 to make it easier to separate cannabis fibre from the internal woody core, cannabis fibre production did not rise in production again. The new petroleum based synthetic textile companies and the large and powerful newspaper/lumber barons saw hemp production as a threat to their businesses. Thus in 1937, the United States enacted the Marijuana Tax Law, and levied an occupational excise tax upon cannabis fibre producers. The Canadian government, following the American lead, also prohibited production under the Opium and Narcotics Act on 1 August 1938.
Between the years of 1840-1900 cannabis was also used in medicinal practice throughout North America. During this time, more than one hundred papers were published in the Western medical literature recommending it for various illnesses and discomforts. The first physician to introduce cannabis to Western medicine was W.B. O’Shaunghnessy of Scotland. He introduced cannabis to Western medicine in 1841 after observing its use in India and performing experiments on animals to satisfy himself that it was safe for human use. Soon after its introduction to North America, physicians began to prescribe cannabis for a variety of physical conditions such as rabies, rheumatism, epilepsy, tetanus and as a muscle relaxant. Cannabis became so common in medicinal use that eventually, cannabis preparations were sold over the counter in drug stores.
In 1860, the first American Governmental Commission study of cannabis and health was conducted. Dr. R. R. M’Meens reported the findings of the Commission to the Ohio State Medical Society. M’Meens found that,
cannabis effects are less intense than opium, and the secretions are not so much suppressed by it. Digestion is not disturbed; the appetite rather increases; the whole effect of hemp being less violent, and producing a more natural sleep, without interfering with the actions of the internal organs, it is certainly often preferable to opium, although it is not equal to that drug in strength and reliability.()
Up until the early 1890’s doctors continued to find cannabis valuable for treatment of various forms of neuralgia especially treating migraine attacks, epilepsy, depression and sometimes for asthma and dysmenorrhoea. Some doctors such as H.A. Hare also recommended cannabis to subdue restlessness and anxiety and distract a patient’s mind in terminal illness. Dr. Hare believed cannabis was as effective a pain reliever as opium.
However, the 1890’s also found some doctors suggesting that the potency of cannabis preparations was too variable, and individual responses to orally ingested cannabis seemed erratic and unpredictable. “Cannabis Indica has fallen considerably in the estimation of the profession, both in the old country and in this, due no doubt to its variability and often noticeable uncertainty of action.”() In addition, since the invention of the hypodermic syringe in the 1850’s, there was an increased use of opiates and soluble drugs that could be injected for faster pain relief. Cannabis was difficult to be administered by injection because it is highly insoluble. Chemically stable drugs such as aspirin, chloral hydrate and barbiturates were also developed at the end of the 19th century. And while barbiturates were found to be quite dangerous, and many people died from aspirin induced bleeding, cannabis continued to fall out of practice as a medicine.
Simultaneously, as cannabis began to fall out of practice as a medicinal drug, its use as a recreational hallucinogen was realized in the United States. In 1916, Puerto Rican Soldiers and Americans stationed in the Panama Canal Zone were reported to have been using marijuana, and military authorities did not enforce its disuse because they did not feel it was as harmful as drinking alcohol. But medical experts began to “consider cannabis as a narcotic, implying the dangers of overdose and habit… and saw it as an aphrodisiac, adding sexual excitement or uncontrollability to its detriments.”()
In 1915 California became the first state to make it illegal to possess cannabis. By the 1920’s marijuana had become a major ‘underground drug,’() traced to an influx of Mexican workers into the Southern United States in the 1910’s and 1920’s.() Subsequent use was apparently largely confined to lower class ethnic minority groups, with a high proportion of urban-dwelling Afro and Spanish Americans among the known users. “When Mexican labourers introduced marijuana smoking to the United States, it spread across the south, and by the 1920’s, its use was established in New Orleans through its importation from Havana, Tampico, and Veracruz by American and Mexican sailors, and use was confined primarily among the poor and minority groups.”() Later in the 1930’s, “cannabis was the first psychoactive substance (besides alcohol) that became a common subject in modern popular music, with jazz classics from the 1930’s such as Louis Armstrong’s Muggles and Cab Calloway’s That Funny Reefer Man topping the bill of marijuana-inspired fare.”()
The recreational spread of cannabis use, especially in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, assisted in enhancing the narcotic classification of cannabis by medical experts at the end of the 19th century. Therefore, medical experts also supported the American Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, as well as the Canadian Opium and Narcotics Act in 1938, both of which not only controlled the cannabis economic industry with prohibitive taxes, but also prevented further experimentation on the medicinal effects of cannabis. Years later in 1954, a new offence was created in Canada for the ‘possession for the purpose of trafficking’ and in 1956, cannabis was also incorporated into the more comprehensive United States Narcotics Act. Internationally, cannabis began to be controlled in 1961 by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, requiring states to adopt the necessary legislative and regulatory measures in order to limit the production, distribution and use of prohibited substances to medical and scientific purposes. Canada both signed and ratified the convention in 1961 and the United States later acceded to the convention in 1967.
Thus, while white settlers to North America have used cannabis since the early 1600’s, psychoactive usage for purposes other than medicine was not heard of until the 20th century. Before this, priority was placed on the economic viability of cannabis fibre production and later, the cannabis plant’s scientific medicinal uses. By the time North Americans were exposed to other cultural values of cannabis (smoking marijuana), via methods such as travel to other countries and incoming immigrants, cannabis was already well on its way to being considered by the North American laws, of little value. Despite reports that emphasized the harmless effects of smoking marijuana, such as the La Guardia Report published in 1944 by the New York Academy of Medicine, cannabis continued to be proscribed. These laws were not only prohibitive of industrial production and medical research of cannabis, but also prohibitive of the psychoactive use of cannabis that was, and continues to be, an integral part of the cultures that introduced it to North Americans.
While people in the United States were introduced to the psychoactive use of cannabis (marijuana smoking) in the early 1900’s by way of ethnic immigrant settlers and contact with other cultures outside of the United States, “there are no reliable accounts of the non-medical use of cannabis in Canada which predate the 1930’s.”() Even between the years of 1930-46 there were only 25 convictions for cannabis possession in all of Canada.() Meanwhile in the United States, several newspapers had begun publishing reports of young people using marijuana. In 1933, Detective L.E. Bowery of the Wichita Police Department claimed “no denial can be made of the fact that marijuana smoking is at present a common practice among the young people of the city, and that it is constantly becoming more prevalent…”() Later, by the early 1960’s
cannabis was well established in many American universities and among many high school aged youths. This may have been due to the American involvement in the Vietnamese War, as well as due to the evolution of the 1960’s hippie psychedelic ethos, the growth of underground newspapers, and the mass media’s attention to the drug.()
It was not until the mid-to late 1960s, when this level and type of usage was imitated in Canada. “In 1962 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported only 20 cases connected with cannabis. In 1968 the number of cannabis related cases had risen to over 2300, and in 1972 there were nearly 12000 cannabis convictions in Canada.”()
The spread of marijuana use among Canadian youth in the late 1960’s is attributable to an adoption of the American social forces of the psychedelic ‘hippie’ movement. Like their American counterparts, a Canadian ‘counter culture’ began to protest society’s values placed on them and held sit-ins and demonstrations against injustices such as racism, poverty and the lack of women’s rights. One of these demonstrations occurred in 1971 in Vancouver’s Gastown. The event was a ‘smoke-in,’ with a few hundred cannabis activists, and hippies in attendance.()
Travel, is another possibility as to how marijuana use spread quickly throughout Canada during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The late 1960’s brought about a time when Canadians followed their fellow American counterparts to regions such as the Far East where they became exposed to different cultural practices of cannabis use in their search for cheap hashish. “Travel and transportation are crucial variables in drug history, just as they are in the history of infectious diseases.”()
Thus in part, the increase of marijuana use in Canada during the 1960’s could also be correlated with the increase in numbers of people travelling from other countries to settle in Canada, bringing with them, an array of cultural practices. Until the 1960’s, Canada’s immigration laws prevented immigrants from countries other than Britain, the United States, and Europe from settling in Canada. Moreover, immigrants were expected to shed their distinctive heritage and assimilate almost entirely to existing cultural norms of a ‘white settler’ society. Therefore until this time, contact with cultures that may have used cannabis for purposes other than industrial or medical purposes, was limited.
In 1961 however, Canadian immigration policy changed and since this time people have travelled from their native countries in Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, Central and South America() to come to live in Canada. But while immigration laws were expanded in 1961, the Government continued to expect immigrants to assimilate to the white settler society. It was not until the late 1960’s to early 1970’s when the Canadian hippie movement came into full swing, that
under pressure from immigrant groups, the Canadian government rejected the assimilationist model of immigration, and instead adopted a more tolerant policy (multi-culturalism policy) that allows and indeed encourages immigrants to maintain various aspects of their ethnic heritage. Immigrants were now free to maintain some of their old customs regarding food, dress, recreation, and religion and to associate with each other to maintain these practices. This is no longer seen as unpatriotic or ‘un-Canadian.’()
However only certain cultural values of incoming migrants were allowed to exist, while others that conflicted with Canadian ‘common-values’ were ignored. For many migrants who came from societies where cannabis was integral to their culture, this was one practice the Canadian Government would not permit. Such is a form of “legal moralism in which the government intervenes in drug use in the name of its responsibility to preserve common values that are vital to the well-being of society.”() However, the increase in cannabis use throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s illustrates that these ‘common values’ regarding cannabis were beginning to deteriorate and new moral values were permeating the cannabis issue in Canadian society. The transnational movement of an array of cultural values was occurring in Canada, even despite laws that legitimated or prohibited them.()
During the period of Canadian social change in the late 1960’s, both by protests from the hippie movement and transnational movement of cultural practices, the Canadian Government seemed prepared to ease up on marijuana prohibition. In the early 1970’s the Le Dain Commission was appointed in Canada to undertake a complete and factual study of marijuana use and its effects. It concluded that, “Canada’s prohibition laws had only served to create a sub-culture with little respect for the law and law enforcement, as well as diverting law enforcement capability, clogging the judicial system, and providing a base of funds for organized crime.”() In 1972, Trudeau added this recommendation to his election platform although his government did not change the marijuana laws after his re-election. As marijuana use continued to steadily grow especially amongst youth throughout the 1970’s, in 1978, yet another report was commissioned on marijuana laws, recommending once again, that marijuana be decriminalized and legalized.() Later in 1979, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Joe Clark, the Progressive Conservative government of 1979-80 gave notice in its Throne Speech that it intended to reform the Criminal Code provisions regarding cannabis, but the Conservative Government was defeated before making these revisions. Meanwhile, a number of regional studies that were conducted in various populations throughout the 1970’s in Canada showed that current use amongst students was fast approaching 25 percent, with 1979 being a peak year where over 30 percent of students in grades 7, 9, 11, and 13 reported use in the previous 12 months.() Youthful cannabis use in the 1970’s could be viewed as a continuation of the epidemic of the sixties.
Despite the 1978 report that advocated the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, in 1979 the Liberal government made the decision to sign the UN’s Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971). The newly elected American Reagan-Bush Administration heavily influenced this decision with its campaign on the ‘War on Drugs.’ By signing the convention, the Canadian Government halted any plans to legalize marijuana() and prevented conflict with their American neighbours.
Throughout the 1980’s the Reagan-Bush administration carried out ‘The War on Drugs’ campaign. In Canada, regular Gallup polls showed evidence that cannabis use was stabilizing and even may have been decreasing in the youth population.() This may have partly been due to several prohibition measures that were enabled by national, provincial and local organizations in order to suppress cannabis use as well as cannabis trade. And although marijuana use in both the United States and Canada had moved from primarily lower class use to use across a spectrum of societies, the non-using population continued to forcefully object to marijuana use because of the lifestyle they associated with it.() Thus, smoking marijuana became more of a private and personal activity, done at home and out of sight of friends, coworkers and family members. In 1987 Canada’s Drug Strategy (1987) was implemented ‘to address both the supply and demand reduction strategies and programs in enforcement, treatment and prevention programming were funded.’() Some say that at the time, this may have been the most severe cannabis censorship strategy in the world.()
However, the 1990’s saw a substantial increase in cannabis use across Canada. Between 1993-1994 alone, cannabis use increased from 4.2% to 7.4%.() As well, while 1980’s statistics show that cannabis use was much higher in adult populations between the ages of 30-49 years of age, the 1990’s saw a reverse of this trend in Canada. The statistics for Ontario show that between 1996 and 2000, cannabis use among 18-29 year olds increased from 18% to 28%.() According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, this was a result of weakening perceptions of risk of harm and weakening moral disapproval of drug use.()
Although increasing acceptance of marijuana use may be attributable to a number of factors, the 1990’s were described as the decade of immigration in Canada, with the average number of immigrants per year remaining well over 200 000 throughout.() Thus once again, just as in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the increasingly permissive attitude of Canadians towards marijuana could potentially be linked to theories of transnational movements of cultural values, therefore leading Canadians to increased exposure and acceptance of different values of marijuana usage. As Kearney suggests, ‘global implosion’ tends to take place when migrants move from their homeland to another nation. They bring with them their cultural practices, which may go through ‘transnational transformations’ as they are adapted to the national culture.()
The mid-1990’s also saw the rise of a cannabis decriminalization movement joined by hundreds of recreational smokers who say that Canada’s laws against cannabis are outdated and out of step with the rest of the Western world. Many governments in a number of European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain, have now decided not to prosecute for possession of cannabis for personal use. Despite this, in 1997 the Canadian Government passed the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which prior to its enactment was criticized by The Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, The Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, The Canadian Police Association and The Canadian Bar Association, for its war on drugs approach.()
With the enactment of such a heavy-handed law in 1997, which continued the trend of Canadian prohibition of cannabis despite the growing permissive mentality for its use, the past five years have seen the marijuana issue quickly rising to a boiling point. Several Canadians have gone directly to the police and to the courts to challenge what they say are the country’s anachronistic drug laws() and the courts have made decisions in favour of marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
Of significance is the 1997 Terrence Parker case() that ultimately led to Canada’s adoption of a system regulating the medicinal use of marijuana in July 2001. Terrence Parker, who uses marijuana as a means of controlling his epileptic seizures, had been arrested and charged numerous times since 1987 for marijuana possession. However, when he was charged once again in 1997, an Ontario Court judge ruled that people must be able to access necessary medical treatment without fear of arrest. Thus on 10 December 1997 Terrence Parker became the first Canadian to be exempted from further prosecution for possession or cultivation of marijuana.() Later when the case was appealed in 2000, the Court of Appeal for Ontario upheld the decision and said that by making marijuana illegal throughout Canada, Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At this time, the Court ordered the federal government to clarify the rules surrounding medical marijuana. By April 2001 the Federal Government released its proposed solution. After further deliberations, in July 2001 Canada began regulating the medicinal use of marijuana. The regulations allow access to marijuana for symptoms associated with terminal illnesses, for symptoms associated with medical conditions listed in a schedule and for symptoms associated with other medical conditions. The application process differs depending on the symptoms involved.
Also of recent significance are court challenges that have arisen in Canada regarding the religious use of marijuana. In Canada, Ontario’s Church of the Universe has been arguing for the religious freedom to smoke marijuana in various cases since 1989. Since the ruling in the Terrence Parker case, Brothers Tucker and Baldasaro have filed a challenge that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is not only unconstitutional for people who need it for medicinal purposes, but also unconstitutional in their continued battle for the recognition of their rights to use cannabis as a sacrament. However, as of 30 January 2002, Ontario’s Church of the Universe had not yet received a court date.
Similar court cases are also occurring in the United States. For instance, in September 2000, the Supreme Court of Guam dismissed criminal charges against a man who claimed that he is a Rastafarian and was importing marijuana for religious use. The Guam Supreme Court concluded that because marijuana was a necessary sacrament of the Rastafarian religion, and because the prosecution failed to justify the burden placed on the practice of the Rastafarian religion by the law against importing marijuana, the importation ban violated Guam’s free exercise protection.() Because Guam is a United States territory, in November 2001 the case was appealed to an American Federal Court in Honolulu where the American Civil Liberties Union argued,
Just as eight states have passed local laws recognizing the usefulness of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the U.S. territory of Guam should be allowed to guarantee individuals the right to use marijuana for religious purposes without fear of federal interference.()
The American Court will not likely give a ruling until Spring 2002.
While the argument for the religious use of marijuana has not yet been as successful as the argument for the medical use of marijuana, in 1991, a Canadian Law Reform Commission Report entitled Statutory Criminal Law recommended a study:
to determine whether or not any groups in Canada traditionally make use of controlled drugs in their religious practices. If a need for some mechanism is found in the study, the report recommends that a statutory mechanism for application by religious groups for exemption be adopted. Further, the LRCC report recommends that specific exemptions be granted to individual religions to avoid the uncertainty and litigation inherent in a general broadly worded exemption. It also suggests that an exemption from drug offence legislation only be granted when it is sought by a bona fide religion; the drug used is central to a ceremony or practice of the religion; and its use would not indirectly make the drug more widely available in the general community.()
This recommendation by the Law Reform Commission of Canada has not yet been adopted by Canada. Eleven years ago when the study was suggested, this may have been too large of a step in the way of a permissive attitude towards marijuana use for Canadians to take. However, the recent acceptance of marijuana use for medical purposes in Canada does suggest that Canadians are becoming more open-minded to certain valid uses for marijuana.
Such open mindedness to the psychoactive use of cannabis is new to Canada and has only been developing since the 1960’s. Finally, the psychoactive usages of cannabis have reached Canadian soil through Canadians’ exposure to other societies who have known its use for centuries. The past 40 years have seen several different, and fast-paced social developments of psychoactive cannabis users in Canada. The overlapping epidemics of the 1960’s and 1970’s saw the cannabis user as the ‘flamboyant explorer and adventurer() where “young people deserted the suburbs and congregated in costumed array in central city neighbourhoods. In the summertime, they roamed across the country as hitchhiking transients. The media were fascinated by these ‘hippies’ or ‘flower children,’ and sensationalized their drug use.”() The 1960’s and 1970’s saw a steady increase in use especially by youth. However, the 1980’s ‘war on drugs’ era saw a levelling out of cannabis use amongst the youth population, and rather a quiet, but steady increase of use in adults between the ages of 30-49. At this point in time in Canada, studies show that marijuana use “was more frequently reported by single (never married) respondents, people looking for work, and, in the working population, blue-collar workers.”() The 1990’s saw this trend reverse itself, with reports of cannabis use once again steadily increasing amongst those between the ages of 18-29. Between 1996-2000, reports show that for this age range, cannabis use increased from 18.3% to 28.2% with use tending to be highest among those with some post-secondary education and lowest among those with a university degree.() While there is evidence that marijuana smoking is once again becoming a social activity, it is with the worry of protecting oneself from rumours that would refer themselves to as a ‘drug addict.’
Joints are rolled as discreetly as possible, very quickly, and in such as way that they look as much like a cigarette as possible… If there is one thing, however, that is important to young people, it is the image their parents have of them. Rumours spread quickly, and who knows what parents might learn from a neighbour? If they are afraid of police intervention, it is not so much because of the potential risks as it is because they are afraid that the police might burst into the family home. Therefore, they hide from neighbours who could potentially talk with their families, and more readily smoke in public areas where there is less of a chance of running into someone they know.()
While there have been fast-paced increases and decreases of marijuana use over the past 40 years in Canada “in retrospect, cannabis usage rates in the late sixties seem modest”() compared to today. For instance, the proportion of ‘past year cannabis users’ aged 30 to 49 years steadily increased from 15.4% to 46.5% between 1977 and 1996.()
This growing permissive attitude in Canada of marijuana use was validated in a May 2001 survey. University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby found that 47 percent of Canadians favour the legalization of marijuana, which is up from 31 percent in 1995 and 26 percent in 1975.() There are also many, such as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the RCMP and the Canadian Medical Association Journal who to varying degrees feel that marijuana should not necessarily be legalized, but at least decriminalized in some manner.()
However, in the face of a much more permissive attitude towards marijuana, there are still many Canadians who are of the traditional Canadian mindset that marijuana use should continue to be illegal. Many continue to believe, as the Canadian Police Association has advocated, that legalizing marijuana use will have several serious harmful societal effects including sending the wrong message to youth, facilitating the use of more harmful drugs, contributing to soaring health-care costs, and encouraging driving while high.()
The conflict between the growing numbers of Canadians who are taking a more permissive attitude towards marijuana use and those who continue to view the marijuana issue in the traditional Canadian manner is coming to a rapid boil in the 21st century. Distinct values in favour of marijuana use are coming to the foreground in Canada, some of which have already led to a reintroduction of the medicinal use of marijuana. Policy makers, who continue to grapple with future policy development on the controversial marijuana issue, must realize that ‘the moralistic legal vision that has dominated Canadian discourse supporting the maintenance of prohibitions against drugs’() may no longer suffice as more and more Canadians step outside of this common morality.
– The Marijuana Clash in Canada:
A Moral Debate
The first half of this paper studied various cultural values found throughout the world in favour of cannabis use for psychoactive purposes, values often deeply embedded in a culture’s historic rituals and practices. In contrast, the second half of this paper examined North American, and more specifically Canadian, values where there is little history of psychoactive cannabis use and traditionally, most of society opposes the psychoactive use of cannabis. The comparison exemplifies that “the use of cannabis has a different meaning in [many] Eastern cultures where a long history and tradition surrounds its use than it does in the West, where it is a relatively recent phenomenon.”()
Cultural differences play a large part in the adoption or non-adoption of marijuana. For example, as mentioned in this paper, the Chinese did not embrace the psychoactive use of cannabis because it was inappropriate in respect of the Chinese temperament and tradition of a shame-oriented personality. They discouraged the use of psychoactive cannabis because they felt it was apt to provoke impulsive acts that might bring shame upon the user or his family. In comparison, anthropological evidence illustrates that several eastern societies actually wanted to adopt the psychoactive use of cannabis for the very reason of its capacity to produce motivational effects, providing increased work capacity (Jamaica) and the ability to win wars (African tribes).
Aside from the recent resurgence of marijuana use for medicinal purposes, Canada has not embraced the psychoactive use of cannabis. Unlike many eastern societies that believe the psychoactive effects of marijuana produce impulsive effects, traditionally, Western culture associates marijuana use with an “introspective, meditative, non-aggressive stereotype”() or the “amotivational syndrome.”() This moral belief developed out of the 1960’s hippie movement use of marijuana. “The public mind often conceives of the marijuana-user as a long-haired hippie”() leading a way of life many believed was irresponsible and lazy. Westerners, who are noted for cultural emphasis on achievement, activity and aggressiveness() tend to associate marijuana use with a life-style and set of values very different from their own.()
Cross-cultural comparisons of cannabis use are therefore difficult to apply to the Western situation – Western society views the effects of psychoactive cannabis differently, and this understanding of its effects gives rise to Western moral opposition towards anyone who uses marijuana no matter what the cultural background is for their use of marijuana.()
Canadian laws have promoted and tried to protect this moral hegemony since the early 1930’s, but especially during the 1980’s when the American “War on Drugs” campaign began. However as a result of several factors such as the hippie movement in the late 1960’s, travel to other countries, and the transnational movement of cultural practices, Canadians have gained exposure to other cultural values of marijuana use which has resulted in the emergence of new Canadian attitudes towards marijuana, threatening the traditional moral hegemony. “Where the moral issue is not accepted uniformly throughout society, it intensifies conflict.”() Since the early 1990’s, groups of Canadians have been forming a decriminalization movement and questioning traditional Canadian values about marijuana use. The Canadian law, which has upheld these traditional Canadian values and morals towards marijuana use, is facing increasing pressure from the Canadian public’s recognition of other values of cannabis use.
Such is the ‘marijuana clash.’ While on the surface the debate includes scientific arguments regarding the harms or benefits of marijuana, below the surface the debate is actually informed by preconceived cultural morals and values.() In other words, prior to seeking an answer to scientific questions, for instance of marijuana’s desirable or noxious effects, it must first be established whom the question is directed to() because this highly influences the answer. “Our morality ebbs and flows in accordance with our personal ethics, where our ethics are the ideal and morality is the means by which we approach that ideal.”() Therefore, it is only natural that cultural backgrounds obscure answers to scientific questions in regards to marijuana. All sides of the debate can represent and defend their moral position by drawing upon scientific reasoning. Thus “the marijuana controversy is primarily a political, rather than a scientific debate” because it pits morals against morals, that are informed by cultural backgrounds. In turn, the ‘marijuana clash’ involves people in Canada who strive to legitimate their moral positions (defended by scientific reasoning) through the enactment of laws.
As Canadian society has recently, over the past forty years, been exposed to other historical cultural values of psychoactive cannabis uses, one can postulate that this may be the reason why marijuana usage rates in Canada have increased. Whether or not they are aware that their permissive attitude may have developed from exposure to other cultural values of cannabis, many groups have begun to promote these ‘new’ values towards cannabis use in opposition to the traditional Canadian moral position. Thus, it is important for Canadian policy makers to be conscious of other cultural values of psychoactive cannabis use. Canadian policy approaches to marijuana in the 21st century failing to take into consideration the existence of other cultural values towards cannabis in Canada will result in ineffective policies that will simply continue to escalate the moral debate over cannabis use. This does not mean that insight into different cultural values of cannabis use will solve the ‘marijuana clash.’ Rather, it will help to deconstruct the moral conflicts that veil the underlying scientific cannabis question in Canada.
() The chemical make-up of the cannabis sativa resin was not discovered until 1964 by an Israeli named Raphael Mechoulam who synthesized the basic chemical properties of the resin. (Solomon Snyder. Uses of Marijuana. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. p. 5.)
() Hui-lin Li. “The Origin and Use of Cannabis in Eastern Asia.” Cannabis and Culture. Ed. Vera Rubin. Chicago: Mouton & Co., 1975. p. 54. A traditional practice dating back to second century B.C. and still seen today, is that mourners for the dead are required to wear clothes made from hemp fabric.
www.cannabisculture.com/backissues/apr95/smoke_in_my_i.html, Bennet discusses several theorists assertions that marijuana assisted man in self-reflection and belief in the divine. This section uses a few of Mr. Bennet’s examples.
() Both Benet and Bentowa put forth arguments as to how Scythians came into contact with the people of the Near East. Benet argues that they were actually Ashkenaz tribe of the Old Testament and Bentowa argues that they were the relatives of the Medes who were neighbours of the people of the Near East.
() Ibid. In order to limit the length of this paper, the History of the cultural uses of cannabis in Europe has been omitted. Suffice it to say that in Europe, the development of the use of cannabis occurred similarly as this paper’s section on the cultural uses of cannabis in North America.
() Chopra and Chopra. http://www.undcp.org/bulletin/bulletin_1957-01-01_1_page003.html.
() According to Barrett, p. 85, Leonard Howell advocated six principles that formed the doctrine of the Rastafarian movement: 1. hatred for the White race; 2. complete superiority of the Black race; 3. revenge on Whites for their wickedness; 4. humiliation and persecution of the government and legal bodies of Jamaica; 5. preparation to go back to Africa; and 6. acknowledging Emperor Haile Selassie as the Supreme Being and only ruler of Black people.
() www.lindesmith.org/library/mmjgrins.html, p. 3.
() Complete History of Cannabis. p. 5. www.cannabisculture.com/library/history_of_pot.html.
() Line Beauchesne. “Conditions for Real Public Policy on Harm Reduction: the Role of the Federal Government.” Brief Submitted to the House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. March 2002. p. 4.
() In anthropology, there is a body of literature concerned with forms of population movement and the movement of information, symbols, and cultural practices (cultural values) across transnational boundaries. The theory postulates often these movements initiated by migrants will conflict with the jurisdiction and power of states to which the migrants move and assimilation will take place. At the same time, these movements of cultural values often immensely influence the people of the state and changes to the nation state will occur. I am postulating in this paper that marijuana use, which has been shown to be an integral cultural practice to many different societies in the first part of this essay, is an example of this transnational movement and transformation theory. See: M. Kearney, “The Local and the Global: The Anthropology of Globalization and Transnationalism”; R. Rouse, “Making sense of settlement: class transformation, cultural struggle, and transnationalism among Mexican migrants in the United States; World Cultures Institute UC Merced, “California, Merced and the Pacific Rim”; Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy”; Anthony King, ed. “Culture, Globalization and the World-System. Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity.”
() www.cannabisculture.com/articles/1789.html, p. 5.
() Diane Riley, PhD. Drugs and Drug Policy in Canada: A Brief Review & Commentary. November 1998. http://www.cfdp.ca/sen8ex1.htm.
() Usha George and Esme Fuller-Thomson. “To Stay or Not to Stay: Characteristics Associated with Newcomers Planning to Remain in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Regional Science. Spring-Summer 1997. p. 181.
() Amina Ali and Owen Wood. “The Need for Weed: Medical Marijuana.” CBC News. July 2001. www.cbc.ca/news/indepth/background/medical_marijuana.html.
() Rodolphe Ingold. “A Retrospective Look at Drug Addiction Trends from 1970 to the Year 2000.” Drugs and Drug Addictions: Indicators and Trends. French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions. p. 187. This study shows similar patterns as Canadian trends.
() Judith Blackwell. “An Overview of Canadian Illicit Drug Use Epidemiology.” Illicit Drugs in Canada: A Risky Business. Judith Blackwell & Patricia G. Erickson, Eds. Nelson Canada, 1988. p. 237.
() Sylvain Aquatias. “Ethnographic Approach to Cannabis Use in the Parisian Suburbs.” Drugs and Drug Addictions: Indicators and Trends. French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions. p. 203.
() Rosenwig, M. Pour une éthique de la clinique des assuétudes et des addictions Conférence prononcée au Colloque Quelle prise en charge des patients toxicomanes… aujourd’hui… demain? Société Belge d’Éthique et de Morale Médicale, Mons, 23 avril, 1999. pp. 3-4. (excerpted from Line Beauchesne).