What is Weed Culture?

By Ngaio Bealum
Jul 17, 2020
Photo by Dan Dion

Greetings and Salutations! Welcome to my new weekly column! 

My name is Ngaio Bealum and I love cannabis. More than that, I love people who love cannabis. In this space, I’ll  explore weed, people, and people who love weed. In short, it’s about “cannabis culture.” 

”Cannabis culture” is a hard thing to define, because cannabis users are a subculture of every other subculture. Whatever it is people like to do, some of them like to smoke weed before they do it. (Except for maybe brain surgeons and bus drivers, but I bet a lot of them get high after work). 

Before sitting down to write this column, I asked people what they pictured when they heard the words “cannabis culture“. The results were varied, sometimes hilarious, and often quite thoughtful. Most responses were along the lines of “hippies and earth-lovers, giggling together and living sustainably while making the world a better place.” More than a few people said things like, “white dudes in lab coats,” or “white people making money selling weed while black people sit in jail for selling weed.”

All of these are true. The modern day world of weed is definitely full of happy-go-lucky hippies, activists and scientists trying to make the world a better place, and a bunch of rapacious capitalists trying to monopolize what until recently had been one of the greatest decentralized industries on the planet. Like I said: a subculture of every subculture. 

Forty years ago, a pothead lifestyle was fairly easy to define. Most cannabis enthusiasts were considered outlaws. MED wasn’t much of a thing (although the federal government used to allow a few people to use cannabis medicinally). 

Years of racist anti-cannabis propaganda had taught most people to think of weedheads as lazy, unproductive people. Stereotypically, they sat around listening to Cheech and Chong, Bob Marley, and Willie Nelson while reading the latest issue of High Times, and being unproductive leeches on society.  

Folks used words like “stoner” or “pothead” as an insult, and most cannabis users stayed in the shadows for fear of losing jobs, their children and their freedom just for wanting to be high. By necessity, cannabis users were a fairly tight-knit group. 

Most of you are too young to remember talking in code on the telephone, trying to be hella discreet in public, or the “Ten year rule:” Don’t discuss growing or selling large amounts of product until you had known someone for at least ten years. Ten years is a long time, but life in prison for selling an ounce of weed (or less) is even longer. 

Then the AIDS crisis hit. People soon discovered that cannabis was a boon to those stricken with HIV. A few brave individuals started small cannabis clubs to help those in need. The Feds cracked down, folks went to prison, and yet, the cannabis community kept fighting to provide patients with safe access to quality medicine. 

The tide started to shift. Medicinal cannabis clubs became a bigger thing. By 1996, California had legalized cannabis for medical patients. Sixteen years later, Colorado legalized weed and the floodgates started to open. Now nearly a dozen states have legalized REC. Hell, entire countries have legalized weed, and giant multi-national corporations have jumped into the opportunity. They try to get away from terms like “stoner” or “pothead, nevermind that it was the stoners and potheads that got the laws changed and created these opportunities in the first place. 

I may seem to be rambling, but my point is this: ALL OF THIS IS CANNABIS CULTURE. Outlaws, scientists, capitalists, socialists, medicinal cannabis users, recreational, er, adult-use cannabis users, professional chefs, home cooks, international travel enthusiasts, writers, entertainers, people of all races, creeds,colors, abilities, persuasions, and orientations. 

Cannabis use is truly intersectional. So that’s what I am gonna write about. Anything and everything cannabis. How does it work? How does it fit with what has come before and what is yet to puff puff pass?

Also: How do you feel about this new world of cannabis? Anything you are curious or furious about? Let me know. Let’s discuss it. One of my favorite things to do is get high and talk about stuff.  Shout out to WeedWeek for giving me this opportunity and big ups to all of you for reading this. See you next week.

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