If you’ve ever worn a hemp-fiber, Rastafarian shirt while toking from a huge blunt as you and some friends are jamming out to Snoop Dogg’s latest album, then you’re well-versed in what constitutes “cannabis culture”. The culture of cannabis has been a long-standing pillar of the entire marijuana movement, and it is because of staunch advocates of the cannabis community that we have legalized weed in Canada. The ‘True North, Strong With Weed’ has always been a bastion for cannabis culture, but what about the rest of the world? What is weed culture like around the globe? What can we learn from one another’s relationship to this unique and wonderful plant?
It is obvious that a country’s weed culture is greatly affected by its status as a controlled substance, but since cannabis legalization is a more recent phenomenon there is a lot of history to delve through when it comes to the international culture of cannabis. For instance, the United States – arguably the vanguard of the “War on Drugs” movement – has one of the most thriving cannabis cultures in the world, even though they’re less likely to legalize under their current regimes of government. Other nations like the Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, Thailand, India and Jamaica all have established cannabis cultures. Even though most of these countries have not Federally legalized or even decriminalized marijuana, there’s no denying the strong sense of community among the many cannabis growers and consumers.
You may think you understand the landscape of weed culture today, but what exactly defines the culture of cannabis? Is it the people who consume cannabis? Is it the plants themselves? Maybe weed culture is all about the emotions surrounding this wonder-plant? Or is cannabis culture simply a by-product of this medicinal herb becoming so popular? It can be very difficult to sift through a cultural group and put labels on what defines the people and their ideas. Nevertheless, we’ll do our best to review the culture of cannabis around the world, so that maybe we can gain some perspective on marijuana and why it is so important for the future of humankind.
WHAT IS CANNABIS CULTURE?
There are many places across the globe that are more favorable for cannabis than others, most of which are well-known: Jamaica, Amsterdam, British Columbia, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Mexico. Cannabis culture stores can be found along the downtown streets of these hash-havens, and each has their own tight-knit community of stoners, growers, activists and medicinal proprietors alike. The culture of cannabis has long been associated with spirituality and health, so much so that many facets of marijuana consumption originate with shamanistic rituals or psychedelic ‘spirit journeys’. Cities like Vancouver (BC), Denver, Los Angeles, Amsterdam (Holland) and Kingston (Jamaica) have become the modern hubs for global ganja, but if you’re looking for the origins of cannabis culture you need to go a lot farther East.
The jungles of South America are also awash with weed, North American First Nations have a long history with cannabis as well, but many of the storied cannabis strains like Afghan Kush or Ganja from India hail from the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. The very word ‘Ganja’ originates from ‘Ganges’, as in the prominent Ganges River in India – we know, many of your minds might be blown, but ganja is not actually of Jamaican origin! The very foundations of cannabis culture likely began in South Asia and the Middle East, with some archaeological evidence suggesting that marijuana and hemp have been used for well over 9000 years. These revelations are changing the ways in which we view cannabis, and these findings are just what we’ve uncovered so far – there’s many theories circulating around the idea of pre-humans using cannabis as a source of nutrition and possibly even as a psychedelic.
So, when you’re trying to discern what exactly makes weed culture, you first have to consider the breadth of history we humans have with this plant. In an almost symbiotic way, we’ve grown together (literally) all over this planet, meanwhile we have benefitted from consuming cannabis in numerous ways (medically, spiritually, economically) and at the same time we have helped to proliferate the cannabis family into thousands, if not millions of genetic variations. The relationship between humankind and this herbaceous plant highlights the core of weed culture: growing together in the pursuit of fostering good health, happiness and well-being.
You can define cannabis as just a plant, but that would be diluting the complex and fascinating relationship our species has to the Cannabacea family. For millions of people around the world, cannabis is medicine, it is healing, it means sharing laughter, experiencing enlightenment, and it can be something very personal but also a thing to share with those you care about. Cannabis culture is intrinsically linked to music, art, philosophy and (unfortunately) politics, but in its entirety marijuana has a profound effect of bringing people together across all spectrums. This is another pillar of cannabis culture, no matter where in the world you worship weed: Cannabis connects people, it heightens emotions, and it cultivates enlightenment. Weed culture is primarily about togetherness – lighting up as a group, passing the blunt along, experimenting and experiencing heightened states together.
Cannabis culture shops are great hangouts for people to share their knowledge, their passion and their experiences with marijuana with like-minded individuals. But this also comes with an element of risk; many countries do not recognize these businesses and their consumers as having the legal right to grow/consume/distribute cannabis. On the contrary, the cannabis community would argue that authorities have no right to limit peoples’ health and happiness, so the issue is primarily one of public policy vs. the public itself. There’s a reason people have been so passionate about marijuana, even during the darkest days of “Reefer Madness” in the early-mid 1900’s.
The culture of cannabis was forged by the strength of its advocates, and vice versa. Millions of stoners, potheads, hippies and naturopaths have often been sneered at by modern society, but through it all the supporters of marijuana have been emboldened by the benefits that this plant bestows upon them. Even in the face of impending persecution and jail-time, stoners around the world have continued to uphold that this “herb” is a positive influence and should not be demonized as the “narcotic” it has been labelled by many governments. So, another defining feature of cannabis culture that is shared internationally is the idea that cannabis is worth defending, because it is a major part of our human right to health, happiness and longevity.
You might call this sentiment the element of “underground culture”, but at its heart the cannabis movement was always about health and well-being. There is a certain allure to the “outlaw” nature of supporting cannabis, especially if you live in a country where there doesn’t appear to be any irons in the fire for marijuana legalization.
Cannabis can have a profound effect on someone’s quality of life – whether you need cannabis in a medical sense, or you’re just enjoying how it makes you feel. This is likely one of the major reasons for cannabis advocates being so solid in their defense of this plant and its many uses. People have relied on cannabis to soothe their aches & pains, to stop seizures in their tracks, to sleep better and to stimulate their appetite. Not only do frequent cannabis consumers look to cannabis for many medical reasons, but their friends, family and coworkers might also. In this sense, medical marijuana is something to share with the people you care about, because you want to be healthy but you also want your loved ones to be hale as well. In this way, the culture of cannabis is all about being a shared experience, especially if your goals are to live long and prosper. We keep reiterating this sense of “community” or “belonging”, and that is essentially what marijuana is all about: sharing stories, knowledge, experiences and working together for mutual goals like quality of life.
Now that we’ve delved through what makes the culture of cannabis tick, let’s look closely at certain countries and cities and see how they show off their cannabis culture.
HOW IS WEED CULTURE DIFFERENT AROUND THE GLOBE?
The ‘Western World’ is often at the center of attention when it comes to arts, culture, economics and politics, and the realm of cannabis is no different. Just looking at some of the cannabis meccas like Jamaica, Colorado or British Columbia highlights the global impact that North America has on weed culture. Sure, cannabis might have originated in the countries around the Himalayas, but the Rastafarians of Jamaica and the free-loving hippies of Western Canada & U.S. were the ones who perfected the art of marijuana culture. North America is home to the absolute largest cannabis consumer markets – Canada, United States, Mexico. All you have to do to understand the sheer number of stoners in these countries is to see the wave of legalization happening at the Federal levels of these major players.
Canada officially legalized cannabis on October 17, 2018; the United States has 44 of its 50 States with some form of cannabis legalization (33 medical, 11 recreational); and Mexico is poised to Federally legalize marijuana in April 2020. How did these countries become ganja superpowers, seemingly miles ahead of many other stalwart cannabis nations? It’s simple: the strength of their cannabis communities. Powerful voices in Canada, USA and Mexico have championed cannabis culture, and these advocates have led all three countries towards the legal framework. Cannabis in Canada, much of the U.S. and the majority of Mexico is something that millions of their citizens consider to be “a necessity for quality of life”. There also happens to be very strong criminal syndicates operating huge, illegal marijuana outfits, so legalization has been a priority for many North Americans if they were ever hopeful of escaping the negativity of the drug trade.
So, you might say that the modern cannabis culture in North America has flip-flopped from being primarily a “shadow collective” to a group of medical users who want legitimacy, transparency and safety for their cannabis and for their communities. The culture of cannabis has shifted from its criminal elements and is becoming more of a norm throughout the Western U.S. and Canada. Nowhere is this more evident than places like California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, Jamaica, Mexico and British Columbia. Beyond the atypical cannabis culture shops and weed accessories, cannabis culture in North America includes tradeshows, music festivals, local stoner’s markets, cannabis cafes and more. Cannabis pervades many facets of daily life, from medicine to edibles, fine cuisine to beauty and skincare products. Weed culture in North America is primarily a social element, existing in strong communities bound together by their passion for marijuana.
Although South America’s largest cannabis country – Brazil – has no plans to legalize cannabis, there is a strong culture of cannabis on the continent. Neighboring states of Argentina and Uruguay have legalized medical marijuana and recreational cannabis, respectively, while other countries like Chile, Colombia and Venezuela have strong cannabis followings but have not determined their nation’s legalization/decriminalization policies. Nevertheless, South America is a natural paradise for cultivating marijuana, so it’s no wonder that many families and communities have taken to growing it collectively.
Cannabis culture in South America is predominantly a family matter – medicine for the elderly, nutrition for young and old, and a natural herb that has been consumed for generations. This mentality of “natural medicine” isn’t shared by all however, due to the strong religious devotion in South American countries. Nonetheless, cannabis has existed on the continent for untold eons, and so the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica established strong cannabis ties that many families and young South Americans uphold today.
In a general sense, weed culture in South American countries is recently all about decriminalization and moving away from the powerful narco syndicates that have dominated cannabis for many decades. There are still vast criminal organizations that operate in South America, but the general populace is comfortable with marijuana since it has been so prevalent for so long, just in more legally mandated ways today. Medical use in South America is very common, with many families growing their own or accessing free, government provided cannabis for medical purposes. South America will definitely be one of the emerging cannabis markets in the coming years, but they already have a lasting tradition for cultivating and consuming this miracle flower.
To understand European cannabis culture, all you need to say is one name: Amsterdam. This isn’t to say that cannabis isn’t prevalent anywhere else in Europe, but the Netherlands capital city is the mecca for cannabis culture. Europeans have had a complicated relationship with cannabis for many centuries – it is extremely popular and normalized in the general populace, but policy makers have yet to fully accept marijuana legalization and support this plant industry. But you don’t have to look too hard to find places to consume cannabis in public and celebrate the weed culture in Europe.
Cannabis cafes, bud bars, smoking lounges and an assortment of baked-bakeries and marijuana-infused cuisine can be found throughout the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic and Iceland. These cannabis culture stores are popular for tourism, but locals typically consume their weed in the comforts of their own homes, with friends when they’re out on the town, or at coffee shops and cannabis clubs. These private cannabis culture shops are both places to purchase and sample cannabis, but also hangouts where you can meet like minded potheads.
For many Europeans, indoor cultivation is the true calling for cannabis aficionados – growing your own may not be legal in all countries, but many have legalized or decriminalized medical marijuana for personal use. Growing your own has gained a large following, and in places like Spain or the Netherlands many people have established networks of greenthumbs who share knowledge, fertilizer recipes and of course the flowers of their labor.
Asia might be the birthplace for much of the cannabis we know today, but the current status of cannabis culture is far outweighed by its storied past. Marijuana is very illegal in most countries in South Asia (Thailand is the only federally legalized nation for cannabis). India, Cambodia, Thailand, and Nepal have strong traditions for spiritual and healing cannabis. Marijuana culture in South Asia is very ritualistic, following in the footsteps of shamans or adhering to ancient practices of purifying the mind, body and soul. For instance, a common cannabis remedy is bhang – a marijuana-infused drink derived from seeds, leaves and flowers – which is often relied on by spiritual leaders or village healers. There is a lot of reverence for the cannabis plant in these countries, but due to its illicit nature their cannabis culture is less of a community and more of a personal practice.
Although it is strictly illegal and can lead to severe punishments, cannabis cultivation and consumption is still popular in many countries in South Asia. There are some groups lobbying to legalize or at least decriminalize cannabis, but authorities of this region of Asia have not shown much leniency for their local cannabis cultures. Still, many tourists who visit India, Thailand or Cambodia are keen on seeking out wild jungle cannabis, the legendary strains of the Himalayas, or to take part in the ceremonies and local customs that involve cannabis.
FIND YOUR CULTURE, SHOP FOR YOUR CANNABIS ONLINE AT HAUTE HEALTH
When we’re asked to define “cannabis culture”, we always want to preface our answer by reiterating that it means many different things, to many different people. Whether you smoke weed because it’s fun, you need it just to go about your day, or you are exploring yourself and your place in the universe, cannabis can be a force for positivity in your life. The next time you visit a cannabis culture dispensary, try to really appreciate what makes that place tick. Is it the trippy works of art? The flashy pipes and bongs? The groovy music playing in the background? Or maybe what makes your local cannabis culture shop a truly unique and special place for you is the people involved? Weed culture can be unique to each person, but it is spectacular to behold as a whole. Celebrate your cannabis culture, and connect with your fellow stoners, and keep upholding the peace, love, health & happiness tenets of marijuana wherever you go.