What is cannabis culture…?

This issue we bring you some stories on the Cannabis Cup, which is the largest cultural cannabis event in the world. My review of the Cup appears later on, and despite my reservations on how the event is presented and run, I am always inspired by the chance to meet so many of my peers from other parts of the globe.
While I smoked hash in Amsterdam cafes and chatted with various cannabis luminaries, I found myself musing about what exactly is cannabis culture? I wondered if the diverse pot-smokers around me really did form a cultural group, and what that even means.

The word “culture” has three meanings in my dictionary. The first is “the growing of a particular crop.” This seems a very appropriate and active definition, in that those who cultivate cannabis are the backbone for all other manifestations of cannabis culture. Without the plant to start with, there could be no cultural movement. This includes all marijuana growers and also all those hemp farmers, even though many of the latter often act like they’d prefer pot-people just went away.

Does this mean that the cops who grow pot to learn how to bust us are also in some way a part of cannabis culture? I prefer to think of those misguided losers as a part of our anti-culture, since sadly much of our cultural experience is in getting busted and harassed by such brutes in uniform.

The second definition of culture is longer and more interesting: “the set of shared attitudes, beliefs, practices and material traits that characterize a racial, religious, or social group.” Synonyms for this include lifestyle, customs, and “way of life.” In this sense cannabis culture is defined by its manifestations in behaviour and tools. Bongs, roach clips, hydroponic equipment and pot-posters become the artifacts of a forbidden belief system; namely that marijuana is good and useful, and should be shared and enjoyed.

These aspects of our culture include simple shared practices like smoking pot in joints, pipes and bongs; the common habit of sharing marijuana in a circle; a general appreciation for improvised free-form music (such as jazz or the Grateful Dead); and a propensity for open communication, non-violence, and sensual playfulness. This is not to say that all pot-smokers or hemp-shirt wearers exhibit these traits, but rather that these are the attitudes and behaviours which characterize most of those who love and use marijuana.

The existence of a culture depends on the ability of its members to transmit their knowledge and experience to succeeding generations. Although cannabis history has been banned and covered-up for many years, recent decades have seen a great flowering of cannabis use and cultural knowledge around the world. The rediscovery of the benefits of industrial cannabis has been a key aspect of the reawakening of our forbidden culture, as has the rediscovery of the many medicinal uses of cannabis resin.

The third definition for culture is “refinement of intellectual and artistic taste.” This definition might seem a bit snooty to some, but cannabis use does include an enhancement of the senses and thought processes, which can certainly result in a refinement of the intellect and artistic vision.

Most people who use cannabis do so because they feel that it enhances some aspects of their sensual or intellectual life. Cannabis is known as a sensual herb, in that it inspires the user towards increased appreciation of sense-oriented activities like listening to music, eating food, looking at art and patterns, smelling incense or other perfumes, and massaging or having sex.

Cannabis use also often includes an enhancement of intellectual abilities in the form of pattern recognition and lateral thinking, both key aspects in scientific innovation and discovery. In his interview on page 47, Richard Boire explains that “all breakthroughs and innovations in science and culture are directly tied to alternative modes of perception and conception,” which often include altered states of consciousness through herbs such as cannabis.

These different meanings of the word culture seemed to illuminate what it is that is meant by cannabis culture, and made me realize that cannabis users form a culture in the fullest sense of the word. We are an international cultural movement numbering in the hundreds of millions and including many of society’s elite, yet we are almost universally banned, harassed and imprisoned, our beloved plant destroyed on sight.

Cannabis is a highly evolved plant with a wide variety of forms. It is resilient and adaptable, and despite a worldwide extinction campaign against it, cannabis grows both wild and cultivated on every inhabited continent. The culture which surrounds it has absorbed all of these qualities. The roots of a persistent plant will crush the strongest rock, and so too will cannabis culture break through the concrete of prohibition and into the light of day.

Dana Larsen
Editor, Cannabis Culture

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Corrections and CC News

* Some loyal advertisers were hurt that I had specifically mentioned some hemp stores in editorial #15, but not others. I was just making examples and not trying to be comprehensive, but for the record, a number of hemp stores have taken ads with us since our very early days, including Toronto Hemp Co, Shakedown Street and Crosstown Traffic. Thanks guys!

* Last issue I listed the incorrect website for the Media Awareness Project. The correct address is www.mapinc.org.

* Congratulations to David Cheong and Keith Hentschel, two CC alumni who moved on to the exciting world of video game design. They are part of the talented team behind Homeworld, the hottest new game coming to your computer this spring.