Cannabis has been present in human culture for millennia.
It served numerous uses throughout that time, including industrial crop, religious rite, and source of amusement. Despite its relevance in the developing world, cannabis has not received the universal acceptability that a product like alcohol has.
Cannabis has experienced a tremendous metamorphosis in the public eye over the last 100 years, becoming enemy number one. Despite the paucity of confirmed cannabis-related fatalities and the long-reported health benefits, cannabis has been stigmatized and systematically attacked.
So, how would the world be different if cannabis was never stigmatized? What would happen if this plant was recognized, used, and allowed to thrive in the United States and the rest of the world?
Let us investigate.
What is the origin of cannabis?
Cannabis is a very old crop. It initially appeared in human history about 12,000 years ago in Central Asia. The plant’s seeds spread with nomadic tribes, first to the remainder of Asia and Africa, then to Europe and, finally, to the Americas.
Hemp was a major crop for emerging civilizations because it provided fiber for sails, ropes, food, and oil. Some states in the emerging United States required the cultivation of hemp, and even George Washington planted it at Mount Vernon.
A chronology of cannabis in the twentieth century
Following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, White Americans became frightened of this herb, which was popular among both Mexican and Black groups. By 1927, over 30 states had made cannabis illegal.
Harry Anslinger took over the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930 and immediately initiated an anti-cannabis campaign. By 1937, the Federal Government had established the Marijuana Tax Act, thus making marijuana illegal. The New York Academy of Medicine produced a report the same year that indicated cannabis did not cause violence or lead to other drug usage or addiction, however this was mostly ignored. In the 1950s, mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes were created. President Nixon made his iconic comments about launching war on narcotics in 1971. In 1984, President Reagan signed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which increased penalties for cannabis possession and reinstated mandatory minimum sentences.
How about wine?
Wine has been around for nearly as long as cannabis, with traces of fermented grape beverages stretching back 6,000 years. Though public winemaking has come and gone, religious organizations have been producing wine for almost as long as it has existed. Even during prohibition in the United States, religious organizations were permitted to continue producing wine.
So, what would our society be like if cannabis was treated the same as wine?
1. There would be a greater range of strains
Type I cannabis strains, which are strong in THC and low in the other cannabinoids, dominate the market today. This cannabinoid dominance is a direct effect of prohibition; when pot was scarce, you wanted to be able to get high with the least amount of weed possible.
Consider prohibition in the 1920s and the emergence of moonshine. While moonshine has been produced for millennia, its popularity skyrocketed during Prohibition when it was sold in speakeasies across the country. The strength of moonshine, which may reach 150 proof or more, contributed to the increase in demand. If you can’t get drunk gradually, you want to get intoxicated efficiently.
The same might be said for cannabis and THC levels, but this would not be the case if marijuana had never been stigmatized. The market would be substantially more diverse, similar to how the alcohol market is diverse. Landrace strains would not have been developed just for THC supremacy, resulting in a diverse range of options for the customer. These strains’ cannabinoid and terpene profiles would be more diverse, with CBD, CBG, and CBN taking center stage.
That’s not to say high-THC strains wouldn’t remain popular, but they wouldn’t be the only option. The cannabis plant has around 144 cannabinoids, so who knows which ones we might be infatuated with by now?
This expansion in strain types would also alter what it means to consume cannabis; it would no longer be associated with getting high. Only a few cannabinoids are intoxicating, whereas the majority have more modest effects. This would enable consumers to tailor their use to best meet their health and lifestyle goals. Cannabis use would be no more dramatic than taking a multivitamin (and would most likely look the same), making it more accessible to individuals from all walks of life, particularly parents.
2. There would be less domestic violence
While drinking does not directly cause domestic violence, there is a substantial association. Abusers are more prone to use alcohol, and alcohol has been shown to drive wrath and aggressive conduct.
Weed, on the other hand, is not known to aggravate aggressive behavior and is rather associated with decreased rates of violence. In fact, in jurisdictions where cannabis is legal, not only do alcohol sales fall, but so do domestic violence injuries.
This makes sense when you consider that regular cannabis usage might reduce stress reactions, making people more calm and less reactive.
Of course, it would be naïve to expect legal cannabis to eliminate the horror of domestic violence, but all data suggests to a reduction – and isn’t that a good thing?
3. Alcoholism would be less prevalent
People would drink less if cannabis was a feasible choice.
We observe this in states where cannabis has been legalized, where alcohol sales often fall when cannabis becomes available. Cannabis is a potential alcohol alternative, alleviating tension without the risk of a hangover. Indeed, because cannabis provides so many health advantages, people would be less likely to resort to alcohol, a depressant with long-term negative health repercussions.
Prolonged alcohol intake alters not only your liver, but also your DNA. Heavy drinking in parents can raise the likelihood of alcoholism in future generations by changing their DNA to make them want alcohol more intensely.
However, cannabis is both an alternative to alcohol and a tool for many people who are suffering addiction. How many people – even whole family generations – would not have resorted to booze if cannabis had never been criminalized?
This is not to imply that cannabis isn’t addictive; cannabis use disorder is a genuine and serious condition. However, as previously stated, continuous, heavy cannabis use does not result in the same levels of rage or aggression as alcohol addiction, nor does it result in the same genetic changes.
4. Obesity would be less prevalent
Alcohol is linked to a number of health issues, including obesity. Obese people are more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, and other health issues throughout their lives. Heavy alcohol use can worsen these dangers.
Consuming cannabis, on the other hand, is associated with a healthier, more active lifestyle and a lower total body weight. Many people who use cannabis before going out claim that it makes physical activities more pleasurable. Furthermore, consistent cannabis usage helps alleviate social anxiety, which is significant because social isolation is associated to an increased risk of obesity.
While cannabis is commonly associated with the munchies, one cannabinoid known as THCV has been shown to reduce hunger cues, resulting in weight reduction.
5. There would have been no opioid pandemic
The opioid crisis, like the War on Drugs, was undoubtedly fueled by a drive to boost profit. Big Pharma knew how addictive these prescriptions were long before they alerted doctors or patients, and millions of lives had been lost or destroyed by then.
But, if marijuana had never been declared illegal, how many individuals would have turned to opioids in the first place? Cannabis has the potential to relieve pain and inflammation without lowering pain tolerance, hence minimizing the demand for opioids in the first place.
While these drugs would very certainly still be available, the opioid epidemic would not have reached crisis proportions because individuals would have had alternative options for dealing with their pain and suffering. Furthermore, if individuals continued to use opiates and become addicted, they would still have cannabis to turn to. Cannabis has been demonstrated to reduce opioid cravings as well as emergency situations.
6. Reduced rates of homelessness
Homelessness in the United States has been on the increase for some years. But what if there was a speedier, less expensive method to create high-quality houses for individuals without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Hempcrete, hemp insulation, and hemp wood are all feasible alternatives to current market solutions. Growing and manufacturing hemp is more ecologically friendly than nearly any other construction material. The present market issue is a lack of industrial infrastructure.
If cannabis had never been stigmatized, there would be current manufacturing techniques today that took full advantage of the hemp plant’s possibilities. Homes would have a lower carbon impact, would be built faster and cheaper, and would be more energy efficient.
7. Significantly decreased imprisonment rates
The growth of private prisons and the War on Drugs are inextricably linked. As incarceration became a for-profit enterprise, more individuals were required in jail to maximize income. The War on Drugs gave the ideal justification for locking individuals up for years for trivial infractions.
Since the 1970s, millions of individuals have been imprisoned as part of the War on Drugs, and authorities continue to arrest an estimated 1 million people each year on drug-related crimes. More over half of the arrests are for cannabis-related offenses.
If cannabis had stayed legal, these people would have utilized their skills to build a respectable company in their communities, allowing them to support their families and pay taxes. They would not have struggled to find work or be refused housing because of a conviction; they would not have struggled to reintegrate into society after being locked up; and they would not have been scarred by their time in a dehumanizing system with little emphasis on rehabilitation. Communities destroyed by the Drug War would be thriving, exciting places to live.
How can we make this a reality?
The Last Prisoner Project is an organization that works hard to liberate those who have been convicted of cannabis-related offenses. You may give or buy the Farmer and the Felon, a cannabis brand that supports the LPP’s efforts.
The American Civil Liberties Union is a non-profit legal group that advocates for cannabis justice and legalization in courts at all levels.
The Marijuana Justice Coalition advocates for federal cannabis reform as well as compensation for communities damaged by the War on Drugs.
Since the 1970s, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has been working for cannabis reform, with state and local organizations around the country.