Marijuana big business: legalization bridges divides between business and consumer
Cannabis goes a long way back. Its uses varied, too—from ancients of civilization that got high pre written history, to the hemp ropes which played an important role in sea trade and nautical exploration. Those same strong hemp fibers were used to haul the infamous Easter Island stone statues (some weighing almost four and a half metric tons) to where they stand today.
Even earlier, hunter-gather societies probably weren’t taking time off to toke, but they were using cannabis. Archeologists in East Asia, central China and Japan have traced the spread of sativa through pollen dating back 11,000 years and 10,000-year-old hempseeds, which were probably a key source of protein for Neolithic peoples.
Medicinal marijuana isn’t exactly new, either. The history of marijuana use as medicine goes as far back as 4,000 BC, when herbal anesthetics were used for surgery; later, by midwives during childbirth; and finally smoking pipes and water pipes appeared in sub-Saharan Africa around 400 CE. Previously, cannabis was often roasted and chewed. But with this new development the psychotropic effects and medical benefits of marijuana (i.e. pain relief) could be felt immediately.
The sailors that spread marijuana had good reason to carry it besides economic gain. Marooned or seasick English seafarers and traders used marijuana for some of the earliest documented cases of the munchies. Recognizing the effects cannabis had on appetite and muscle relaxation, sailors with gastrointestinal illness drank marijuana tea to relieve discomfort and build up an appetite even when sick.
Signs of cannabis culture excavated from around the globe trace the migration of the marijuana plant and usage over time. From ancient stashes unearthed in Chinese burial mounds, to Vedic poetry inspired by euphoric highs, and mention of hashish—translated as “grass” or “medicinal herb”—in Old Arabic literature.
Marijuana use also varied by culture. During the 1800s, in Central Africa and Madagascar, local authorities forced offenders of the law to consume massive amounts of cannabis—which, though not lethal (a marijuana overdose is impossible due to low toxicity), it made for an extremely uncomfortable, effective punishment.
Cannabis cultivation spread from Asia into Africa, then areas of the Indian sub-continent, and finally onto Europe, where the historian Herodotus was one of the first to mention marijuana. Though cannabis seeds have been discovered in old Viking ships dated to approximately the 9th century, it was not until the 19th century that ships carried cannabis from Africa to South America. Marijuana migrated northward into North American, up via the United States Southwest and into Canada.
The history on marijuana and the plant’s first crossing into the United States isn’t entirely clear, but cannabis did come through Mexico and Central America (smuggled on fruit boats). It also arrived along the Californian coastline and through Atlantic seaports.
Early on, the marijuana leaf was literally considered a weed in some regions, or weed leaf that municipal governments repeatedly attempted to eradicate. Songbirds also happened to be attracted to the marijuana plant’s seeds as a food source; though in their efforts to forage they would spread the seeds. And so, in New York City, during the 1930s, police were keen on catching the culprit phantom planters who kept seeding vacant lots with marijuana—until they realized the “culprits” were in fact the birds.
Marajuana users varied over the decades. In the early 1900s and into the first half of the 20th century, the history of marijuana use seemed to belong to the lower class—manual laborers, merchant marines, sex workers and financially insecure artists. In the latter half of the century this shifted. The marijuana boom of the 1960s inextricably linked the plant to the notion of youth and “anti-establishment.” And during the Vietnam War, many U.S. soldiers experimented with and regularly used marijuana to cope with the stresses of the war. In 1973, President Nixon responded the surge in marijuana usage with the War on Drugs, labeling marijuana as a “drug menace.”
Leading into the 21st century cannabis laws have seen an opening up in the Global North, in the United States as well as Canada, with pushes for new legislation around the decriminalization of marijuana possession, medical marijuana for approved patients, and the full legalization of marijuana. Fully legalized marijuana, where recreational marijuana is permitted, has recently been passed into law in the U.S. states Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.
Today, in Canada, with numerous self-proclaimed cannabis connoisseurs—home growers, medical marihuana users, and licensed commercial and professional growers—cannabis is turning more mainstream than ever.
Part of the mainstream more liberal attitude toward cannabis can be attributed to a growing body of scientific research demonstrating the medicinal benefits of marijuana. As of 2001, medical marijuana was available in Canada as treatment for patients who were approved by Health Canada and Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR).
But on April 1, 2014, a new set of regulations was supposed to go into effect, otherwise known as Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR).
By the old rules patients could buy medical marijuana directly from Health Canada, grow your own medical marijuana, or designate others to grow for them. The new system (MMPR) was supposed to prevent abuse and criminal activity: primarily the illegal transport and sale of marijuana allegedly grown for specific patients and medical purposes.
Chief amongst complaints was a significant price hike for thousands, due in part from large, commercial producers with sole rights to provide patients with medical marijuana. And the 30,000 patients previously covered by the MMAR laws and regulations would be growing marijuana illegally under MMPR.
The Canadian government’s aim was to create an industry around medical marijuana, to make the sale and use of medical marijuana more regulated and commercialized. Like any other prescription medication, medical marijuana would require a similar prescription—documentation to keep track of patients and make sure their ailment and need(s) were legitimate. Health Canada would no longer be involved.
A large group of medical marijuana patients filed a court case seeking an exemption from the new law. A Canadian court judge subsequently granted an injunction for those with growing licenses valid through September 30, 2013. The injunction allows patients to continue growing as long as they possess no more than 150 grams of dried marijuana at a time. In Ottawa, pressure continues to come from large commercial growers and the Conservative government as they attempt to overturn the court’s ruling. Big-time producers of medical marijuana have cited their own suffering via profit loss.
In 2014, commercial growers sold 1,400 kilos of dried marijuana. Over 13,000 patients registered with newly licensed marijuana producers. The consumer sale price for a gram of marijuanna ranges widely, between $2.50 and $15.00 per gram; however, most prices averages around $8.
Apart from profits, where is the money going? Investment by licensed gargantuan producers of the marijuana leaf, such as Tweed, has been enormous, with funds spent on research and development of new marijuana strains, grow rooms and equipment, dried marijuana storage facilities, and compliance with elaborate tracking requirements for individual marijuana plants.
Many of the pundits for pot say decriminalization on a federal level is the next step toward legalization—for medical and recreational purposes; such a move is not just a manifestation of shifting public perception, but an opportunity. If a marijuana decriminalization law was passed, it could potentially lighten the onus on police forces and taxpayers who have historically carried the brunt of the burden for even minor marijuana offenders.
Think you might be Eligible for a Medical Marijuana Card? Find out!
Cannabis by Chris Duvall
Marijuana big business: Marijuana legalization is goo... Read more →
Marijuana in Mexico: legalization received unanticipa... Read more →
Medical marijuana and marijuana extract has long been... Read more →