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The True Story of Cannabis: How self-care turned political

Updated 15 September 2022

In the US, Cannabis has gone from prohibited, to niche, to mainstream, in the space of a few years. While it may appear like a new trendy buzz word, there is a lot more to the plant than meets the eyes and ears. And if your only memory associated with Cannabis is a disappointing experience with a ‘pot brownie’ back in college, it’s time for a chat.

But first, let me say this: Cannabis can be consumed - in many creative ways in fact, without getting high. Cannabis is so much more than THC, its main psychoactive compound, and thankfully science is proving that every day. I know this well because as a long-time conscious Cannabis consumer, tea alchemist, and conscious Cannabis coach, I have learned to utilise the different sides of the plant for my own self-care and to support my body’s and business’ needs. In my business, Bloem et Moi, I create beautiful Cannabis-based tea blends that support your self-care while bringing you wonderful botanical benefits. Plus, they’re also 100% legal in the US, Europe and in the UK. But more on that later.

Let’s back this up a few thousands of years when Cannabis was already being used for food, clothing and medicinal purposes.

The first records of Cannabis date back to 4000BC in China, where Cannabis was farmed as a major food crop. Later in 2737BC, Emperor Shen-Nung recognized its healing benefits for over 100 ailments such as gout, rheumatism, and malaria, marking the first record of medicinal use known to-date. Doctors in ancient civilisations prescribed Cannabis to their patients: in Egypt, a medical papyrus noted that Cannabis can treat inflammation; in Persia it was deemed effective treatment for gout, edema, infectious wounds, and severe headaches; in Greece it was prescribed for toothache and earache, while also widely consumed throughout the empire; Women of the Roman elite also used Cannabis to alleviate labor pains.

Queen Victoria is said to have used Cannabis in the form of oil for her premenstrual syndrome, and the first page of the American constitution was written on hemp paper. In fact, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington all used their land to farm hemp.

So what’s the difference between Hemp and Cannabis? Is one bad and the other good?

Hemp IS Cannabis. We refer to hemp as the THC-free version of Cannabis, the one that won’t get you high. Legally, THC content should be below 0.3% in the US for the plant to be qualified as Hemp, 0.2% in Europe and in the UK, and 1% in Switzerland. Cannabis is a large family of many different strains, or types, some of them with low THC content (including hemp), some of them with a higher THC content. CBD (Cannabidiol) is talked about a lot these days for its medical benefits (including with children suffering from epilepsy), and different strains of Cannabis will vary in CBD content too. But it’s not all about THC and CBD anymore, as scientists have discovered over 200 other cannabinoids. In fact, both the cannabinoid and terpene profile of the plant will determine its effects and benefits. And again, it’s about a lot more than getting you high (or not).

Cannabis is the only plant that can feed you - and animals, heal you, clothe you, house you, clear your soil, all the while preserving the planet. At this point, you might be wondering why you’ve been taught it’s a dangerous drug. And so you should. That’s because you’ve been conditioned to believe that it is dangerous, and so much more.

It wasn’t just the Ancient civilisations who knew about the benefits of Cannabis. As recently as in the late 19th century, Anglo-Americans and Europeans could buy Cannabis extracts in pharmacies and doctors’ offices to help with stomach aches, migraines, inflammation, insomnia, and other ailments.

Jumping now to the 20th century, Cannabis morphs from being seen as helpful and beneficial to now being the enemy and destructive. In 1937 the US banned Cannabis with the Marihuana Tax Act. By that time, many states had already made the plant illegal, following the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and the wave of immigration that followed. Cannabis, or Marijuana (the use of the Mexican word emphasised the supposed foreignness of the plant and still contributes to perpetrating racist stereotypes) became associated with the Mexican community, and it wasn’t long before the plant was conveniently linked to crime, violence and erratic behaviours (including ‘supernatural strength’) by Texas Police Force. Marihuana Tax Act came just a year after the propaganda film Reefer Madness warned parents that drug dealers would invite their teenagers to jazz parties and get them hooked on “reefer.”

The federal government of the United States, as well as individual states continued to increase punishments related to Cannabis until the late 1960s, culminating with Nixon’s war on drugs. It was later admitted that the war on drugs was created to eradicate the White House’s two enemies: the anti-war left and Black people. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, incarceration rates skyrocketed, with the number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increasing from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997. Of those, a majority were, and still are, Black and Brown people. The war on drugs created the perfect legal excuses for Law Enforcement to persecute Black and Brown people. With the law distinguishing ‘cocaine powder’ from ‘crack cocaine’, despite both being the same drug, the government allowed the justice system to jail Black and Brown people for the same offence white people were walking free for. Today, the federal government continues to cling to a policy that has its origins in racism and xenophobia and whose principal effect has been to ruin the lives of generations of Black and Brown people.

Today, 38 states have legalized medical marijuana, 20 states plus D.C. have legalized it for recreational use, and 31 states of depenalised it. While things are slowly moving in the right direction, the plant remains illegal on a federal level, and many people, a majority of them Black and Brown people, remain behind bars for something that is entirely legal now, even in their own state.

A lot can be said about Cannabis as a plant and medicine, but one thing is sure: It never became illegal because it was unsafe for the population. In fact, its prohibition purposely made the lives of entire communities very unsafe by being very deeply rooted in racism.

If you’d like to find out more and get involved, The Last Prisoner Project is committed to “freeing every last prisoner of the unjust war on drugs, starting with 40,000 people in prison for Cannabis offenses legal in most states”.


Originally published in Issue 2 · April/May 2021 issue of SOULACY.

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