Legal Cannabis’ FAROUT Social Potential

Janon Stock/Shutterstock

Janon Stock/Shutterstock

Once banished to dark alleys, cannabis is being brought into the light of day. From CBD-imbued beauty products to THC-infused water, everyone seems to be turned on to what was once verboten. As you can imagine, cannabis’ new-found popularity has many long-time aficionados at once enthused and anxious. But there’s no need to fear the mainstream reefer. On the contrary, the public’s rush to cannabis could bring American culture to new highs. 

Mitch M/Shutterstock

Mitch M/Shutterstock

As participants in and allies of cannabis culture, we understand the trepidation and maybe even resentment over marijuana’s increased social acceptability. Many of us spent years hiding our love for getting high. We were been branded stoners or burnouts; we were cast as deviants; and and we were shunned by those who think marijuana’s a gateway drug. [A theory that is at least flawed and at most debunked.]

Thus, those of us who loved Mary Jane in The Time of Prohibition had to band together, finding solace among like-minded people while the rest of “civil society” scorned us. These niches were safe spaces where imaginations could be stretched, FAROUT ideas could be shared, and new connections could be made, physically and mentally. There was a sense of cooperation, egalitarianism, and solidarity there.

Now it seems every mom, pop, and even pets are going gaga for grass and its derivatives — and stats back it up: a 2017 poll showed almost 15% of Americans tried marijuana the previous year, while a 2018 survey indicated 5% of all Americans - 12,603,190 people - specifically smoke on the regular. Though younger Americans are still the most likely to partake in a toke, older Americans are getting in on the action, too: a 2018 analysis revealed that Americans 50 and older are 20 times more likely to use marijuana than their peers three decades ago, and a survey from that same year found 9% of adults 50-65 smoke weed regularly. In other words, more people of more ages are getting high.

For some of us, this mad dash toward dope feels as if something special is being degraded. It’s like when your favorite designer suddenly blows up: What was once singular is now mundane; what was anti-establishment is now established. And, as mentioned, cannabis’ newfound mainstream appeal has people wondering if corporate appropriation of sticky icky and its related products will neuter our beloved counter culture, whether it will strip it of its homegrown quirks. Again, we empathize. But rest assured, it’s all good. 

Emile Bernard, “ Smoking Hashish ,” 1900, oil on canvas.

Emile Bernard, “Smoking Hashish,” 1900, oil on canvas.

Despite its association with laziness, marijuana’s a catalyst; it’s inherently an instigator, a go-getter. It and its cannabinoid cousins are about fostering new connections – literally: They create neural pathways and mental links that foster fresh spiritual and social networks. That’s why and how humans have employed marijuana for millennia: to elevate thought and bring people together. From Hindu spiritualists who used cannabis to enhance meditation circa 2,000 BC, to Taoist monks who did likewise in 500 A.D. to, the Bashilenge of the Congo who passed weed around as a way to strengthen socioeconomic coalitions, marijuana’s long been a tool for building bridges. It’s about forming fresh bonds and expressing original ideas. And that’s precisely why it’s been long banned in the West, specifically the United States. 

Originally a popular additive in patent medicines, cannabis became flora non grata in the early 20th century, after the government cracked down on unregulated THC-laden elixirs, tonics, and tinctures, etc. As happens, this created space for the marijuana flower to flourish on the black market, from which it was readily adopted by musicians, writers, and other creatives who went against the grain. (One notable early example of Mary Jane-as-muse is Cab Calloway’s 1932 hit “Reefer Man”.)

Weed’s popularity among freethinkers did nothing for its reputation among reactionaries. The powers-that-be couldn’t rest easy knowing people were questioning the very fabric of society. Thus, the vilification of marijuana and its users began — and it took off like hotcakes: the 1930s saw the release of classic fear mongering flicks like 1936’s Reefer Madness and 1937’s Assassin of Youth; and by the 1950s and 1960s, marijuana was likened to communism for the allegedly existential threat it posed to America. But there was no real threat; this was just conservatives trying to maintain their power. So, marijuana was tamped down to uphold the status quo.

Pulp novels fueled the anti-cannabis fire circa the 1940s and ‘50s, and even into the 1960s.

Pulp novels fueled the anti-cannabis fire circa the 1940s and ‘50s, and even into the 1960s.

This is a simplified version of events, but it’s the gist: The anti-weed crusades were, quite simply, part of a broader campaign to shape Americans into one type. Anti-reefer hysteria was hive mind at its highest. It was a way to sustain a homogenous system that elevates I above We; a system that prefers unblinking loyalty to inquisitiveness, conformity to inclusion; a system that pits people against one another in an endless competition for more, more, more. But that could change.

Shtefan Yelizaveta/Shutterstock

Shtefan Yelizaveta/Shutterstock

Since marijuana is intrinsically mind-expanding, increased usage suggests more people will think more inventively. With new neural connections, and, we hope, new friends made along the way, increased usage will allow people to more willingly question convention and to more eagerly entertain out-of-the-box thinking. Like those before them, this new generation of open-minded potheads will readily accept social change and progress. 

On a macro scale, increased cannabis enjoyment could build bridges where there were once chasms, fostering a more communal culture that undercuts the “be the boss” mentality so many of us know and loathe. It may engender more cooperative behavior, eroding the zero-sum mindset that has long defined America.

Most importantly, higher marijuana usage and broadened thinking will give uniqueness new social value. Where “the man in the gray flannel suit” once ruled the roost, individualism will be celebrated anew. Those who were “burnouts” may now be “bellwethers.”

Yes, widespread marijuana consumption means something will be lost — the clandestine communities nurtured in prohibition — but there’s also so much more to gain — maybe so much that what was once a pipe dream, a truly inclusive United States of America, can become a reality.