By Katie King
Surfs up, brah! Come with us on a magical journey into the heartland of the marijuana industry. Home to Humboldt County, Snoop Dogg, and yours truly, Pacific Seed Bank, California has a long and illustrious history with marijuana, a.k.a everyone’s beloved jolly green ganja.
California could easily be called the birthplace of marijuana culture as we know it today. As the very first state in the US to push for medical legalization, Cali has paved the way for the rise of legitimization efforts throughout the nation. In 2018, California finally fulfilled its destiny as one of 13 states to successfully legalize recreational marijuana. But the story starts long ago, and it’s roots are tangled with the counterculture of America – the Beat Poets, Hippies, Surf Bros, and West Coast Rappers who passed the torch in creating the laid back, west coast attitude synonymous with California weed culture.
When Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg came to San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s, they brought their New York counterculture and their New York weed with them. Marijuana was already popular among minority communities on the west coast, specifically East Asian immigrants and African American jazz musicians. Ginsberg stayed in California, cultivating his own group of weirdos, and helping spread marijuana use to a wider community.
The beats may have come first, but the hippies did it better. As American culture began to diversify, a split evolved between East and West. The east coast maintained it’s serious, Puritanical attitude, while the laid back attitude the west coast is famous for began to emerge. San Francisco blossomed as the modern hub of life and free love. We take you now to Haight Street, where girls with flowers in their hair dance barefoot in Golden Gate Park to the sounds of tambourines and mandolins. It’s the summer of love and the air is filled with magic and marijuana smoke.
At this time, Ken Kesey and his Electric Koolaid Acid Test became prominent in the hippie culture of California. Their experimentation with illicit drugs and frequent use of marijuana as a mind-altering substance became synonymous with hippie culture in California – the culture that brought us many of the symbols of marijuana culture that still exist today: tie-dye, peace signs, and psychedelic rock.
In 1964, the first marijuana legalization group formed in San Francisco. By the mid-60s, LeMar, short for Legalize Marijuana, and their smoky wares had become an integral part of the California college campus experience.
Then, in the late 60s and early 70s, California connoisseurs began cultivating the sinsemilla variation of marijuana plants. These plants were grown without seeds and this technique quickly spread as a sure-fire way to grow powerful female plants without risk of contamination from pesky male plants. By 1975, this technique had taken root in fertile Humboldt County, located on California’s north coast. Humboldt County quickly became an epicenter of cannabis production, and by 2010, an estimated 79% of the nation’s cannabis came from those rolling green fields.
Even in the Golden State, nothing gold can stay. The hippies sold out and bought in, and by the late 70s, marijuana culture was dwindling. The devil’s lettuce wasn’t as widely celebrated and interest waned, except among those stalwart surfers in Southern California, who kept the spirit alive. With their long hair and laid back attitudes, the surf bros became the face of weed culture in America. Young, attractive, fit, and fun, surfers embodied the carefree culture of marijuana connoisseurs that lives on in the skate culture of the 90s to today.
Another famous symbol of marijuana culture was born in Southern California in the 70’s. “4:20”, generally regarded as the stoner holiday, originated with a group of students as a code word for a time to meet and toke up (this was in the days before smartphones, when we had to make plans ahead of time and hope that our friends showed up). The code was picked up by none other than local musicians and stoners The Grateful Dead. The Dead successfully spread the 4:20 magic around the country, along with their funky jams and laid back west coast style.
In 1972, California became the first state to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. It was the beginning of a decades-long battle, and in 1996, California successfully legalized cannabis for qualifying patients with the Compassionate Use Act. This was a huge first step towards mainstream acceptance of marijuana as medicine.
Soon after, marijuana emerged like a phoenix from the ashes, back to the mainstream, in an unlikely new subculture: Hip Hop was growing in the 90s, and artists like Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and others were wrapping blunts and rapping about blunts on the regular. At the same time, Reggae was making a splash among the coastal communities. Black culture had once again come to the forefront of marijuana popularity and normalization.
By the late 90s, marijuana use had permeated every corner of the counterculture and was drifting into the mainstream. With successful medical marijuana legalization, the ball was rolling and it would not stop again.
Last year, California joined Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Colorado, and Alaska in legalizing marijuana for recreational use for adults over age 21. Cannabis production is quickly growing into a multimillion-dollar industry in California, providing thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue. It seems the future is finally here, and it is bright in sunny California!
Need more marijuana history? Weedmaps is bringing a museum of marijuana to Los Angeles in 2019. Details are still in the works, so keep an eye out for the “Museum of Weed” in 2019.