This year, celebrating America’s 244th birthday may feel a little different. There may not be as many festive gatherings as you’re used to due to contagion control and social distancing. You may even find yourself wondering what’s worth celebrating amidst the chaos of the last few months.
Or you could be longing for the nostalgia of past Fourth of July celebrations, which is why a trip down marijuana memory lane might be more enjoyable than any patriotic parade.
Cannabis is a great way to enhance your mood and achieve total relaxation (for both you and your firework-dreading pets). And some mind-expanding substances might make the fireworks brighter and backyard burgers taste better.
As we celebrate our freedom to partake – in some states, at least – let’s reflect on how marijuana has been and continues to be a part of America’s story.
According to famed astronomer and noted cannabis consumer Carl Sagan, cannabis farming dates back 10,000-plus years. He once hypothesized that the plant may have been the first species to be deliberately cultivated by humans.
In his book “The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence,” Sagan wrote, “it would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization.”
According to some historians, cannabis originated in Central Asia approximately 15,000 years ago, and from there spread worldwide along ancient trading routes, which means that all strains throughout history could share a common ancestor.
One of the first agricultural products grown in the American colonies was hemp, and historical records show that the Mayflower had hemp lines, sails and caulking. Hemp seeds were also brought along by the passengers.
North America’s earliest smokers likely puffed pure sativa strains native to Mexico, the Caribbean, and points further south. In the pre-sinsemilla days (1900–1970), purchased bags often came with a supply of free seeds, but unfortunately the crop did not grow all that well in the cooler northern climates; pure sativas take longer than indicas to mature, and require a longer, warmer growing season.
As the demand for cannabis spiked in the late 1960s, enterprising cannabis breeders in California and elsewhere discovered that by crossing sativa strains with indica strains – retrieved from Nepal, Afghanistan, and other stops along the then-popular Hippie (or Overland) Trail that spanned from Western Europe to Southeast Asia – they could produce hybrids with the best traits of both subspecies. Thus, they transformed homegrown American cannabis into the envy of the world, and everything we now enjoy.
These incredible cross-breeding discoveries took place behind a heavy veil of prohibition, so the business of cultivating, distributing, and retailing the plant was never what you’d call a legitimate industry. And although it’s big business today in more than 30 states, the use, sale, and possession of cannabis with over 0.3% THC in the United States is still illegal under federal law.
There have been some signs of acceptance at the federal level. In 2014, the Obama administration issued guidelines to banks for conducting transactions with legal marijuana sellers so businesses could have savings, make payroll, and pay taxes like any other enterprise. In 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill which descheduled hemp, making cannabis plants with under 0.3% THC legal.
Earlier this year, U.S. cannabis CEOs declared that the chances for federal marijuana legalization will dramatically increase in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
One of the proposed stimulus relief bills even included cannabis industry protections. Just as the Great Depression nearly 100 years ago reversed the government’s prohibition of alcohol, could COVID-19 reverse our country’s prohibition of marijuana?
Many states are already turning to cannabis as a source of tax revenue and employment. If the nation is going to implement a strategy to recover from such a sudden economic downturn, ending marijuana prohibition could play an important part.
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