It’s not an understatement to say that California is the home of America’s cannabis revolution. Much like Philadelphia and Boston were the philosophical homes of the free thought that sparked the American revolution, California has been at the forefront of America’s cannabis revolution.
In fact, California was leading the charge on legalization before it was “fashionable” to do so. With that in mind, G13 Mag felt like it was important to take a look at this history of cannabis in the Golden State. By all estimates, cannabis came to California during the gold rush. As you may know, cannabis is a “miracle plant”, which has uses beyond just smoking for enjoyment.
Before America’s industrial revolution, the hemp plant (from which cannabis is harvested) was used to manufacture clothing, rope and other materials that were essential to the California Gold Rush of the 1850’s. Aside from these practical uses, Californians also became attuned to cannabis’ healing and calming properties.
The popularity of cannabis continued to rise through the early 1900s, when large groups of Mexican immigrants came to California as farmers. African Americans also began traveling west to California in search of a place free of prejudice in the south. African Americans brought a unique, free-flowing style of music known as jazz with them and as you might imagine, cannabis was popular with jazz musicians and jazz fans. At this point, more conservative elements in the state and prohibitionists began agitating to make cannabis illegal.
In 1913, the prohibitionists got their way and California added cannabis to the list of substances banned under the Poison Act of 1913. Ironically, this made California the first state in the country to make cannabis illegal. Unfortunately for prohibitionists, the love for cannabis had already grown strong in California.
The state’s mild climate was ideal for cannabis cultivation and cannabis was quickly embraced by the “beat-nik” counter culture of authors like Jack Kerouac and musicians like Arlo Guthrie. Surfers also embraced cannabis, which meant the plant had a base of popularity among almost all of California’s major ethnic groups. Whether it was jazz artists of the African-American community, the Zoot Suiters of the Mexican community or the typical “blond-haired” California surfer, cannabis became something that everyone enjoyed behind the scenes.
This continued right up through the 1960’s when the anti-war movement and student protests rocked college campuses nationwide. Specifically, the University of California at Berkeley, which became known as “Bezerkley” became known for revolutionary activity. That included openly smoking and enjoying cannabis. This was after all, a time where people questioned everything, including the wisdom of cannabis prohibition.
The federal government responded by passing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which designated cannabis a schedule I narcotic and made it a felony to possess. Not much later, California responded with Proposition 19, which marked the first attempt to legalize cannabis. Although that measure failed, California would pass the Moscone Act in 1972. This made California the first state to downgrade possession of less than one ounce of cannabis to from a felony to a misdemeanor.
No one could have known then that was the opening shot of a cannabis revolution, but it was. Come back next week to see how California kept fighting and eventually became the first state to legalize cannabis.
G13 Club is a private social club for medical and recreational cannabis users based in Barcelona. It is also a space for musical and artistic development that promotes a multitude of activities focused on the expression and exhibition of urban, hip hop, reggae and skate culture.