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Happy 420 Day! Celebrating the Benefits of Pot (and Taking a Look at Its Demonisation Over the Decades)

High angle view of marijuana leaves with copy space

Each year, stoners mark April 20th as a date of celebration.

That is April 20th or 4/20 in the US, and while the date and month is swapped in Australia, many of our own stoners like to celebrate this day.

Pot aficionados have suggested ‘420’ was once a code used by police whenever they had a situation involving dealings with marijuana.

Some folks even think 420 is linked to rock star death anniversaries, or the number of chemical compounds in THC-laden cannabis.

In actuality – and rather quaintly – the name came from a code used by high school students, who would meet up at the end of the school day – at around 4.20 pm – for a smoking session, simply saying ‘420’ to one another to set the appointment.

Today being a celebratory day for pot lovers, Cream is honouring it by outlining the benefits of marijuana. We also present a mini history lesson about what was once dubbed ‘The Devil’s Lettuce’.

So sit back, light up, and celebrate.

Antonino Tati


How Popular is Pot?

A recent Gallup poll found that approximately 12% of adults smoke marijuana on a casual, regular basis. Some folks smoke it purely for recreation; others for medicinal purposes.

The benefits of marijuana are many. It can help fight cancer, relieve chronic pain, treat depression, mend bones, regulate diabetes, and it even shows promise in autism treatment.

Cannabis contains CBD, a chemical that impacts the brain to make it function better, as well as THC which has pain-relieving properties and often provides the sense of being ‘high’. Both substances can be extracted and enhanced from cannabis for both health and recreational use.

While there are connotations of pot that assume its users eat a lot more than usual (“the munchies”), marijuana can actually help an individual lose weight. Think about the avid cannabis users you know; not many are that overweight, are they? This is because cannabis is linked to aiding your body in regulating insulin while efficiently managing calorie intake.

Another myth is that smoking pot can add to the risk of lung disease when it actually works to improve lung capacity. Unlike smoking cigarettes, when smoking cannabis in its pure form, your lungs aren’t harmed. In fact, one study found that cannabis actually helps increase the capacity of the lungs rather than cause harm to it.

The list of benefits of smoking marijuana go on and on – from helping with ADHD to alleviating anxiety, easing arthritis to keeping PTSD symptoms at bay.

So why is it that the drug has experienced such a long period of shaming?

A Slow History of Marijuana Legalisation

Once deemed the bringer of evil, marijuana has had a long journey from rejection to acceptance as a beneficial natural medicine and relaxation tool. The drug’s status has graduated from ‘menace to society’ via archaic campaigns which demonised cannabis users, to today’s slick packaging and bright billboards that promote marijuana as if it were craft beer.

Different countries have legalised the good drug at various times.

Uruguay was the first country to legalise marijuana for recreational use in December 2013.

It took a full five years for the next nation to legalise it, with Canada making marijuana use officially legal for both recreational and medicinal use in October 2018.

‘The Cannabis Act’, as it was appropriately labelled, saw pro-marijuana votes leading 52-29 in the Senate, hence Canada became the second country worldwide to legalise pot for general and medicinal use.

The Australian capital of Canberra legalised marijuana in September 2019, allowing the use of small amounts of cannabis, that is, up to 50 grams of dry cannabis per person (or 150 grams of wet weed) and a maximum of four plants per household.

The US is mixed with its laws. In some states you can smoke without concern; in others, you’ll have to prove you have an ailment, and in others carrying so much as a few puffs’ worth of pot can get you chucked into jail.

Today, over 30 countries recognise marijuana as a legal drug for medicinal use. These include:

Argentina  Germany Netherlands
Australia Greece Norway
Canada Israel Peru
Chile Italy Poland
Colombia Jamaica Romania
Croatia Lesotho San Marino
Cyprus Luxembourg Switzerland
Czech Republic Macedonia Turkey
Denmark Malta Uruguay
Finland Mexico Zimbabwe

Some nations’ laws won’t punish you severely for possession of a small amount of marijuana, but will see fines and possible jail time imposed if it looks like you have enough to perhaps be selling the stuff. Other nations are far stricter in their pot stance. France finds pot-smoking distasteful; Singapore frowns upon it greatly; and in Indonesia and Thailand it’s extremely illegal to even puff a bit of the stuff.

Still, one glimpse at the above list and it’s a refreshing change to the anti-marijuana stance promoted by authorities a century ago…

The Devil’s Lettuce: 100 years of cannabis campaigns

In 2021, it’s difficult not to smirk at the wildly dramatic name for marijuana, ‘The Devil’s Lettuce’, but in the twin-set wearing age where wholesome families gathered around bulky television sets to watch Leave It To Beaver, anti-cannabis propaganda was widely accepted.

A conservative stance on marijuana use had actually been going on for decades. During the 1920s and 1930s, marijuana was already largely associated with minority groups. When massive unemployment during the Great Depression increased the public’s resentment towards Mexican and African-American communities, the government and conservative campaigners used anti-cannabis propaganda as a way to capitalise on this fear.

Fear-mongering became an effective tactic that lead to the social construction of cannabis as one of the most dangerous drugs of our time. It has been 83 years since the Reefer Madness era, but much like the aftershock of an earthquake, there’s damage that follows.

We’ve made some great strides in correcting the common misconceptions of generations past, but in order to alter the perception of marijuana and understand the wealth of benefits this plant offers, both medicinally and recreationally, we need to look at what happened throughout the course of cannabis use.

Consumers come in all forms: entrepreneurs, business executives, artists, tradespeople, grandparents, millennials … But with the traditional stigma around pot, many of these folks are largely under-represented in current cannabis culture.

The Rise of Reefer Madness

In the 1930s, American parents were in a state of panic. The propaganda film Reefer Madness suggested evil marijuana dealers lurked in public schools, waiting to entice children into a life of crime and degeneration. The film was started by Harry Anslinger, a government employee eager to make a name for himself after alcohol prohibition ended. And much to his surprise, the campaign succeeded beyond his aims, making him the head of the Bureau of Narcotics for 30 years.

In the decades prior to 1930, many American households had cannabis in their medicine cabinets in tincture form. But marijuana began to decline in the eyes of “proper” society when Mexican immigrants and African-American jazz musicians openly smoked marijuana.

Anslinger played on the racist attitudes of white America in the early 20th century and used the fear of marijuana as an “assassin of youth”. His tactics included racist accusations that linked marijuana to Mexican immigrants, many of whom had fled danger during the Mexican Revolution. His campaign also included stories of black men who enticed young white women to become sex-crazed and instantly addicted to marijuana.

Anslinger and his Reefer Madness film were wildly successful in demonising marijuana, creating stereotypes that we’re still trying to shake to this day.

There’s no better example than Hemp For Victory, an educational film produced by the USDA in 1942 that encouraged farmers to grow hemp. During World War II, imports of hemp and other materials crucial for producing marine cordage, parachutes and other military necessities became scarce and needed by the allies. In response to the demand, the United States briefly reversed its stance on hemp and encouraged farmers to grow it.

After the war, hemp was once again deemed illegal and the government tried to hide all records of the campaign until pro-cannabis activists pressured them to bring it back into the light. Today, you can find Hemp For Victory in the U.S. National Archives, under record number ‘1682’.

Hemp for Victory is important not only because it highlights the true benefits and concise history of hemp that has been largely censored from textbooks, but in less than a decade after the war on drugs began, the government had the remarkable ability to flip-flop on a core drug policy overnight.

Despite marijuana’s deep roots in the US, the 1960s and 1970s counterculture movement became the face of cannabis that many of us know today. Marijuana became associated with hippies, political activism and the rejection of social, economic and mainstream society.

Stoner stereotypes were those of jobless and careless characters such as Cheech and Chong, beach bums and beatniks who loathed work and authority. To many people, being a pothead became an insult, ranging from dirty hippies to lazy all-day smokers.

Marijuana’s controversial image was followed by Richard Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ in 1971, which placed cannabis, in all its forms, as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside ecstasy, heroin, and cocaine. Furthering Nixon’s initiative, Ronald Reagan increased federal funding for drug-control agencies and proposed strict measures, such as mandatory prison sentencing, for drug crimes, and who could forget Nancy Reagan’s tired slogan ‘Just Say No’ which eventually became a political joke among pro-marijuana / anti-Reagan voting groups.

After two decades as America’s public enemy number one, marijuana was in desperate need of a new image, which is exactly what it would get in 1996 when California voters legalised marijuana for recreational use. Medical marijuana not only helped change the way we view cannabis but opened the doors to recreational legalisation.

Nowadays, we’re seeing everything from anti-stoner campaigns to sleek, modern packaging and billboards that promote small batch, local brands — as if cannabis was a craft beer.

Fast-forward decades later and the way we view cannabis, in an era of legalisation, is a shocking black and white comparison to generations past. Today there are millions of adults who choose to enjoy cannabis both recreationally, and medicinally. Some use it socially with friends, and others to unwind after a stressful day at work, or just to think more creatively. Consumers come in all forms: entrepreneurs, business executives, artists, tradespeople, grandparents, millennials… But with the traditional stigma around pot, many of these folks are largely under-represented in current cannabis culture.

Modern marijuana campaigns aim to change that, starting with busting the 1970s-era, Cheech-and-Chong stereotypes of cannabis users. With regulations around cannabis advertising, determined individually by states, brands have to be extra creative with their marketing efforts, and they’re doing so with flair. Nowadays, we’re seeing everything from anti-stoner campaigns to sleek, modern packaging and billboards that promote small batch, local brands — as if cannabis was a craft beer.

There’s no denying the rich history of cannabis in popular culture and marketing, going right back to the Reefer Madness era. By evaluating cannabis campaigns of the past, we can better understand how to reshape those of the future. The way we view marijuana is not only maturing but celebrating the diversity of its consumers.

So what are you waiting for? Smoke up!


Note: No information in this article should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. See your doctor for further advice.

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