Marijuana has been a prevalent part of Hawaiian culture for over two centuries, with the earliest newspaper reference to “Pakalolo” in 1842. The combined result of its long presence in native Hawaiian culture, the surf-culture explosion of the 50s and 60s, and year-round growing conditions have elevated marijuana acceptance in Hawaii to levels arguably higher than in any other state. I suspect that this prevalence and relative ease of access has actually been a disincentive to legalization, and why Hawaii has been so slow to implement the medical legalization that became law in 2000, but with dispensary sales not allowed until 2017.
My introduction to marijuana occurred in the late 70s growing up in Hawaii when I gained my first meaningful knowledge of the plant and its recreational use. I had certainly smelled it before then and naively witnessed my parents awkwardly passing a joint with friends at a party or two, and I’m sure there were a few uninformed school-yard boasts on the topic, but it wasn’t until high school that the prevalence of marijuana in Hawaii became obvious to me.
Where the time zone is a few hours behind, and cannabis culture is out in front by decades
At about this time, an adventurous member of my Boy Scout troop expanded our interpretation of the “Be Prepared” motto by packing along some hideous, lung-defiling, marijuana leaf-dust concoction, and a crude toilet paper roll pipe, on a couple of outings. In hindsight, a risk/reward analysis would have indicated that the little pleasure derived from this experimentation was easily outweighed by the risk of getting caught doing it. But, of course, we were young, stupid, foolhardy and invincible.
As we grew a little older, bolder and more mobile we started roaming further afield on weekends, and would occasionally find ourselves in Waikiki making fun of the tourists. It was common to hear muted utterances of “BUDS” from shadowed corners as we strutted down the sidewalks of Kalakaua Avenue. We were never tempted by these advanced marketing techniques because we had safer, reliable options on our side of the island, where a “bag” of buds sold for $20 and were typically two to three grams. Some of the more memorable strain names, which probably had nothing to do with their lineage, included “Kauai Electric,” “Puna Butter,” and my personal favorite, “Mango Buds.”
Partly because I was a cash-poor high school student, partly because I like the idea of growing things and significantly because I figured it would be “cool,” I was able, surprisingly, to convince my mother to allow me to cultivate a couple marijuana plants in backyard pots. Not coincidently, this was also the first time I realized that I’m not very good at growing things. The scraggly plants never grew more than a foot or two, never produced buds and died when I either under-watered, over-watered or over-fertilized them (there was no shortage of opinions). My mom probably knew this would happen and agreed to my proposal knowing full well that I’d fail after a few weeks and move on to another short-lived venture. While she was right, I at least harvested enough leaves to make a wretched, but effective, batch of brownies, and gained the envious admiration of some of my friends. I think. Maybe.
Riding a new wave: legitimacy as a medicine
But regardless of source or use, everyone at the time seemed to understand that marijuana got us stoned because of the THC it contained. I had no idea, however, of the chemical complexity of our chosen vice and certainly had no knowledge of indica, sativa, cannabinoid receptors, or the existence of other compounds like CBD, CBC, CBG and CBN, that may hold promise in the treatment of medical conditions including PTSD, chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and Crohn’s disease.
Nor did I foster any absurd notion that cannabis (yes, it’s time for the name change) would one day gain enough popularity and acceptance to motivate individual states, in direct opposition of federal law, to legalize medical and recreational use. This groundswell of support for legalization now appears to be seeping into Congressional conversations, and I’m finally optimistic that cannabis, at least for medical use and research, will be decriminalized within the next couple years. This should be our top priority, as I see it.
We are still in the very early stages of identifying the potential medical benefits of cannabis, and anecdotal evidence is increasingly being supplemented by empirical evidence to help prove the claims, change opinions and ultimately improve lives.