Cannabis history is nearly as long as the history of human civilization, but unlike other agricultural products, the story of weed has often been shrouded in the dark. This is true especially in America, where cannabis’ legacy has long been connected with our country’s institutionalized racism. It’s time for this to change, and a look at cannabis history reveals—perhaps unsurprisingly—that it’s in many ways instrinsically tied to the histories of Black people and other people of color, and therefore something that demands closer study, especially since it doesn’t appear in any of the usual history books.
In 2014, University of Kansas professor Barney Warf published a paper called “High Points: An Historical Geography of Cannabis” in the Geographical Review academic journal, revealing how, even from early days, the shifting borders and population movements caused by imperialism and war affected the history of weed.
Warf writes that cannabis—first grown in central Asia, where it then spread to Arab countries, India, and Southeast Asia—was initially brought to Africa by Arab merchants into places like Egypt and Ethiopia by the 13th century. Known as dagga, its use spread down the continent, and records show it was used by Indian indentured laborers in South Africa for centuries. Cannabis didn’t become widespread in western parts of Africa until