New York: An Epicentre of Cannabis and Social Change

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Who would ever have thought that setting fire to a tiny amount of a common herb could lead not only a better sex life and jazz but also several years in prison? Such was the paradoxical history of cannabis use in the twentieth century. In several ways, since the controversy over the use of cannabis erupted in the western world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New York has been an epicentre of cannabis use, control and legislation. Historical cannabis use in New York The main places in the USA where the use of marijuana became a focus of heated discussion in the media were firstly New Orleans (Sloman 1998:44) and subsequently in the southern states bordering Mexico, and New York. From around 1910, when the ten-year-long revolution began in Mexico, tens of thousands of workers from Mexico migrated to the southern states of the USA, many of them bringing cannabis culture to the USA. Around the same time, many immigrants from the Caribbean region settled in New York, similarly bringing cannabis culture with them (see my blog on ‘Jamaica’). The use of marijuana undoubtedly influenced the burgeoning jazz scene in the early 20th century, particularly in New Orleans and New York (Lee 2012:9–13, 56–57). Hashish was used by some of the most important, early figures in Western esotericism. Born in New York, Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825–1875), a spiritualist, occultist and self-proclaimed master of ‘sex-magic,’ discovered hashish in France in 1855. He returned to New York in the same year and began lecturing there on spiritual topics. He founded the first branch of the Rosicrucian order in north America, in San Francisco in 1861, and became the largest importer of hashish to the USA. During his lecture tours he hawked his homemade cannabis elixirs as ‘invigorants’ and as…

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