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Geography

We love maps. So much so, that we spend hours on end poring over them. Join us, as we talk about some of the more important aspects of geography as it relates to Cannabis. **WORK IN PROGRESS**

1.

Why is Geography important?

2.

Themes in the Geography of Cannabis

3.

Individuals and Structures: a theoretical perspective

4.

Signs and Symbols

5.

Production and Exchange

6.

Cultural Landscapes of Cannabis

7.

Physical Factors in Cannabis Agriculture

8.

Farming and Hashmaking

9.

Terroir and Cannabis

10.

Lowland Cannabis

11.

Highland Cannabis

12.

Alpine Cannabis

13.

Island Cannabis

14.

Historical Development of the Cannabis Trade

15.

The Modern Cannabis Trade

15.

Cannabis Growing Regions of the World: An Analysis

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Why is geography so important?

Introduction

Geography is central to understanding cannabis growing and hashish making, regardless of how the discipline is defined: Cannabis Sativa is one of the most sensitive of agricultural products to variations in the physical environment; landscapes of cannabis in traditional growing regions reflect deep cultural resonances about the relationships between humans and the places in which they live; and the spatial distribution of Cannabis production and the styles or methods used for the production of refined goods such as Charas or Hashish vary significantly across the globe. 

 

Wine is very similar to Cannabis in many ways and when it comes to wine; almost every descriptive account of a wine region refers to its geography, usually focusing on its physical environment, and the influence that this has on the character of the wines. Moreover, important publications by archaeologists, historians, and economists, alongside many others, frequently refer to aspects of geography in their understandings of wine, often in terms of its role in international trade, its spatial variability, or the significance of the environment in shaping the distribution of grape growing and wine production.

However when it comes to Cannabis, there is no such approach. Cannabis writers barely cover the subject of traditional growing regions and very few serious scientists of any discipline have approached subject with this sort of rigour. 

As a result, we have 18,000 strains registered on seedfinder.eu, the overwhelming majority of them anonymous hybrids with unclear origins. The only way to to begin approaching the subject of Cannabis cultivars in a sensible manner, particularly the hybrids of the last 60 years - is to completely ignore them. For the time being that is. 

First, the strains of the last 500 years would need to be properly understood. Haze is supposedly a mixture of three Colombians. What is the genetic background of Punta Rojo or the so called 'Highland Colombian'?

What makes those strains different from any other? 

Geography.

It is the foundation upon which we need to build on. 

Image by USGS

THEMES IN THE  GEOGRAPHY OF CANNABIS

As noted above, there are few agricultural crops whose products are as subtly diverse as those of Cannabis Sativa. Moreover, this diversity is reflected at a range of scales, from the global variations between Cannabis found in different continents, to the local differences between adjacent plots.

 

This diversity is not only the outcome of differences in geology and climate, but it is also the result of the labour of countless generations of growers, each set in their own distinctive human context. It is this historical interaction between people and the environment, creating a specific cultural identity, that lies at the heart of any understanding of the emergence and spread of Cannabis production and consumption.

 

However, there is much more to an understanding of the emergence and spread of Cannabis than merely its expression as a product of the interaction of people in a particular environment. Cannabis and Hashish have played important economic, social, political and ideological roles in different parts of the world throughout history.

 

In economic terms, it is well attested that a considerable economy based on the trade of hashish existed in the Indian subcontinent since at least 1893. Before this, evidence is scarce and after this, prohibition confuses the picture. Only now is the role of trans-national capital in the development of the illicit Cannabis industry during the twentieth century beginning to attract attention. Continued illegality in many countries compounded with the secretive nature of the cold war make studying certain aspects the Cannabis economy completely impossible. 

 

The social significance of Cannabis consumption has also varied considerably in the past. Cannabis is associated with certain Nizari Ismaili sects of Islam since ancient times, leading rise to later disproven theories as to the origin of the word Assassin. In the Indian subcontinent, Cannabis and Charas have had important ideological significance and symbolism, from their efflorescence in Shaivite rituals to their use by Sadhus on a daily basis.

 

To these factors must also be added the political importance of Cannabis and the Cannabis trade, expressed not only in the famous words of John Erlichman, Co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal and advisor to US president Nixon...

 

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

...but also in the effects of the ensuing prohibition in the decades following. 

Thus an understanding of the geography of Cannabis can be only be found at the confluence (can only be achieved via a multidisciplinary)

 

**Highlight the relative lack of work in the field and link to existing work** **Prohibition one of the most powerful agents in shaping the landscape of cannabis today** **Summarise different themes**

**Section linking the individual to the collective, highlighting the complexity of the topic at hand before leading on to the next section**

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INDIVIDUALS AND STRUCTURES: A THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE

Since the 1970s, there has been a growing interest among geographers to explore the interplay between individual actions and structural constraints. This dialogue between the autonomy of individual decisions and the overarching influence of social and economic structures is pivotal in understanding human behavior within geographical contexts. James Duncan highlights the challenge in geography of balancing these perspectives, noting that while some theories overemphasize structural power, others afford too much autonomy to individual agency.

Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration offers a reconciliation of these extremes by conceptualizing social actions as both the medium and outcome of structural properties. According to Giddens, social practices are not only shaped by but also shape the structures within which they operate. This dual role underscores the dynamic and reciprocal nature of the relationship between individuals and the social systems they inhabit.

Louis Althusser’s theory further complicates this relationship by introducing the notion that different instances—economic, political, and ideological—can dominate a social formation at various times. This framework allows for a nuanced understanding of how different elements of society can influence human behavior and societal evolution.

In the context of cannabis cultivation and its symbolic importance, these theoretical frameworks are particularly relevant. The cannabis leaf, as a potent cultural and ideological symbol, serves as a vivid example of how individual and collective actions can both reflect and influence broader social structures. This symbol has transcended its immediate botanical context to embody broader ideological stances and social movements, varying significantly across different cultural and temporal landscapes.

For instance, the cultivation of cannabis in areas like Parvati Valley is not just an economic activity but is deeply embedded within the social and ideological fabric of the community. The production of hashish and other derivatives from the cannabis plant can be seen as a manifestation of the local cultural identity, shaped by and shaping the social and economic structures of the region.

Jürgen Habermas and Raymond Geuss expand on these ideas within the scope of critical theory, emphasizing the role of ideology in obscuring the real conditions and interests of individuals within society. Their analysis suggests that understanding the ideological implications of symbols like the cannabis leaf is crucial for decoding the power dynamics and economic relationships within late-capitalist societies, as well as in pre-capitalist contexts.

By examining the historical and current use of cannabis through the lenses of structuration and ideology, we can better understand the complex interactions between individuals and structures. This approach allows for a richer interpretation of how cannabis fields have been shaped, how religious and cultural symbols are integrated into everyday life, and how societal norms influence and are influenced by the production and consumption of cannabis. 

Let us briefly consider the theoretical relationships between symbols and society, and production and exchange. 

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SIGNS AND SYMBOLS

The cannabis leaf is a potent symbol in modern society, laden with diverse meanings and implications. Its significance has been the subject of anthropological research by figures like Mary Douglas and Claude Lévi-Strauss, who explored the broad implications of symbols in cultural contexts. More recently, historians and geographers have expanded these investigations, delving into the symbolism of landscapes and their roles as complex cultural products, as articulated by Denis Cosgrove in 1984. This growing body of scholarship reveals that the symbolism of the cannabis leaf extends well beyond its physical manifestation, embodying a range of ideological and social dimensions that resonate deeply within and across cultures.

The multiplicity of meanings attached to symbols, as highlighted by Robert Darnton in 1986, underscores the complexity of the cannabis leaf as a cultural signifier. Symbols, Darnton notes, "convey multiple meanings and … meaning is construed in different ways by different people," a principle that is vividly applicable to the cannabis leaf. Its representation and interpretation vary widely, influenced by historical, social, and cultural contexts, making it a rich subject for academic exploration.

To fully appreciate the symbolism of cannabis, it is crucial to understand the metaphorical relationships between the symbol and what it represents. This involves exploring how different attributes of the cannabis plant—its color, shape, and the contexts of its use—have been imbued with meaning over time. As Darnton suggests, "People can express thought by manipulating things instead of abstractions… Such gestures convey metaphorical relations." These relations reveal how the cannabis leaf can symbolize disparate concepts such as freedom, rebellion, peace, or criminality, depending on its cultural context.

Pierre Bourdieu's notion of symbolic power further illuminates the role of the cannabis plant in society. Symbolic power, according to Bourdieu, is a transformed and legitimated form of other types of power. It manifests through symbols like the cannabis plant, which can be used by those in positions of authority to maintain control or by marginalized groups to challenge the status quo. This dual capacity makes the cannabis plant a powerful tool in both reinforcing and resisting societal norms and power structures.

The historical and geographical spread of cannabis also reflects the symbolic versatility of the plant. As cannabis farming expanded from its origins to new regions like North America, the Caribbean, and South America, it carried with it the cultural traits and identities of those who cultivated it. These movements were often intertwined with the economic and societal shifts driven by European colonial and imperial ambitions, demonstrating how the symbolism of cannabis is not only a reflection of individual and cultural identity but also an element of broader socio-economic processes.

In contemporary society, the symbolism of cannabis continues to evolve, particularly in the realm of legal cannabis markets. Advertisements for cannabis products often incorporate symbols that appeal to a middle-class, bourgeois lifestyle, suggesting sophistication and rebellion simultaneously. These marketing strategies highlight how deeply embedded the symbolism of cannabis is in the cultural psyche, tapping into both contemporary desires and historical associations.

The enduring significance of the cannabis leaf, with its deep historical roots and complex societal implications, invites a continued scholarly examination of its role as a symbol. It serves as a reminder of the power of symbols in shaping, reflecting, and challenging social and ideological landscapes, a theme that remains relevant as the legal and cultural status of cannabis continues to evolve in the twenty-first century.

Image by Airam Dato-on

PRODUCTION AND EXCHANGE

In addition to their social and ideological significance, two great economic rhythms have underlain the history of Cannabis: the processes of production and exchange. The methods of cultivation, the labour relations involved, and the methods of refining the raw material into a finished good must all be understood as parts of the production process, while the distribution of hashish, its marketing and trade are all concerned with exchange.

 

As economic structures have changed, so too have the production and exchange of cannabis and derivative products. Methods of cultivation and hashish production have until recently remained remarkably unchanged over the centuries and indeed it is still possible in parts of South Asia to find hashish made in much the same way as it must have been in the distant past. It is essential to distinguish between two different systems within which Cannabis has been cultivated, the one a subsistence polyculture economy where cannabis is cultivated and hashish produced as one part of a household's wider domestic economy, and the other a market oriented monoculture of Cannabis producing finished products for an external demand. Central to an understanding of the development of Cannabis agriculture and the trade in cannabis products have been the ways in which the distribution of these two types of economy have changed in both space and time. In the traditional Cannabis growing regions of Southeast Asia, particularly that of Isan, traditional mixed cropping systems were replaced by large monocultures, ceding way to smaller guerrilla grows before reverting to large monocultures again in 2023 following legalisation of Cannabis in Thailand. This is a process which has occurred throughout history and is a key factor in the ongoing extinction of many landrace cannabis varieties. 

A second, and related, aspect of the production process of Cannabis that warrants attention is the labour system involved in both the cultivation of Cannabis and in the making of Hashish or cured Ganja. Very little information concerning these matters survives from throughout history that we are aware of. Nevertheless, certain extrapolations can be made when the extant historical context and literature is addressed. Certainly, the colonial period offers some insights, however our concerns are mainly with the traditional, precolonial or simply, non-colonial methods of cultivation seeing as the colonising nations possess no indigenous drug type Cannabis Sativa themselves. 

 

More recently, within the capitalist mode of production, as the price of labour has increased, there has been a shift towards mechanisation in all aspects of Cannabis production. This is also related to the need to create new products, better suited to a new legal market, but  also the efforts of large commercial growers and smaller hobbyists growing illicitly in the west seeking to improve labour productivity, as permitted by the rise of indoor growing with hydroponic systems, automated grows and mechanical trimmers, all need to be interpreted against the wider development of advanced capitalism. As Mandel (1976) has argued, ‘Machines are capital’s main weapon for subordinating labour to capital in the course of production’.

Cannabis, more specifically Charas or Hashish has significant importance as an item of trade, particularly during the Colonial period, making it of especial interest for an understanding of the emergence of wider exchange mechanisms under different social and economic structures. Key issues which need to be addressed in this context include the effects of political alliances on patterns of economic interaction, the development of credit systems and other financial institutions, and the transformation of certain commodities into capital investments in their own right.

The Methuen Treaty, an outcome of war on the European stage, provides an excellent example of the methods whereby English merchants established factories overseas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which, in this instance, led to the development of the considerable trade in port wine between England and Portugal. Later and very similarly in Asia, we see the emergence of Charas and much more importantly the Opium trade as a crucial point of contention between the Great Powers, leading to war and considerable political intrigue due to the weaponisation of the intoxicating drug trade by the leading colonial powers of the UK, Netherlands and USA in order to achieve largely economic goals held by the emerging merchant class in these countries. 

One of the most immediate expressions of these structural tensions, of traditions of cultural production, and of ‘irrepressible human experiences cutting across history and geography’ (Cosgrove, 1984) lies in the landscape itself. ​

 

Let us proceed to describe it. 

First we will look at Parvati valley, exemplifying ancient traditions, cultivation techniques and culture. Second, we will look at the Rif mountains of Morocco which developed as a hash exporting region primarily due to their proximity to and ties with the great Cannabis consuming nations of Europe. Third, we will look at Humboldt County in California which, largely through the application of modern cultivation techniques emerged into the twenty first century as one of the great Cannabis producing regions of the world.

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CULTURAL LANDSCAPES OF CANNABIS

Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh - India

The flanks of the Mahabharat range in Himachal Pradesh produce some of the finest charas in the world. The range itself is tucked in between the Shivalik hills to the south and the Greater Himalayas to the north, with the finest qualities of charas produced in fields lying on the northern slopes of east-west valleys. This is a rugged landscape with human influence limited to tiny villages surrounded by orchards clinging precariously to the mountainsides at the foot of cannabis clad forested slopes. It is the land of charas and chilam, of old monasteries with local gods and of ancient democracies. The picture directly above illustrates the view looking down over one of the best fields of Atuding (Atolang), just above the village of Atolang itself, with the age-old village of Malana, home to one of the ancient democracies and a resident god, just out of site down the valley. 

The landrace here is almost all domesticate landrace grown by ethnic Malani people, destined to produce the famous Malana 'Cream', whereas just to the south, in Jari and Pini - the production of lower quality 'business' grade charas by criminal syndicates using hired Nepali labour predominates. In the more remote villages, further away from the roads and modern life or in areas too steep or too dark for cultivation, domesticate landrace is rare, instead feral plants are still used to produce small quantities of 'Jungli' grade charas for personal consumption as medicine. Deeper into the complex of that makes up the larger 'Parvati Valley', the subvalleys of Grahan and Tosh in particular are noted for their charas. On the northern slope of Parvati valley itself, Rasol, Gargi and Lapas stand out as villages with reputations for excellent charas. Bareonah Valley is the outlier, a vast uninhabited subvalley with a huge expanse of wilderness and forest interspersed with plots of landrace cultivated by villagers from Lapas and Manikaran. 


These represent but a tiny fraction of the areas of cannabis cultivation and charas cultivation in Himachal Pradesh and the Himalayas.

Cannabis been cultivated here for a long time.  

History - Early, Colonial, Modern
Analysis
Economy

Ecology

Chefchaouen, the Rif - Morroco

Introduction
History - Early, Colonial, Modern

Analysis
Economy

Ecology

Yammouneh, Bekaa Valley - Lebanon
Phumi Chreav, Koh Kong - Cambodia
Chilibuno, Nkhotakota  - Malawi
Humboldt Valley, California - USA
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Physical factors in cannabis agriculture

These examples, taken from widely contrasting parts of the Cannabis growing spectrum, have illustrated not only the varied range of economic, social, political and ideological factors that have influenced the emergence of Cannabis production in the past, but also the great importance of physical factors in determining the nature of the Cannabis industry at any given time and place. The influence of different Cannabis varieties, the emergence of new methods of cultivation or refining, the importance of geology and soil type, and the dominant weather systems can all be seen to have played a significant role in creating the Cannabis landscapes of northern India, Lebanon, Cambodia and California. Any understanding of the historical geography of Cannabis must therefore begin with a basic comprehension of the physical processes involved in cultivating Cannabis and in making hashish. The climatic constraints on the cultivation of Cannabis, and the precise nature of the chemical processes involved in refining and storing the finished product, are critical to any appreciation of the emergence and development of Cannabis and the industry around it. It is therefore to these physical processes that we must now focus on. 

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FARMING AND HASHMAKING

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