Collecting US Cannabis/Marijuana History

Joe Hoover's picture

I am the president/chair of the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization 420 Archive. We are working with communities to collect the oral histories and documentation surrounding US cannabis/marijuana history and culture. 

After conducting a two-year, comprehensive needs assessment, it was clear that US marijuana history was on the edge of being lost. At the time of the needs assessment, no academically driven, archive-quality oral histories and documentation on marijuana farming, production, or activists' attempts to repeal laws had been collected. 

The likely reason for this appears to be that marijuana is listed by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, and universities and historical societies that depend on federal and state monies for their funding are unwilling to be on the front line. Also, the taboo nature of cannabis leads historical societies to avoid collecting cannabis history altogether. Interestingly, this is almost exactly the environment the LGBT community found themselves in forty years ago. 

With the one exception of the DEA Museum in Washington, DC, there has been little-to-no dedicated collection of in-depth records of the history of US cannabis culture, farming, and prohibition. Marijuana/cannabis has been a taboo topic at historical organizations with nearly all ignoring/refusing to collect/curate the history of cannabis in their communities, even if cannabis makes up a significant portion of the local economy.

However, there are changes. In California, the Oakland Museum of California's exhibit "Altered States" was one of the first major exhibits on cannabis history in the US, the University of Massachusetts accepted the business records of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and the first marijuana sold for recreational purposes in Seattle was donated to the Seattle's Museum of History and Industry. Additionally, there are multiple cannabis dispensaries opening up displays on cannabis history. 

For several years we have been collecting the oral histories from cannabis prohibition activists and from cannabis farmers on the West Coast and especially from the Emerald Triangle region in California. I am curious if the legalization of adult recreational use in several states has changed history organizations' viewpoints on collecting cannabis history within their communities. And, if so, what is being done especially in the area of oral histories?

Additionally, if you are interested in collecting oral histories of cannabis culture and farming in your area, please contact us, as we would be interested in helping and providing advice from our experience from what we have done. 

Thank you for your time and responses. 

Feel free to contact me directly at:

Joe Hoover