Many Americans purchase their weed directly (and sometimes covertly) from a single, intermediary supplier. Although this is an efficient system, it leaves the consumer clueless about the product’s supply chain. The artisan movement in food has provoked a lot of interest about the origins of what we eat -- we can only hope that the gradual legalization of cannabis will lead more people to be informed about the provenance of their cannabis as well. Whether native or introduced over centuries of human communication, cannabis has thrived in a variety of areas and climates around the world. Here’s a roundup of some of the top cannabis-producing countries in the world, and a look at the ways their output has been affected by trade and policy.
Although Colombia is often caricatured as a center of cocaine production, it also plays a large role in the growth of high-grade cannabis. The plant was introduced to Colombia from Panama in the 1920s and took well to the temperate climate of its mountain regions -- so well, in fact, that
by the 1970s and 80s, Colombian cannabis accounted for 70% of all cannabis smuggled into the U.S.
Colombia legalized medical cannabis in December 2015 and showed some early indication of encouraging its cultivation among local farmers; however, a popular referendum to reject a government peace deal with the terrorist militia group FARC may mean that FARC will remain in illicit control of rural cannabis in Colombia for some time to come.
Mexico gave us the word “marijuana,” so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the country has historically been one of the largest cannabis producers in the world. Potent sativa varieties like Acapulco Gold grown in Mexico’s humid coastal regions became especially popular with American smokers in the 1960s and 70s and, as recently as 2008, Mexican cannabis accounted for two-thirds of all cannabis consumed in the United States. Recent legalization in the U.S. has put a crimp in the Mexican market, though -- homegrown American weed may have decreased production in Mexico by up to 30%, leading the country’s cartels to begin pushing harder drugs across the border.
India is a point of origin for the variety of cannabis we know today as indica (indica is an outdated latinized term referring to the Indian subcontinent).
Indica’s short, bushy plants may have been cultivated by early Indian cannabis farmers for easy manual access to resin
which they used to make an ancient hash-like concentrate called charas. Although not widely exported, Indian cannabis is still grown in large quantities for local use in the production of state-sanctioned charas and a THC milkshake-like preparation called bhang.
Along with India, Afghanistan is considered a birthplace of modern indica varieties. The country’s cannabis legacy made it a popular hippie destination in the 1960s and 70s, and resulted in the importation of Afghani landrace strains into the U.S. for crossbreeding. Although the Nixon administration pressured the Afghan government to ban all cultivation of the plant, cannabis has since made a resurgence; in 2010, the country was the world’s largest cannabis supplier, growing between 25,000 and 59,000 acres every year. As in Colombia, cannabis cultivation in Afghanistan has unfortunately also became a source of revenue for a terrorist group: the Taliban has derived significant income by taxing the growth and trafficking of illicit cannabis.
Just as its place at the tip of the African continent has made South Africa a center of biodiversity, its unique climate has also made the country particularly conducive to growing cannabis. Possibly introduced to the continent by Arab traders in the Middle Ages, sativa varieties thrived in the country’s mountainous coastal regions and were used to crossbreed popular strains like Durban Poison. Cannabis has become an extremely successful export crop for the country --
a 2004 report estimated that 99% of all cannabis consumed in Ireland was grown in South Africa.
The relative ease of trafficking cannabis from South Africa’s extensive coastline has even let its bordering countries to focus their agricultural efforts on cannabis production for export to South Africa.
Cannabis was brought to Jamaica in the 19th century by Indian indentured servants traveling in tow with English colonists. Yet despite its long association with the island, cannabis has been illegal in Jamaica for the last several decades. Jamaica is the largest Caribbean supplier of illicit cannabis to the United States and to other Caribbean islands. However, following the success of gradual legalization in the U.S., the Jamaican government decriminalized cannabis use and cultivation in 2015 and made the plant legal for adherents of the Rastafari religion. This relaxed attitude has allowed for some renewed focus on the country’s high-quality sativas: in 2015, High Times magazine hosted an offshoot of its annual Cannabis Cup in Negril, with a second event planned for 2016.
During the 1980s and 90s, The Netherlands were a haven for not only cannabis consumption, but also advanced cultivation. The country’s lax attitude towards cannabis regulation during this period attracted advanced botanists who preserved many heritage strains and founded seed companies like Sensi and Dutch Passion. Although the government still tolerates consumption in designated Amsterdam coffeehouses, it has since cracked down on personal and commercial cultivation of cannabis. Nevertheless, The Netherlands has been a cornerstone of refined crossbreeding.
Nestled in Central Asia, Kazakstan has a long history as a major grain supplier for much of the surrounding region. It’s also a hotbed of cannabis cultivation.
The plant grows wild across the country, but particularly in its fertile Chuy Valley
where low-THC but high quality cannabis is valued by both locals and consumers in neighboring Russia. Although Soviet forces attempted to eradicate the plants in the 1980s, their efforts were fortunately unsuccessful. Kazakhstan is also a central location for processing of hashish, which is cultivated by riding horses through cannabis fields and then scraping the resin off of their bodies.