Cannabis legalization is on the rise, and companies of all different industries — from beauty, to snacks, to dog treats — want in on the market.
Beer manufacturers like Molson Coors and Heineken have expressed interest in creating drinks infused with THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, Business Insider reported last month.
Marijuana-infused beer may sound like a brand new and fun idea to United States and Canadian residents, but in reality, the concept of marijuana-infused drinks has a long-standing cultural significance in India.
The Indian drink bhang is named after a part of the marijuana plant that gets infused into Indian drinks thandai and lassi. Any adaptation of these drinks, especially without proper recognition, is an undeniable form of cultural appropriation.
Cannabis was given orally in Ayurvedic and Tibbi rituals to treat malaria and rheumatism, according to Leafly, a cannabis information resource. Warriors would drink it to calm their nerves and newlyweds to increase libido.
“In Ayurvedic and Tibbi rituals, cannabis was given orally to treat diseases like malaria and rheumatism,” according to Leafly, a cannabis information resource. “Warriors would drink bhang to [calm] their nerves, and newlyweds would consume bhang to increase their libido.”
It’s safe to say most of the people consuming a whitewashed version of the original cannabis-infused drink have no idea how integral it is to Indian spirituality.
Phillip Logan Jr., a political science Ph.D. candidate, said the ignorance and gentrification of marijuana isn’t exclusive to cannabis drinks.
“A massive turn of opinion on drugs and marijuana [is happening],” Logan said. “Thousands of Black men and poor working-class men [are serving] heavy prison sentences, five, 15 years for drug possession.”
Logan said white men are the largest demographic benefiting from cannabis legalization at an economic level.
“Artifacts of culturally symbolic significance are rendered free of their value to transform them into commodities,” Logan said.
The duplication and modification of bhang is a microcosm of the longstanding imperialist, western approach to foreign ideas.
CiAuna Heard, a sociology Ph.D. candidate, said people promoting these kinds of products should consider the “cultural rights” of others.
“What is it about this drink that makes it unique?” Heard said. “How does Coors [or] Heineken infringe upon the uniqueness of the traditional Indian product? …If the comparison is valid, then it’s something to be concerned about.”
Selling bhang that is sold for profit in western cultures should cause concern. Formerly colonized, occupied countries are especially susceptible to this unacceptable kind of commodification. The background of a product, especially if it has roots in foreign cultures for millennia, should be carefully analyzed before moving forward with a replica.
Companies should be cognizant of the product’s history and gauge the potential for disrespect it could cause before marketing a product. Others should educate themselves and boycott these beverages.