The History of Cannabis in St. John’s, 1975-2022

Our Shed Correspondent traces fifty years of bud, hash, and honey oil—plus lotions, potions, and soaps—across North America’s oldest city.

Chapter One: 1975-1977 Mexican (Sativa) 

From what I’ve gathered with first hand interviews, our story begins in 1975 with Mexican cannabis. It was sold for $5.00 in a Sea Dog matchbox and, without fail, contained at least some twigs and seeds. These were separated from the leaf by tapping out the contents on a vinyl record cover (which incidentally also cost $5.00). Failure to do so resulted in seeds exploding out of joints. My favourite recollection of the era is a room full of teenagers with a black light shining on velvet posters. Boston blaring on the stereo and a large, wooden-bowled water pipe full of uncleaned Mexican cannabis. 

After a few enthusiastic puffs it exploded into a beautiful shower of embers which promptly disappeared into the two-inch thick blue shag carpet. 

Those were the days and that was all we had for cannabis. A little 5 percent THC buzz for a couple of hours. It gave you the giggles, a deep appreciation for music, and the munchies.

In 1977, while I was doing economics in high school, my friend made the bold declaration that, “The price of weed was fairly stable.” Indeed it was—seeing how he’d only been watching the market for two years but he understood the basic concept of supply and demand. Looking back on that moment 45 years later, he was absolutely right. (We’ll return to historic pricing later.) 

Chapter Two: 1977-1980 Colombian (Sativa) 

In 1977, Colombian cannabis appeared in St. John’s. By comparison it was a little less than the contents of a matchbox, approximately 2.2 grams and wrapped in tinfoil. At $10.00 it was twice the price of Mexican cannabis but also twice the THC. At 10 percent, this was the next level—a deeper, mellower experience. There was still the ritual of tapping out seeds on an album cover but noticeably less waste. It’s interesting to note that the album of choice at the time was Steely Dan’s Aja.

The era of Colombian cannabis lasted a long time. It was only punctuated once by the appearance of the mythical Thai Stick in 1978. This was the top of a cannabis plant with a couple of buds mounted on a 3 inch long, 1/4 inch wide, sliver of bamboo. A few bamboo strands were peeled back and wrapped around the cannabis as packaging.

It was a work of art. Thai Stick was a bit of a luxury at $25 but rumoured to be high quality at 21 percent THC. Things like that are once in a lifetime. Never saw it before, never saw it again.

Chapter Three: 1980-1990 Honey Oil & Hash 

In 1980, while our offshore oil was being developed, hash oil popped up, ironically. It was a gooey, black, blob in a little vial for about $20 and around 12 percent THC. Apparently, some Columbian wrapped in a hash oil rolling paper was a real treat. Then, for a moment there was Honey Oil. The purest version of hash oil that looked like, and moved like… 10w30 motor oil. 

Then it was gone, much like the mythical Thai Stick. Somewhere there’s a cassette tape from 1981 with a song about it. 

In the late 70s and early 80s, there were two types of hash. Blonde Lebanese, which had a sandy texture and was considered inferior to the soft, black, Afghan hash. The Lebanese was 10 percent THC while the Afghan was 15 percent THC. 

I was at the Strand in the Avalon Mall to see the Wonderful Grand Band, hanging out at the bar, talking to one of the guys in the band. Ron Hynes walked up and laid a pair of one gram blocks of blonde Lebanese hash on the bar for him and his buddy. I couldn’t resist being saucy and said to Ron, “I seen you on TV.” He picked up his piece of hash and said, “Oh yeah? I was in your TV looking at you.” Then he swallowed his hash and went onstage. Naturally, they were great. By the way, seeing Tommy Sexton doing “Babylon Mall” at the Avalon Mall was like holding a mirror up to a mirror. 

In 1982, during the Falklands war, a young submarine tracking officer, based in Argentia, travelled to St. John’s to go aboard a submarine that had recently docked here. I only know this because he brought some Nepalese Temple Ball hash with him and shared it with us.

Once again: once in a lifetime. That’s how it was back then. By the end of the decade, hash oil and hash had disappeared almost entirely. Black Hash popped up sporadically but still, very, very rare. 

Chapter Four: 1990-2022 British Columbian (Indica) 

The Colombian cannabis days lasted well into the late 80s until a new strain of cannabis from British Columbia entered the scene. While the Mexican and Colombian cannabis were of the Sativa strain, BC cannabis was the latest, high-powered Indica strain boasting a whopping 21 percent THC. The price remained at around $30.00 per 3 1/2 grams for 28 years. In early 2018 as we were nearing legalization, the market shifted in anticipation and the price per ounce dropped from $240 to $200. This reflected a difference of $8.57 per gram to $7.14 per gram. Shortly after legalization, in 2019, the price of legal cannabis had dropped to $140 per ounce, or $5 per gram—thus dominating the market as intended.

Now, let’s return to historic pricing:

  • 1975: $2.50 per gram @ 5 percent THC
  • 1977: $5 per gram @ 10 percent THC.
  • 1990: just over $10 per gram @ 21 percent THC
  • 2019: $5 per gram @ 17.4 percent THC

In essence, the price of cannabis did not keep up with inflation over a period of 45 years—while potency almost quadrupled. 

In terms of affordability, the minimum wage in Newfoundland in 1975 was $2.20 or barely over 2 hours work per gram. By 1977, minimum wage was $2.50 per hour or 2 hours work per gram. In 2020, the minimum wage was $12.75 per hour or less than 1/2 hour work per gram. The current minimum wage is $13.20 per hour or less than 1/2 hour work per gram.

Cannabis is more affordable now than it ever has been while quality has improved exponentially. 

The Newfoundland Liquor Corporation, which regulates the sale of cannabis, reported sales of $39.6 million over an 8 month period from April to November in 2021. I can’t resist mentioning that the $39.6 million is “street value.” In relative terms, during that 8 month period, we consumed 1,767.85 pounds of cannabis.

Chapter Five: May, 2022 Everything You’ve Ever Wanted and More 

When cannabis was about to be legalized, I pictured everybody enjoying a draw and the steady few people making some brownies. Never would I have imagined there’d be drinks, lotions and potions as well. You can soak in it now. Just drop a cannabis bath bomb in the tub and relax. This would’ve been a big hit back in the shag carpet days. 

Apparently, cannabis lotion has been around for a while. This popped up when my buddy mentioned that he had great results recently by using a CBD cream on his sore back. He knew someone who used to make it back in the day too, which is a wonderful contribution to local cannabis lore. 

There’s a cannabis drink in a nostalgic, brown stubby bottle that looks promising. It’d be like your first sip of beer that felt like your first draw.

The array of edibles is astonishing. All kinds of gummies, chocolates, lozenges, candies and sprays for the non-smokers. 

As promised, there’s more variety of cannabis to smoke than ever before. Besides your usual buds there’s a wide array of concentrates to roll up, fill your pipe or vaporizer. The mythical Honey Oil is here again. Like a rare, migrating draw from the past that’s come home to roost. Thank-you for that, and for the hash that’s made right here in St. John’s. 

Now to make some hash brownies, put on some CBD lotion, hop in the tub with a CBD bath bomb, fire up a bud wrapped in a honey oil paper while sipping on a cannabis drink and listen to some Steely Dan.

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