The Return of Cannabis
Critical Thinking
March 1999

            Marijuana, cannabis, hemp; they are all references to the same plant.  Government officials and the media have made distinctions; however, I want to stress the usefulness of the plant as a whole.  I also want to shed some light on popular marijuana myths, as well as demonstrate the importance of hemp as a natural resource.  The prohibition of marijuana has led to a tax-powered police state which refuses to accept the true value of cannabis.  Hopefully, if we all work together for education, we may see the legalization of marijuana sooner than most people think.

            On a historical note, hemp has been used by humans for a variety of useful purposes for the last 10,000 years.  The earliest known woven fabric was apparently made from hemp.  From more than 1,000 years before the time of Christ until the late 1800’s, cannabis hemp was our planet’s largest agricultural crop.  Also, hemp was an important industry involving hundreds of products such as fiber, fabric, lighting oil, paper, incense and medicines.  Almost all civilizations throughout history have incorporated cannabis for spiritual and religious purposes.  Cannabis has been an integral part of our cultural, spiritual, and physiological heritage, so why are things different now?

            The first prohibitive measure in the U.S. was the Marijuana Tax Act which passed in December of 1937.  Marijuana was not banned outright; however importers, manufacturers, sellers and distributors were required to register with the Secretary of Treasury and pay an occupational tax.  At the time this law was passed, The head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, emphasized that “marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”  He thus pushed on Congress that about 50% of all violent crimes committed in the U.S. could be traced directly to marijuana.  In actuality, statistics showed at least 65-75% of all murders in the U.S. were then, and still are, alcohol related. 

            Despite claims among researchers that marijuana held lucrative potential for both medicine and industry, politicians and corporate leaders dominated the war against cannabis marijuana and eventually got their way.  Soon the FBN (which has since evolved into the Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA]) adopted a non-tolerant view of cannabis, marijuana, making it its use unacceptable.  Around 1940 and again in 1976 attempts were made to ban medical research of marijuana.  Regardless of the political history of marijuana this century, the question remains as to whether or not the progression toward the legalization of marijuana will have detrimental if not devastating effects on our nation’s health and social structure. 

            The Federal Government’s policy on marijuana maintains that the drug is extremely dangerous to one’s health.  They argue that long term use will cause irreversible brain damage.  Many people today hold the conception that people that smoke marijuana are babbling idiots with a memory that is virtually nonexistent.  Drug prevention organizations stress that marijuana seriously impairs one’s physical and mental abilities to perform everyday tasks, and also destroys one’s moral value.  They also hold the position that marijuana use will lead to harder drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamines.

            Unfortunately, many of the DEA’s claims against marijuana are supported by little to no scientific evidence.  There has been no evidence that marijuana causes any permanent physiological or psychological damage.  Several clinical tests which have compared the ability of heavy users and non-users to perform tasks of memorizing lists and recalling information show that the response from heavy users was at most slightly impaired, but still fell well within normal parameters.  There is also no evidence to support the claim that marijuana is a “gateway drug.”  In fact, ninety-eight percent of heroin users started smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol first.

            Perhaps the most pressing issue today is whether or not marijuana should be used medically to treat cancer and AIDS patients.  Many people suffering from these afflictions swear by marijuana.  However, others, including corporations which supply synthetic drugs, claim that there are far better drugs on the market than marijuana. 

            The reason why many cancer and AIDS patients, undergoing chemotherapy, are trying to gain access to the drug is so they can eliminate the unbearable nausea associated with chemo.  Also, marijuana is used to maintain a healthy body weight, because it helps patients eat and keep down food.  To these people marijuana use makes the difference between feeling like you are “dying of” AIDS or cancer and feeling like you are “living with” AIDS or cancer. Two states in the U.S., California and Arizona, have already passed medical marijuana policies, and the results are promising.  Despite these steps in the right direction, the DEA has consistently tried to shut down cannabis buyer operations which allow patients to receive their medicine.  This has led hundreds of people no other choice than to buy their marijuana on the street through the black market.

            Obviously, large pharmaceutical corporations who rely on the sale of their synthesized products to make outlandish profits object to the use of medicinal marijuana.  These same pharmaceutical medications are responsible for the more than 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S.  The companies that produce these drugs are also responsible for poisoning some 500,000 people each year in Third World countries.  This practice of “product dumping” leads to the sale of over 150 different dangerous drugs which are banned in the U.S., yet are sold over-the-counter in countries like Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Chile, Honduras and Nicaragua. 

            While legal prescription medications continue to cause death and injury, no deaths are known to ever have directly resulted from use of cannabis.  In addition to treating cancer and AIDS patients, marijuana has dozens of other medical uses.  Cannabis marijuana is been known to alleviate asthma, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, back pain, arthritis, herpes, cystic fibrosis and rheumatism, as well as many other health disorders.  In response to claims that marijuana causes cancer, one must simply consult the facts which show that there have never been any cases of lung cancer, ever, caused by marijuana. 

            In fact, the two leading killers in our country are not only legal, but are supported by major corporations and agricultural organizations; these are of course tobacco and alcohol.  Tobacco kills between 340,000 to 450,000 people per year.  Alcohol (not including 50% of all highway deaths and 65% of all murders) kills approximately 150,000 people annually.  Both of these drugs are very addictive and have severe withdrawal symptoms.  Marijuana, on the other hand, is responsible for zero American deaths, and is also non-addictive and does not cause any withdrawal symptoms.

            Despite the promising medical research involving marijuana, doctors around the country are prohibited from prescribing the herb that Federal Judge Francis Young in 1988 called “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”  We don’t put our doctors in charge of stopping violent crimes.  The police, prosecutors, and prison guards should not be in charge of which herbal therapies people may use to treat their personal health problems. 

            The DEA argues that proponents of marijuana legalization simply want to get high without running the risk of going to jail.  The important thing to remember is that legalization will have far reaching effects on countless individuals, only a small portion of which are marijuana smokers.  The incorporation of cannabis into our social and agricultural system will not only contribute to medical advances, but will also promote advances in food, material, and energy production.

            Perhaps the most surprising and environmentally relevant uses of marijuana involve energy and fuel production.  Hemp stems are 80% hurds (pulp byproduct after the hemp fiber is removed from the plant).  Hemp hurds are 77% cellulose – a primary chemical raw material used in the production of chemicals, plastics, and fibers.  It is a sad fact that by the end of this year our nation’s petroleum resources will have dwindled to 20% of their original size.  This means time is running out.  We will either be forced to use more coal, further polluting the environment; continue to fund nuclear power and risk annihilation of the planet; convert forests into fuel, permanently destroying life sustaining ecosystems; continually wage wars over foreign oil; or establish energy farms to grow biomass fuels.  Hemp is Earth’s number one biomass resource.  Farming only 6% of continental U.S. acreage with biomass crops such as hemp would provide all of America’s gas and oil energy needs, ending dependence upon fossil fuels.  Hemp is the only biomass source available that is capable of making the U.S. energy independent. 

            Hemp can also be used to make paper and fabrics.  Hemp pulp paper is stronger, more durable, and cheaper to produce than the pulp paper we use today.  Until 1883, from 75-90% of nearly all paper in the world was made with hemp.  Reports show that one acre of cannabis hemp, in annual rotation over a 20-year period, would produce as much pulp for paper as is equal to 4.1 acres of trees being cut down over the same 20-year period.  Also, hemp paper production causes four to seven times less pollution.  In addition to paper, hempseed oil can be used to produce paints and varnishes. 

            Still another incredible use for cannabis is food.  Of the 3 million plus edible plants that grow on Earth, no other single plant source can compare with the nutritional value of hempseeds.  Hempseeds are the richest source of fatty acids and essential oils in the world.  Also, they can be used to make almost every type of food. 

            With all these useful ways in which marijuana could help our country, why is it that the federal government refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence in support of marijuana?  They hold fast to their religion: that prohibition works.  Apparently, the DEA thinks that the dangers of marijuana hemp far outweigh its benefits.  If legalized, they feel that national health problems will increase as will violent crime.  They also maintain that the number of nation wide addicts will go off the chart. 

            They call it a “War on Drugs;” however it could be best described as a “War on People.”  In 1978, before this war on drugs had been officially initiated, there were 300,000 people in American prisons for all crimes combined.  Today, only 21 years later, there are more than 800,000 people imprisoned for drug charges alone.  Think of all the American tax dollars spent on prisons.  In addition, even though the DEA is supposedly interested mainly in controlling harder drugs, 50% of all drug enforcement money, federal and state, during the last 60 years has been directed toward marijuana.

            The DEA admits they have made absolutely no dent in the overall amount of drugs in this country.  Even the largest busts have no effect on street prices, and the confiscated material is replaced immediately by the overwhelming flow of drugs into the country.  So what’s all the money being used for?  Obviously, prohibition of marijuana is not working, and we cannot keep throwing people in prison.  What other options are there?  The Dutch City of Amsterdam, for example, adopted a policy of tolerance and non-prosecution of cannabis smokers and rehabilitation for harder drug users.  Their statistics show a substantial reduction in marijuana smoking among teenagers, and a 33% drop in the number of heroin addicts.  These statistics are hard to verify, mainly because research has been very limited; however, the Amsterdam model is living proof that there are other ways.

            It would be more than prudent for our country to work towards an acceptance of hemp marijuana.  The federal government, the DEA, and other drug prevention organizations operate on a policy of disinformation, which refuses to accept the usefulness of this natural resource.  Studies have shown, time and time again, that marijuana does not cause the serious psychological effects that the government insists it does.  Marijuana is non-addictive, causes no withdrawals, and is much safer than many of today’s popular pharmaceuticals.  Hemp has many other uses than just smoking, some of which are possible means to save the planet.  We can stop deforestation, cease dependence on fossil fuels, and reverse the greenhouse effect.  The millions of dollars spent on prosecuting and jailing drug law offenders, is not helping the problem one bit.  The government’s “War on Drugs” serves only to fill the pockets of politicians and corporations with American tax dollars.  So what are we waiting for?  Educate yourself by learning the facts, the facts that the government ceaselessly tries to suppress, and make a difference now.

- other titles are missing from this reference, but the best book, and a huge influence on this paper has been The Emperor Wears No Cloths"

Jack Herer

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