Cannabis: The “Miracle” Weed?
Weed. Grass. Pot. Ganja. Dope. These are just a few of the nicknames given to the plant Cannabis Sativa or, more commonly, Marijuana. It is a Schedule I drug in the United States along with heroin, cocaine and a whole list of genuinely dangerous drugs.
But is it dangerous? Does it belong on the Schedule I list? The simple answer is “No.” Is it unlawful according to current federal law? The simple answer is “Yes” although the states of Washington and Colorado have decriminalized the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The Obama administration has recently said that the federal prohibition will not prevent those states from putting their laws into effect as long as they make a serious effort to be responsible in enforcing the laws. We don’t yet know what will be considered “responsible,” it being a fuzzy concept and all. Given the federal government’s proven inconsistency on the issue, we must not bank on their approval lasting. It’s best to take a wait-and-see position despite common sense seeming to have momentarily won the day.
Before you start weighing in on what you think you know, I recommend you read a bit about marijuana. Wikipedia has a reasonably thorough article on marijuana if you Google “Cannabis.” It may rearrange your thinking and make you more receptive to changing your view of a mild hallucinogen that has been given a bad rap for a long time.
Historically, marijuana has been used by shamans, witch doctors, curanderas (healers) and others who have found it useful for a variety of purposes such as communing with their deities, providing relief from pain or as a cure for insomnia. Not coincidentally, it has been used for recreational purposes by large numbers of average humans who simply wanted to enjoy its mildly hallucinogenic effects.
In the 20th century, a unreasoning wave of fear against the drug was led by Harry Anslinger who crusaded against “the Devil Weed” that led to its being listed as a Schedule I drug. Marijuana became the target of alarmist propaganda and was prosecuted by zealous lawmen and politicians wanting to show that they were tough on crime.
The national prohibition of alcohol, a truly dangerous drug, briefly fueled criminality by men like Al Capone but failed to deter the common man from drinking alcoholic beverages until the nation grasped reality and repealed Prohibition in 1933. But the rabid condemnation of and prosecution of marijuana sales and use continued.
Today, a coalition of private prison entrepreneurs, uninformed politicians, die-hard religious fanatics and ignorant law enforcement types are fighting a losing battle against the much-too-slow encroachment of enlightened research and science. Evidence of this benighted attitude is represented by Senator Charles Grassley (his name is interesting), Iowa Republican, who said on September 10, “Marijuana’s status as an illegal drug isn’t based on a whim. It’s based on what science tells us about this dangerous and addictive drug.” Grassley is either profoundly ignorant of the scientific research or he is a hypocrite…or both.
Inborn cautiousness led me in the 1960s to learn as much as possible about marijuana. I even read the 1844 India Hemp Commission report and all the research papers I could find before trying the drug that was in wide use by that time. I failed to recognize the effects the first time, but that nevertheless struck me funny. Funny how that is. The second time, however, it was clear that I was experiencing the high for which the drug is known. I was, incidentally, in my early thirties at the time, not a teenager.
My occasional use of the drug continued sporadically until about 1980, but it helped me survive the stress of law school—relieving stress being one of the uses for which the drug is prescribed—and was great for listening to music or enjoying sex. It goes without saying that food tasted wonderful—another of the uses for which the drug is prescribed. When clear thinking became more important than the occasional high, I stopped and haven’t used it since. Does this suggest addiction? Clearly not. As shown by the research, addiction is not one of the characteristics attributed to marijuana.
During those years, I knew only two people who didn’t use marijuana. In the 60s and 70s, virtually everybody used marijuana: soldiers in Vietnam, doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians and, yes, even cops. Despite its being against the law, it was widely used. Still the arrests went on although those arrested were primarily young people, the majority of whom were people of color. The lawyers prosecuting them and the judges sentencing them were using the drug but were not among those arrested. Hypocrisy was rampant, as it is today…except in Washington and Colorado.
Fast forward to today. Finally, as of this writing, the medicinal use of marijuana is allowed in twenty (20) states and the District of Columbia. More states are expected to join them in the near future. I am sorry to report that the country in which I live, Sweden, seems caught in a time warp and the anti-marijuana hysteria that characterized the United States before the current move toward rationality. Rarely a week goes by without reading in the papers about the arrest of some individual for possession or sale of marijuana or its derivatives.
Driven by the amount of misinformation about marijuana and the waste associated with the arrest and prosecution of offenders, I wrote a plea for rationality and common sense. The points I made ten years ago are still applicable today, not just in Sweden but in the United States:
1) Decriminalize the sale and use of small amounts of cannabis, hashish and their derivatives for personal use by adults;
2) Change the laws to permit the state to grow or buy from approved and monitored sources, regulate the potency of and sale of these drugs to adults through approved and monitored outlets;
3) Allow the state to set the price and tax the sale of such drugs;
4) Redirect the efforts of law enforcement agencies toward serious law-breaking, both civil and criminal;
5) Permit doctors to prescribe cannabis to qualifying patients to alleviate pain and for other widely acknowledged medical uses;
6) Educate youth on genuinely dangerous drugs as well as making efforts to minimize the use of cannabis by those under the age of twenty-one (21) whose brains are not physiologically matured and who must gain an education to prepare for an increasingly competitive world.
Benefits of Liberalization—
What would be the benefits of such a change in the laws? First, it would be both rational and avoid the hypocrisy of the double standard created by today’s approval of the sale and use of alcohol, cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Second, it would remove the criminal element from the picture thereby freeing law enforcement for more important tasks.
Third, it would enrich the state treasury with moneys derived from the sale and taxation of the drugs, not to mention saving the state great sums currently devoted to the pursuit, prosecution and incarceration of individuals who possess or sell the drugs in question.
Fourth, it would give doctors an additional tool in treating patients suffering from a variety of diseases.
Here is something you can easily try that will give you a better picture of the relative harm to society of alcohol versus cannabis: Ask a police officer how often he/she has had to deal with violence, whether directed against the police or against another person, by an individual intoxicated on alcohol. Then ask the officer how many times has he/she had to deal with violence perpetrated by a person under the sole influence of marijuana.
I recognize that there are people who will read this and argue for maintaining what is widely recognized as a failed policy and a needlessly harsh and punitive approach to users of the drugs discussed here. To those people, I suggest you make a responsible and fair-minded effort to inform yourselves on the realities surrounding cannabis and its derivatives. Fair-minded means avoid looking for material that supports your view. Rather, read the latest unbiased scientific research on the subject.
One useful source of information that will dispel the harmful myths surrounding these drugs can be found by Googling NORML, the American organization devoted to bringing rationality to the largely backward drug policies that still exist in much of the United States and in Sweden.
That the United States has the highest incarceration rate on the planet is to a significant degree the result of prosecution of non-violent drug offenders. It is time as well for Sweden to put aside the mythology surrounding cannabis and embrace a rational policy more in keeping with the public health policies generally followed in the nation.
The European countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain and a number of countries in Central and South America have more enlightened policies regarding drug use than either the United States or Sweden. In these countries, the drug policies reflect a public health concern rather than one of criminality. Such a concern is recommended instead of the costly and punitive criminal approach currently in effect.
So put down that wine glass and inform yourself on a drug that, unlike alcohol and cigarettes, has not killed anyone. History shows that any substance can be abused. Sensible regulation and consumption are the answer to that concern. It’s past time for a rational approach to marijuana and its derivatives. What are we waiting for?