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Decriminalize Marijuana

By Paul Peczon


Part one: Why marijuana is illegal.

Marijuana is illegal. It is considered a dangerous drug like cocaine and heroin, when the truth is that pharmacologically it is not as addictive as nicotine or caffeine, nor as toxic as alcohol. I know it's not fashionable to examine the history of conventional wisdom, but let's look at how hemp went from being an important cash crop to an illicit substance.

George Washington grew marijuana at his plantation. Ben Franklin advocated growing hemp. The plant grows extremely quickly, and yields tough, long fibers and oil rich seeds. Prior to the development of artificial fibers, hemp was the most important fiber for rope, and was a valuable cash crop here. To this day, hemp fiber rope is known around the world as Manila rope

The first anti-marijuana law was passed in Texas at the turn of the century. The Marijuana Tax Stamp Act made it illegal to possess marijuana without paying tax. This odd ruling was written this was to persecute Mexicans, who used the plant recreationally, without affecting the status of farmers who raised the plant for commercial uses. Illegalization of other substances likewise share thinly veiled racist origins. Anti-opium laws were passed to persecute the numerous Chinese workers no longer needed to build the now completed railroads, and anti-cocaine laws were passed to persecute the black intelligensia who not only used coca leaves, but were engaging in discussions which upset the social order. The social order of the time was that Negroes were second class citizens with few rights. An interesting sidenote is that the powers that be were unable to do anything about the jazz and blues music that were to later be much more seminal in counter-culture growth. And the cocaine was removed from Coca-cola when the company found that it was much cheaper to just stick with caffeine from kola nuts.

The anti-narcotic movement grew to the point that alcohol was prohibited, and as we all know, that "noble experiment" was declared a failure. Incidentally, a number of America's richest families started their fortunes smuggling booze during that time. Petroleum based products largely displaced the need for hemp fiber and oil and marijuana cultivation faded. But in the 50's a hemp fiber decorticating device was invented which softened hemp fiber enough that it could be used to make paper. The lumber companies, who had just finished buying up all the forest land were quite alarmed by this. The bulk of wood harvested in the US goes into the production of paper. Hemp yields four times as much fiber per unit of land per year as even the fastest growing trees.

The lumber lobby quickly raised a massive war chest of cash to be given to any and all politicians who campaigned against marijuana. The enormously successful campaign caused waves of hysteria. Marijuana was reclassified as a schedule1 drug along with heroin and cocaine. It has become a staple in US law enforcement and politics, always eager to blame drugs for their own failure to control violent crime and other manifestations of the rapidly evolving Western culture such as disintegration of the family and the increasing distance between the rich and the poor.

Part Two: marijuana today

So here we are, years later, wasting valuable police time and money trying to chase down a drug that in reality is not that big a problem. In fact, it amounts to a an expensive war against the poor farmers who have recognized it as a valuable crop. Efforts are underway to develop an anti-marijuana herbicide, but if said researchers would perhaps do a little research in the library, they would see the total failure of Paraquat, the American anti-marijuana spray that was found to have numerous bad side effects on the environment. It's use also resulted in large amounts of freshly sprayed marijuana being hastily harvested and sold anyway, and Paraquat has since been discontinued.

An investigative report by Today has come through with the analysis that the police have declared the drive against marijuana futile. The intellectual community of the world, liberal and conservative have likewise declared the "War on Drugs" a costly failure. In the US, almost half of the prison population is there on drug related charges, resulting in overcrowding and release of violent criminals. Meanwhile, drugs are cheap and plentiful on the streets of the US, if one knows where to look, with the exception of marijuana. Pot is not a popular trade item among professional organized criminals because it is bulky and easy to detect. And in the further case for legalization, an independent research has found that even among young schoolchildren, the vilification of marijuana along with known killers like heroin and cocaine makes the whole "drug education" process suspect. Even little kids know that it is not as bad as alcohol and cigarettes.

But nobody is going to make political suicide and stand up for the legalization of marijuana. Quite the opposite; blaming drugs for society's illness is a cheap and easy way for politicians to make an honorable stand against a scapegoat that will never defend itself. The press and police go right along with it, happily printing headlines proclaiming drugs as the source of crime. As for the criminal who blames his actions on drugs, it makes him or her feel like a victim, too. Sorry, kids, there's nothing in a bottle of gin that says "go rob a merchant," and nothing in a marijuana cigarette tells anyone to abuse anyone else. Drugs are a convenient whipping boy that allow everyone involved to feel good about themselves, when the true blame is too dark to bear. The guy who kills was a murderer before he took any drug, and the socio-economic forces that drive people into desperate poverty and insane acts are perpetuated by you and me.

But there are other costs in society that we can do something about, and hemp is a potential asset that we have overlooked in our hysteria. I(t still produces a huge amount of fiber, and the original fiber decorticator which can process these fibers into softer cellulose does not have to be a large factory sized machine. We can still make paper out of it, and heck, everyone knows how fond we are of chits and other useless pieces of paper. If the Scandinavians can create an entire industry out of turning sawdust into particle board based furniture, we can make plywood out if it. Wood is very expensive now, and we could really use an inexpensive fiber source. The seeds can be roasted and eaten, or turned into an edible oil.

In the US, the National Organization for the Legalization of Marijuana (NORML) has a simple motto; "legalize, educate, tax & regulate." They quite rightly point out that marijuana has been proven to be of medicinal value, especially for easing the brutal effects of chemotherapy, and is known to alleviate the effects of glaucoma. They cite informal statistics which indicate that marijuana is the number one cash crop in some of the more rural states, and in the hills around Baguio, it almost certainly is.

Without a doubt, marijuana has deleterious effects on some people, and yes, it makes some people lazy slobs. Interestingly enough, however, it is taken as a stimulant in traditional Jamaican society. Andrew Weil, noted Harvard educated botanist, ascribes these totally different results to "set and setting," meaning that a pharmacologically active agent's effects are just as often due to a person's expectations and surroundings. Tell someone that he will become powerful and fearless if he takes shabu, and if he believes it, it probably will. However, there is a certain percentage of the population that will fall into disgrace, given access to drugs, and anybody who has ever been exposed to real alcoholism knows this. If we were to relax on prosecution of marijuana use, there would be a social cost in terms of lost productivity. But don't forget; nobody has ever been killed by marijuana.

Police time should be spent on some of our more pressing issues; traffic, violent crime, and corruption. We could easily take the passive approach and drop anti-marijuana enforcement to the bottom of the prosecution agenda, and it seems the police are already quite willing to do this. They are on the street and they know the real score. And we could allow the technology to process hemp fibers to come into the country at reduced tariff rates. We could cast aside one of our more foolish affectations of pathetic copycat colonialism and worry less about marijuana.©1997 Peczon


oh, and I got the neat backgound image on the left from laughing moon.

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last updated March 19,1999.

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