Every Herb Bearing Seed: Why Marijuana Should Be Re-Legalized

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. - Genesis 1:29

      The mention of marijuana triggers dismay and revulsion in the general populace. Its name has a connotation with illegality, addiction, and immorality, and is still assumed by many to be a dangerous drug worthy of inclusion with such societal menaces as cocaine and heroin. However, this assumption stems from ignorance. Not only is marijuana use safer than many common foods we consume, its astounding array of uses and benefits, especially in the form of hemp grown for industrial purposes, makes its continued outlaw status a needless blemish upon our advanced society.

      The term "marijuana" refers to the flowers and leaves of the cannabis hemp plant, certain strains of which contain a measure of a non-narcotic psychoactive chemical known as THC. Smoking or consuming the dried leaves produces an euphoric and sedative, but occasionally stimulating, effect. Cannabis is classified by the U.S. government as an illegal drug, although most hemp plants do not contain enough THC for recreational use. Nonetheless, the suppression of this family of plants is a greater disservice than merely discouraging casual personal use. According to the Family Council on Drug Awareness, cannabis hemp has "about fifty thousand non-smoking commercial uses", such as food, clothing, housing, paper, textiles, fuels, plastics, medicine, sealants, oil, rope, and canvas. Even scratching the surface of this topic reveals the plant's surprising versatility. An acre of hemp produces the same amount of fiber as two or three acres of cotton; such fiber is also of a stronger and softer quality. It can be made into strong fiberboard that is lighter than wood, as well as fire retardant. Hemp seeds, which are not intoxicating, contain a protein more nutritious and economical than soybean protein and can be used to create any product that can be made from soybean. As well as its industrial use, marijuana is a proven therapeutic aid for such diseases as glaucoma, asthma, arthritis, cancer, and AIDS.

      Examining the history of cannabis elicits even more confusion as to why it remains illegal. Cannabis and hemp have been in use since Biblical times by many different cultures for medical and religious reasons, as well as for personal relaxation. A number of religious sects, including Coptic Christians, Hindus, Sufis, Buddhists, and Rastafarians, maintain customs of the plant's ritual religious value. It has been considered by archaeologists to possibly have been one of the first plants cultivated by humans, and used for medicine, linen, clothing, and paper. It has been solidly in use worldwide for millennia, even to the point of being cultivated and recommended by the first American presidents.

      As well as ignorance regarding the uses of hemp and marijuana, there are still many erroneous myths about marijuana which have been perpetuated. Marijuana has been condemned as addictive, yet no study has found it to be so; indeed, coffee, sugar and chocolate are more habit-forming. Marijuana is accused of being a "gateway drug" that leads to harder drug usage, but in actuality it can help people refrain from hard drugs. The National Academy of Science reports that "legal drugs for adults, such as alcohol and tobacco, ... precede use of all illicit drugs." Thought once to cause violence, cannabis actually has been found to lessen it; marijuana users are quite under-represented in statistics of violent crime. It is far more likely that violence will stem from the use of alcohol and amphetamines, since marijuana does not alter one's personality. In fact, there is no proven adverse effect to smoking marijuana except that the smoke may cause bronchitis, in which case it can be consumed in a different manner, and a caution that its effects may impair one's operation of heavy machinery, which should be sensibly avoided in the same manner as intoxication. This is rather different than the sobering statistics of deaths due to tobacco, alcohol, prescription drug overdose, and even aspirin; a 1987 Harvard Medical Report confirmed that not once has anyone ever died from an overdose of cannabis.

      Although it has been used expansively across the world for millennia, and there seems to be few demonstrably adverse effects, it was still made illegal in the United States in 1938. Why? It appears likely that powerful controlling interests -- the fossil fuel, tobacco, alcohol, forestry and pharmaceutical industries -- felt threatened by this versatile plant and took steps to remove it from the public's reach. William Randolph Hearst, along with other powerful families such as DuPont, spread horror stories about cannabis, which were eventually found to be fallacious. However, this was not until marijuana was outlawed, and by that time sensationalistic films such as "Reefer Madness" had been distributed, causing a public anti-hemp hysteria.

      To support the interests of the fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and forestry industries, the government spends a bewildering level of resources on an eternal and ineffective War on Drugs, of which cannabis users find themselves a primary target. Despite being nonviolent offenders, marijuana users often find themselves imprisoned together with rapists, murderers and petty thieves -- and all too frequently, their sentences are far more severe. There are many cases in which someone arrested for possession of cannabis receives a longer prison term than a rapist. Money which could be directed toward rehabilitation of hard-drug users or violent criminals is instead spent on building prisons to hold people convicted of minor, nonviolent drug offenses. This unfortunate circumstance appears to stem from the aforementioned need to suppress hemp due to its usability, and is reinforced by a government that does not wish to see hemp reach its potential as a useful agricultural and industrial tool. One can only assume that it is more desirable and easier to continue a myth of fear than to research new methods of acquiring wealth.

      It is strongly evidenced through research that cannabis not only is far less destructive than its detractors would have us believe, but its uses would be a positive boon to our society's health, industry, and well-being. There is no "slippery slope" of legalization; if made available to the common consumer, marijuana could be taxed and regulated by the government without fear of a sudden irreversible spike in other drug use. Even if recreational use of marijuana remained on the other side of law, established facts show the indispensible value of industrial hemp. Rather than allowing it to remain under wraps for fear it would cripple certain powerful interests, the people of the United States should insist upon their right to produce the most effective, ecologically friendly products they can by the most inexpensive means.

David Elsensohn, March 2003

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