We all know the story of Weed, AKA cannabis, marijuana, pot, the assassin of youth. In truth, that assassin is adulthood and definitely not to be confused as maturity. Her story is woven with lies, deception and conspiracy. Weed, unbeknownst to most, is the victim.
Weed was once everyone’s friend, less a threat than healer. She thrived in religions and cultures for centuries until the ‘New World’ rebranded it as a vice, used by undesirables to create antisocial psychopaths. This was the rhetoric of capitalists who saw Weed as a competitor to creating their own antisocial psychopaths.
Weed was sacred, like the Jesus wafers and grape juice Blood-Of-Christ. The Hindus called her bhang, using the concoction to commune with the god Shiva and free oneself from sin (Great Book, 83). Buddhists claim that Buddha lived on one cannabis seed a day, and they use Weed to deepen their meditation and raise awareness (GB, 86). Rowan Robinson, in The Great Book of Hemp, mentions her use with Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, African traditions, Chinese Taoism, Japanese traditions and even Christianity. This competition of beliefs, of religions fighting for the title of most beneficent, was won by the secularists. They outlawed the sacred for their ‘sacred-er’.
The narrow-minded racist tendency of colonialists plotted to push Weed into the underground economy. To emphasize her ties to Mexico, cannabis was rebranded to sound more Mexican by combining ‘Maria’, mother of Jesus, with ‘huana’, Spanish for ‘property’ or ‘stuff’. In 1846, it became ‘Mary’s Stuff’, or marijuana (Cannabis Manifesto, 20). Steve D’Angelo documents the cultural shift in The Cannabis Manifesto, documenting how Weed was brought into the States with refugees from the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Weed was used as an analgesic and for her anti-inflammatory properties (CM, 21).
Mind you, the medical industry wasn’t blind to Weed’s usefulness. She was already listed in the U.S. pharmacopeia back in 1842 (Smoke Signals, 24). However, through the 1920s Weed nervously eyed alcohol being beaten into submission by the temperance movement. Law enforcement had a heyday busting distilleries and breweries, flushing the underground profits down the drain in the name of Prohibition.
Weed was introduced to contemporary society thanks to Mexican migration, and in the 1920s and 30s was promoted to Muse by the African-American jazz musicians. She was affectionately known as ‘Muggles’ and Mezz, after Milton Mezzrow who started selling cannabis cigarettes to make ends meet during the Great Depression(SS, 44). This musehood propelled her to celebrity status, joining the era`s ranks of alcohol and barbiturates.
Politicians soon recognized their hypocrisy and alcohol was re-legalized. It helped boost economies, and became the architect of civil strife, to the point of celebrating it as a human right. Not really, but try telling that to the drinkers.
Well, come the 1930s, and a bunch of alcohol agents were standing around bars, beer in hand and scratching their heads wondering what to do next. Harry Anslinger had the answer, becoming director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Giving alcohol a pat on the back and no-hard-feelings handshake, he took a step over and gave Weed a withering stare.
By the time the age of marijuana prohibition kicked in, the public was well aware of Weed’s danger thanks to Reefer Madness. Smearing Weed’s good name, rumors spread about her playing into the hands of children and students. Most Americans understanding about Weed was rife with ‘racism, unwarranted consumption, lack of investigation, and an absence of science’. (S.S. 27). Some things never change.
In 1925-26, studies were done exonerating Weed, citing no evidence of habit forming compared to alcohol, opium, and cocaine. With moderate use, they found no injurious effect, no physical injury, and no moral injury. (SS, 25) Logically, Congress voted in a national ban on Weed in 1937. (SS, 28) Welcome to the age of ideology trumping scientific fact.
Reefer Madness won over and Weed was ruled an outlaw. There was collateral damage. Weed’s cousin, Industrial Hemp, or IH for short, was bundled into the sentence and he too was outlawed. This betrayal was even harder on IH, having been there at the nation’s beginning when the great explorers were hijacking the Americas.
Without IH, the sails and ropes wouldn’t have had the strength to search the seven seas. In 17th Century America, IH was a mandatory crop earning jail time if you weren`t growing it. In the 18th Century, he was used to pay taxes (http://www.hemp.com/history-of-hemp/). There are claims that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew it on their plantations (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2912/did-george-washington-and-thomas-jefferson-grow-marijuana). IH had deep roots with America’s history, and was kicked to the curb with the boot called 1937’s Marijuana Tax Act.
The conspiracy is laid bare knowing that the law was passed by FDR and his buddies through a voice tally that was never recorded. Weed was removed from the US Pharmacopeia in 1941 (SS, 54). At the time, she was listed for more than 100 different ailments. (SS, 56)
An odd hiccup in the restriction came during World War Two, testifying to IH`s utility and necessity. In 1942, the government-led `Hemp for Victory` called for support of the war effort, quoting the film: “American hemp will go on duty again – hemp for mooring ships, hemp for tow lines, hemp for tackle and gear, hemp for countless naval uses both on ship and shore!” (Great Book, 160) Apparently, the Japanese had cut off their supply of imported hemp, of which each American ship required 34,000 feet. When the war ended, so did the hiccup.
Through to the Sixties, Weed retained her public enemy status as the assassin of youth. As an illegal substance, acquiring Weed for study was near-impossible. The silencing of the scientific community gave the Reefer Madness unopposed power to propagate its lies.
The battle escalated after Anslinger resigned from the Bureau in 1962 and moved into a bigger pond. He was appointed as a US delegate to the United Nations (SS, 33). With his US superpower status, the anti-Weed venom spread globally.
That same year, Kennedy and the ad hoc panel on drug abuse found that most of the facts on Weed were exaggerated and based on very limited evidence. (CM, 34). With studies mounting in support of Weed’s efficacy, it naturally escalated into full-out war. Weed’s newest foe was bigger and badder than ever. At least the lies were.
As the Sixties blasted apart the Fifties, Weed was seen hanging with the dropouts. She was a celebrity to the hippie movement and became a political symbol of liberty and civil disobedience. This crowd had a plethora of nicknames for her, such as blunt, bud, chronic, doobie, dope, ganja, grass, herb, Johnson, Mary Jane, pot, reefer, schwag, spliff, and weed.
Nixon was (mis)leading the US charge, declaring the War on Drugs. Using a lot of deflection techniques and political jujitsu to hide his misdeeds, this war masked his hatred of the blacks, hippies, and anti-Vietnam protesters. Thus, the practice of demonizing the user began.
A quote from his counsel, John Ehrlichman, says it all: “Look, we understand we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor, or black in the US, but we could criminalize their common pleasure.” (CM, 35)
The government`s shield of massive lies was called the 1970 Controlled Substances Act which established drug ‘schedules’. Schedule I listed drugs with high potential for abuse, had no medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. This list included heroin, LSD, mescaline, magic mushrooms, and various amphetamines. Taking a few more steps down the logic progression, the Schedule II drugs had some accepted medical use. This group included cocaine, opium, oxycodone, morphine, and amphetamines.
Not many considered it fair to lump Weed in with these nasty cell mates. She may have been seen hanging out with some of these in the Sixties lovefest, but her guilt-by-association was easily disproven by numerous studies, all ignored by the larger public. Regardless, the drug war was ramped up with its targets based on this schedule.
Jimmy Carter called for national decriminalization of Weed, saying the punishment shouldn’t be more harmful than the cause (CM, 36). That idea was shot down; instead they sprayed Mexican Weed with paraquat. Carter authorized N, N, dimethyl-4, 4, -bipyridinium dichloride as a weapon, which kills green plant tissue on contact, toxic to animals and humans. Parkinson’s disease was a common development from those who ingested this weed, of which a third of the samples were contaminated with. (CM, 88) Oops.
As the hippie movement got hip-checked away by disco’s jungle fever, bringing with it even more drugs. Weed’s ill repute placed her in the hands of gangsters and bikers; she had few friends outside of the fringe society. Cheech and Chong parodied the war, flipping the bird at authorities while pushing her into the spotlight of the Eighties. Along came Nancy Reagan, just saying no, making it her calling to continue spreading misinformation on Weed.
By this time, Weed was ‘well known’ to be a gateway to harder drugs like crack and heroin. Ronald Reagan introduced the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, along with mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Law enforcement had a heyday busting grow-ops and hydroponic shops, flushing underground profits down the drain in the name of prohibition.
However, there was change in the air when Weed was recognized as a legitimate treatment for AIDS. Shortly after, gangster rappers built up empires on songs about Weed. Dazed and confused, she stumbled into the Nineties relatively unscathed despite a global war launched against her.
In the cinema, a bunch of dudes were embracing her company, Jay and Silent Bob passed it on to Harold and Kumar, while she provided the basis for Seth Rogan’s career. Weed has had a long and winding career, and lately that path has led to medical awareness. Even bigger steps were taken as states de-escalated this drug war by decriminalizing, or outright legalizing, her. Doing so has turned state economies around.
As we woke up and stretched our way into the new millennium, minds were changing as eyes were opened. With the loosening laws, schools and scientists had access to legally study this plant. Science chipped away the portrait of Weed as ‘public scourge’ as lies were exhumed. The truth of Weed’s efficacy was brought to light and the exposed lies left a public in shock and disbelief.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy gathered in 2011 to say that the War on Drugs had failed and that a new approach was needed (War on Drugs, 32).
These revelations point towards a revolution in health care and medicine. The cover-up of IH’s ability to produce paper, textiles, and concrete was deposed. His true threat is to replace lumber and petroleum, a strike at the wellbeing of numerous industries on which our economy currently depends. IH has the potential to seriously stir shit up.
In the end, most of the Twentieth Century`s depiction of Weed has been ideology with no reliance on science. As networks of communication open up, the internet reveals truths and facts that were obscured by disputable laws. The tide turns as more people realize the efficacy of Weed, joining the ranks to change her legal status and empower her to change the way we inhabit the world.