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posted June 3, 2009, from March/April 2009 issue
How Marijuana Became Illegal
W.R. Hearst pulled a fast one on the American Medical Association
By Kathleen Murphy
Unraveling the story of marijuana (a.k.a. cannabis, hemp) is easier to do with a few little known facts in mind. For instance, hemp is the number one biomass source on earth and could easily provide the US with all its oil and gas needs, thus ending America’s dependence on fossil fuels. That’s probably one of the main reasons it’s still illegal today. But the story of how it became treated like an herbal pariah is yet more interesting.
It’s often told to us Americans, throughout grade school and high school, that marijuana is bad for our health and that the government has to put all this effort into putting so many people in jail for smoking it. But I no longer believe that the laws against marijuana have anything to do with concerns for health.
According to Ronald Reagan, “the most reliable scientific sources say permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the uses of marijuana” (LA Times). He based his statement on the Heath/Tulane University Study of 1974. For six years, it was withheld from public knowledge that this study was actually measuring carbon monoxide poisoning, not the effects of marijuana. In 1980 Playboy magazine and the pro-legalization group NORML--after suing the government--finally received an accurate account of what the research procedures really were.
There are also the
reports about how marijuana is more dangerous than tobacco. I’d say
that the two are pretty hard to compare, given that one is illegal and
the other legal. (By the way, NORML has posted counterevidence to these
health claims at http://norml.org/index,cfm?
It’s horrible ironic that marijuana is branded as “unhealthy.” In fact, it is the only safe and effective medicine for cancer patients suffering pain and nausea.
Cancer patients have a hard enough time with treatment. They lose a lot of weight due to the nausea that commonly results from chemotherapy. Dr George Wagoner, in Manistee, Michigan, a practicing physician of 29 years, recently wrote in the Lansing State Journal (19 Oct 2008) that his wife of over 50 years--after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year--couldn’t keep anything down. She was losing considerable weight and was wasting away. She could not tolerate the synthetic THC pill, Marinol, because the hallucinations were too distressing for her.
He procured some natural marijuana and after taking the smallest amount her nausea was gone, which he felt was miraculous. In arguing for legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients, he said that the debate should be about science and compassion for seriously ill patients suffering debilitating pain. To keep the only safe and effective medicine away from sick people is inhumane.
Scott Paplowski, another example, was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer when he was 16. After eight months of treatment his weight dropped from 220 pounds to 86 pounds. Medical marijuana saved his life by easing his nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain enough to restore his appetite. He currently weighs 193 pounds and at 39 he is believed to be the oldest living survivor of rhabdomysocarma, the form of cancer that he has.
So how did this good
medicine become illegal? Jack Herer’s book The Emperor Wears No Clothes
(readable for free online at www.jackherer.com/chapters.
When powerful businesses don’t like something, they can usually get something done about it. The 1937 criminalization of marijuana is a case where this manipulation is obvious, according to Herer. Hemp threatens certain powerful businesses today, just as it did in 1937.
As the methods for processing hemp into paper and plastics were becoming more readily available and affordable, business leaders including William Randolph Hearst and DuPont stood to lose fortunes. They did everything in their power to have it outlawed. Luckily for Hearst, he was the owner of a chain of newspapers. DuPont’s chief financial backer Andrew Mellon (also the Secretary of the Treasury during President Hoover) was responsible for appointing Harry J. Anslinger, in 1931 as the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
Hearst’s papers deplorably published enhanced accounts of marijuana-crazed black men raping white women. With these sensationalist newspaper stories as his support, Anslinger testified before Congress that, “Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind.”
Anslinger completely contradicted himself later--before Congress again in 1948—when he testified that marijuana caused its users to become peaceful and pacifist, and that Communists would use marijuana to weaken America’s will to fight.
A very interesting piece of that history is that only two days before the 1937 marijuana hearings, the American Medical Association (AMA) had just realized that the plant that Congress intended to outlaw was known medically as cannabis, which from 1850 to 1937 had been recorded as being the prime medicine for more than 100 different types of illnesses or diseases in the US pharmacopoeia. Dr James Woodward, who besides being a physician was also an attorney, testified that there wasn’t any real evidence being used to justify the new law and that the whole reason the AMA hadn’t come out against the law sooner was that “marijuana,” the new name given to cannabis by Hearst papers, was always described as a “killer weed from Mexico.”
Dr Woodward and the AMA were quickly denounced by Anslinger and eventually, after more than 3,000 AMA doctors were prosecuted by Anslinger for illegal prescriptions, the AMA came around to “support” Anslinger’s views on marijuana.
If things had turned out differently, I wonder if we would be at the mercy of big oil companies today. Knowing that hemp could easily provide the US with all its oil and gas makes me upset and feel all the more foolish for being taken in by the anti-marijuana propaganda taught to me in school.
There are some illicit drugs that are truly dangerous and violence inducing, like crystal meth, but drug-education programs discredit themselves by continuing this unwarranted campaign of lies against marijuana. It is not too much to ask that their lessons be based on truth.
Smoking marijuana leads
to harder drugs? By that logic does eating meat lead to cannibalism?
It seems a waste of time and tax dollars for our police and our court
systems to continue criminalizing marijuana when it is obvious that
there are far worse crimes being committed. •
The Wonder Weed
Hemp (marijuana) could substitute for all wood paper, all fossil fuels, and most of our fibers. It can make everything from dynamite to plastic. It grows in all 50 states. For long-term cellulose harvesting ability, one acre dedicated to hemp equals 4.1 acres of trees.
In 1935 alone 116 million pounds of hemp seed were used in America just for paint and varnish. But after 1937 most of all that business went to chemicals produced by DuPont.
Plastic plumbing pipe can
be manufactured using renewable hemp cellulose as the chemical stock,
replacing non-renewable petroleum-based chemical stocks. The many, many
uses of hemp are an endless subject. See http://NORML.org to investigate