Cannabis: A plant with issues

Piece published in Nimbin Hemp Embassy’s Pot Papers 2018

Programme of Events, Mardi Grass 2018

Distribution: 40,000 copies

Cannabis is endlessly fascinating and unwaveringly complex – a long fingered and intricate biological organism. Thousands of books and reports over millennia have been written, verbally handed down or sketched into rock regarding her unique history as a herbal medicine, industrial fibre, religious aid and hedonic intoxicant. She has subjective and enduring charm. Intriguingly, although the consumption of cannabis is often claimed to be an instrument of peace, attempts to weaponize her psychoactive personality date back 2,500 years to Chaldean society, when it was undertaken to burn enormous bonfires in attempts to render attacking enemies incompetent. In more recent times, the US military ran experiments on using a synthetic version (the snappily labelled ‘compound EA 2233’) to examine the potential for chemical warfare, although, perhaps unsurprisingly, without success.

Historically, cultivation and usage extend beyond written records so accounts tend to be speculative in nature. Carl Sagan, for example, pondered whether she may have been the first domesticated crop of humankind, and as such, responsible for the civilisation of our species. I believe it was so. Another theory, quite recent and based on archaeological evidence, posited that stone-age traders were potentially “stoned” when they invented the wheel. As a brainstorming assistant, she certainly has form.

For many people who consume cannabis, a likely cause of fascination is THC – the cannabinoid responsible for intoxication. As an inebriant, she has long been known to instigate hedonic sensations. In the mid 19th century for example, Baudelaire, Ludlow and Gautier, who preferred concentrated preparations of hashish in extremely large dosages about “the size of one’s thumb”, described deliriant experiences of ecstatic visions and rapture.

Politically though, if not physiologically, cannabis is toxic. In the 14th century AD for example an Arabian Emir ordered the pulling of teeth for the offense of eating the plant. Harry Anslinger, who was recently (and despicably) enshrined like a God at the DEA Museum, stated under oath in 1937: “Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians, and entertainers. Their satanic music is driven by marijuana, and marijuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death … the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”.  Needless to say, this was a complete fabrication, and the man was a little worm responsible for instigating massive drug war harm. Some 45 years later the point was tweaked by former US President Ronald Reagan, who, not known for being the sharpest tool in the shed, declared: “I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-Bomb blast”.

Conversely, and more rationally, it has also been stated that the measurable and observed harm of cannabis consumption, both to users and others, is not particularly damaging. Cannabis farmers are not shooting up cities. Many large and well-designed studies over the last 120 years including The Indian Hemp Drugs Report, La Guardia Committee, and The Shafer Commission emphasise this reasoned conclusion. Indeed, it is believed by many that she has the potential not only to enhance life quality, but also improve the world with her versatility and multiple applications.

The cultivation and sale of cannabis remains punishable by death in several countries in the 21st century. In Australia, merely being seen with her in public remains a criminal act – that needs to change.