Several weeks back I was doing a little Saturday morning reading before leaving for the workshop I was teaching that morning. I was looking at the FDA’s website for any current “drug” news related to the herbal products industry (FDA definition of a drug includes all the teas, tinctures, etc that I brew at home to help with my own health)*. I saw a release from June (2018) about cannabis. It was in no way related to my workshop but a glaring contradiction caught my attention. I noticed that in June the FDA approved a drug with the isolated cannabidiol compound for use in seizures, but Cannabis sativa (marijuana) is still listed as a Schedule I drug. Huh?
*The FDA is a fee for service organization that has become very expensive and prohibitive for smaller companies. Without the money they can’t gain the legal approval to bring their products to market, making it a bit of a hustle. That said, they are our regulatory body and have a mission to protect consumers from dangerous drugs. I always tread very carefully here so I will go no further with this commentary, other than to say that our construct is possibly not as unbiased and scientifically based as we would believe, however it is what we have.
Cannabis isn’t one of the most dangerous plants out there but it seems to be the most politicized (at least in the U.S). The secondary metabolites in Datura stramonium and Salvia divinorum have more of a hallucinogenic effect in humans than cannabis but they aren’t illegal and grow prolifically in North America. From a strictly botanical perspective, it makes no sense.
Additionally, certain strains of Cannabis have been used as the source of hemp, which was, according to The People’s History,
one of the most significant crops for mankind up until this last century…
Hemp was probably the earliest plant cultivated for textile fiber. Archaeologists found a remnant of hemp cloth in ancient Mesopotamia (currently Iran and Iraq) which dates back to 8,000 BC. Hemp is also believed to be the oldest example of human industry.
Hemp, which has historically had over 25,000 diverse uses ranging from paints, printing inks, varnishes, paper, Government documents, bank notes, food, textiles (the original ‘Levi’s’ jeans were made from Hemp cloth), canvas (artists canvases were used by the great masters) and building materials still remains banned in this country whose Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. With modern technical developments, uses have increased to composite boards, motor vehicle brake and clutch pads, plastics, fuels, bio-diesel and Eco-solid fuel. In fact anything that can be made from a hydrocarbon (fossil fuel) can be made from a carbohydrate, but the strong lobbies still manage to keep the growth of this useful crop banned and the public disillusioned.
The full article on the history of hemp is absolutely worth your time to read if you have any interest in this topic.
Between the botany and the history of the plant, I was perplexed and began wondering what it is that got this one plant to the point of being so controversial. Why are we even having national conversations about this? Why is it illegal? From my opinion, it looks a bit like reading about Prohibition. (Note that this is not a discussion about addiction or crime, both of which can occur with any substance on Earth and merit their own discussions.)
Until recently, my knowledge of marijuana was limited to the “just say no to drugs” training in my schools in the eighties, the demonization by my family, church, and employers, and the military members that were kicked out for popping positive on drug tests because they smoked weed on leave. Having worked with DEA agents in my past life, I was well aware that crimes have been committed and people are in prison because of the illegal marijuana industry. What I didn’t understand was why. Let the research commence.
First, what’s the history?
Cannabis was commonly used in medicines prescribed by physicians in the United States and was not really given much attention as a plant any more special than many others. With the post Mexican Revolution wave of immigration, Mexicans brought with them the habit of smoking “marihuana”. Anti-immigration backlash began and by the 30’s FDR was pressuring lawmakers to outlaw the substance. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, not criminalizing the use, but levying heavy fines on anyone selling the product. The American Medical Association (still the largest group of medical doctors in the United States) was completely against the legislation because they would be losing cannabis, a medically important drug. The first marijuana related arrests in the U.S. resulted in 2 men being sentenced to 18 months and 4 years at Leavenworth for failure to pay the tax. Scratching my head and thinking that the potheads have been right all these years. It really was about money and control all along. We are just now, nearly 100 years later, getting back to the point where we use cannabis as medicine, except this time many doctors are against it.
The FDA* had recommended several Schedule I research licenses to the DEA. Those were not approved at that time but there have been updates since that morning. (Read all about it here). Additionally, I was unaware that the DEA had taken steps to increase legal cannabis production back in 2016. This is an excerpt from the article I just linked.
In 2016 the DEA approved a process to allow more cultivators to grow cannabis for research. More than 20 facilities have filed applications to become licensed cultivators, but the Justice Department, under Jeff Sessions, has blocked the DEA from processing the applications.
Cannabis was commonly used in medicines prescribed by physicians in the United States and was not really given much attention. With the post Mexican Revolution wave of immigration, Mexicans brought with them the habit of smoking “marihuana”. Anti-immigration backlash began and by the 30’s FDR was pressuring lawmakers to outlaw the substance. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed, not criminalizing the use, but levying heavy fines on anyone selling the product. The American Medical Association (still the largest group of medical doctors in the United States) was completely against the legislation because they would be losing cannabis, a medically important drug. The first marijuana related arrests in the U.S. resulted in 2 men being sentenced to 18 months and 4 years at Leavenworth for failure to pay the tax on the plant, not for possession or use of the plant itself.
Meanwhile, the traditional cultivation of hemp, dating back thousands of years, was taking a huge hit. Under the pressure of multiple lobbyists, for example, DuPont, maker of petroleum based synthetic textiles (competitor), the government instituted enormous taxes on hemp, eventually banning it altogether later that same year (1937). Interestingly, the U.S. government continued to import hemp due to its extensive, plant-based products that were useful in numerous industries. Just a few years later, the government doled out special grants to farmers to grow hemp to support the World War II war-time production. The ban remained after the war.
We are just now, nearly 100 years later, getting back to the point where we can legally use cannabis as medicine (30 states plus Washington, D.C. at the time of this post), except this time many doctors are still against it. Despite the fact that hemp (mostly a plant carbohydrate) can be used for most of the same things as the less environmentally friendly fossil fuels, it remains banned.
After reading through all this research, I can’t help but notice some parallels to current events. Heavy waves of immigration, backlash, politicians playing on fears and passing legislation that benefits corporate interests more than the constituents… From drugpolicy.org,
The demonization of the cannabis plant was an extension of the demonization of the Mexican immigrants. In an effort to control and keep tabs on these new citizens, El Paso, TX borrowed a play from San Francisco’s playbook, which had outlawed opium decades earlier in an effort to control Chinese immigrants. The idea was to have an excuse to search, detain and deport Mexican immigrants.
That excuse became marijuana.
This method of controlling people by controlling their customs was quite successful, so much so that it became a national strategy for keeping certain populations under the watch and control of the government. Sound familiar? Would love to hear your thoughts below.