While marijuana laws are certainly becoming more progressive in the United States, draconian laws remain in place in many states. There were over 650,000 cannabis-related arrests last year alone, and 90% of these were for possession only. Despite the fact that all races seem to use at roughly the same rates, a disproportionate number of those arrested for possession are African-American or Latino. Blind justice? I think not. In fact, these arrests are not just at all.
One need not be a weed enthusiast to spot the cruelty of such laws, and the government overreach that often comes with enforcing them. For instance, Oklahoma has some of the toughest laws in the nation regarding cannabis. Take the somewhat notorious case of Patricia SpottedCrow, a mother of four who was sentenced to twelve years in prison for selling $40 worth of weed–roughly an eighth–to an undercover cop. To put this in perspective, the penalty for second-degree manslaughter in Oklahoma is 2-4 years. When you get drunk and run someone over then, by golly, you better not have any weed on you, or that’s triple your sentence!
In my home state of Texas, a first-time possession charge of even a gram could carry a $2000 fine and a jail sentence of 6 months. In 2011, a bill was introduced to reduce possession of an ounce or less to a misdemeanor. Thousands upon thousands of Texans, myself included, contacted their representatives. Our pleas fell on deaf ears–the bill was not even considered by the House. While 6 months in jail may not seem like much, the penalties can be much stricter. Possession of 10 grams of concentrate hash oil, or dabs as you might know them, can land you 2-20 years in the pen, the same that you would receive if you, say, intentionally broke someone’s wrist or nose.
I can tell you firsthand that we Texans, rural and urban alike, love our weed, and it is my hope that we can soon vote in representatives who understand the true meaning of “individual freedom” instead of paying mere lip service to the concept.
However, the long-ranging consequences of criminalization are far worse than you might imagine. The United States is by no means the only country affected.
Let’s start in our own backyard. The Mexican Drug War between the Mexican government and crime syndicates (cartels) has been raging since While this war is by no means solely about cannabis, the cartels profit abundantly from its criminalization in the U.S.. From 2007 to 2014, more than 164,000 have been killed in this war. During this time, the number of deaths from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined was estimated at 103,000.
In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte came to power as president of the Philippines. He quickly waged a drug war of his own that rages on to this day. Although the number of fatalities attributed to the crackdown vary, Human Rights Watch estimates that roughly 12,000 suspected drug sellers and users have been killed since 2016. However, this number could be as high as 20,000, the vast majority of which are poor. Of these, 4000 were killed by police, the rest by “unidentified gunmen”, most likely vigilantes such as the Davao Death Squad, emboldened and enabled by the Duterte administration. The exact number is unknown because media has extremely limited access to crime scenes and police reports.
Police rely on lists of drug dealers and users provided to them by community members, sometimes killing these suspects in the middle of the night. To date, no police officers have been convicted of the widespread abuses committed during these raids.
While this is ostensibly a war on stereotypical sociopathic drug-lords, addicts and dealers alike have been targeted, their bodies turning up under bridges or in allies with cardboard signs branding them as drug pushers.
Human rights activists and journalists have been treated as enemy agents in this war that shows no signs of ending soon. As of July 2018, Duterte himself has stated that the war will rage on, as relentless and chilling as it was when it began, telling a crowd at the presidential palace in Manila, “My only sin is extrajudicial killings.”
It is not only crime and state-sanctioned murder that increase with the criminalization of cannabis: Studies published in the peer-reviewed journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, compared opioid prescription patterns in states allowing the use of medical cannabis to those that did not. In states that allowed the use of medical marijuana, 2.21 million fewer daily doses were prescribed than in those that did not. This number is even higher in states with full legalization. Most telling, perhaps, is the study’s finding that there was a 14.5% decrease in the use of opiates when dispensaries were available to these patients. A 2014 study by Jama found that, from 1999 to 2010, states with medical marijuana had 24.8% fewer annual opioid-related deaths than those without. In 2017, it was found that full legalization in Colorado had coincided with a reversal of the state’s upward trend in opioid deaths.
When over 90 people die from opioid abuse every day in this country, I think it imperative that we ask ourselves this: What the hell are we doing? At this point, decriminalization of this pain-killing herb is a must. I am not saying that legalization of cannabis will solve the opioid crisis entirely, but it would undoubtedly save lives. After all, the DEA does not even dispute the fact that fatal overdoses from cannabis are unheard of.
The greatest danger of cannabis is and has always been its illegality. Make no mistake: The cost of prohibition is far more than heavy fines or a few months in county. The War on Drugs is a war on people.
As the Bible says, there is nothing new under the sun. This is certainly true in regards to hemp. As far back as 8000 BC, hemp was cultivated for textiles in Mesopotamia and beyond. Chinese literature refers to hemp cultivation in the third millennium BC. By 3000 years ago, Hemp was used for a multitude of purposes throughout the world, and not just to make cloth. The leaves, seeds, and roots of the prolific plant were used as an anesthetic during surgery and as medicine for conditions ranging from a simple cough to convulsions. There is even ample documentation of the use of hemp to ease contractions during childbirth!
The everyday use of hemp would not end until the twentieth century. And why would it? Hemp has countless uses and can be cultivated in various climates. In fact, hemp was brought to the New World by the Puritans on ships that, more likely than not, had sails and ropes made from hemp fibers. In Jamestown in the year 1619, farmers were ordered to grow hemp. In the early settler days, hemp seed was even used as a form of currency. Our founding fathers would later cash in on the crop: George Washington wrote about farming hemp on his lands and Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that manufactured hemp paper.
Nothing new under the sun.
So what happened? As part of the Cannabis family, hemp was demonized along with its cousin during the reefer madness era of the early twentieth century. Getting high off hemp is physically impossible as it does not contain enough TCH, so why was this age-old crop criminalized?
Let’s start with a media mogul named W.R. Hearst. Hearst also happened to be heavily invested in the timber trade. Hemp, as an efficient alternative to cutting down trees in order to make paper, posed a threat to the profits of Hearst and his cronies. Another influential figure who played a key part in the criminalization of hemp was none other than John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil who viewed hemp-sourced ethanol as competition.
The financial chaos caused by the Great Depression in the 1930s made it all the more crucial for the likes of Rockefeller, Hearst, and other industry titans to stamp out the competition. What do you do with a threat that you cannot outright destroy? You engage in manipulative techniques to sway opinions of the public and those in power. W.R. Hearst, with his influence in print media and considerable wealth, was in a position to do both.
Thankfully, we have been seeing great changes in regards to cannabis in recent years, changes that show no sign of slowing or stopping anytime soon as more and more states and countries see that the benefits of the plant outweigh the risk. But what does this mean for hemp?
The uses of hemp cannot be summed up in one post. The number of products that can be manufactured from this useful plant number into the tens of thousands, including food, medicine, and even building materials. However, I have outlined here eight reasons why hemp has the potential to help build a better world:
- Hemp clears more carbon dioxide from the air than most plants, thereby reducing the greenhouse effect. It does this by storing the carbon within itself for the plants entire lifespan. The carbon remains sequestered within hemp products, unable to be released back into the atmosphere.
- Because hemp is biodegradable, products made from the crop will quickly break down, returning to the earth instead of rotting away in a landfill or being dumped into the ocean.
- Because hemp is sturdy, it does a stellar job of keeping the weeds away on its own, requiring less pesticides than many other crops.
- Hemp seeds can be pressed into biodiesel and used as a fuel compatible with most forms of transportation. Fermented stalks can be made into ethanol, as well.
- Hemp is simply efficient. One acre of hemp can produce up to ten times the amount of paper that an acre of trees can. Hemp is ready to harvest within months, while trees can take a decade or more to reach maturity.
- Hemp is convenient. Not only does it grow in a variety of climates and soil types, hemp grows closely together, taking up less space and requiring less farmland. Since it improves soil health, new crops can be planted soon after the hemp is harvested.
- Hemp seeds are good for you. An ingredient in numerous health foods, the seeds are rich in the Omega-3s, the fatty acids that help prevent and manage heart disease.
- It is a non-toxic material that can be used in construction, including insulation. Its woody inner core is used with lime to make “hempcrete” which is used in building walls and structural supports. Hemp seed oil can even be used as a finish.
So where does hemp stand today in regards to legality? As of 2014, the Farm Bill was amended under President Obama to allow the cultivation of hemp for research purposes, keeping federal restrictions on growing hemp for commercial use in place. Despite federal law, however, seventeen state governments from California to North Dakota to Vermont have allowed farmers to enter the commercial hemp trade. Meanwhile, there is a strong movement in D.C. to end federal prohibition. In June of this year, the Senate Agriculture Committee, led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, passed a bill with provisions to fully legalize the cultivation and trade of hemp.
According to the World Resource Institute, 20,000 hectares of forests are being chopped down every day to make our goods and to clear more land. There is a Texas-sized garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. While groundbreaking progress is undoubtedly being made in regards to attitudes towards hemp, one can’t help but wonder just why on Earth it took so long, or feel outraged at the fact that thousands of years of usage was suddenly halted by corporate greed.
When will we stop criminalizing Mother Nature?