News From The Woods - December 8, 2010


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published December 8, 2010

"The Marijuana Issue"

Just seeing the word "Marijuana" in print stirs some people up. It is such a sensitive issue that entire fortunes are spent every year lobbying either for or against the legalization of pot. Why is this such a big deal?..... Because MLLIONS of dollars in revenue hang in the balance and is leveraged against MILLIONS of dollars made illegally. Then after you throw in how legalization would affect the liquor and tobacco industry you have the makings of a real battle.

Because of misinformation (thank you William Randolph Hurst) and the scare tactics of our own government in the mid 30's ("Reefer Madness" comes to mind) people today have absolutely NO idea what the real facts are.

I went online to Wikipedia to learn more:

Cannabis, also known as marijuana (sometimes spelled "marihuana") among many other names, refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug. The word marijuana comes from the Mexican Spanish marihuana. According to the United Nations, cannabis "is the most widely used illicit substance in the world."

The typical herbal form of cannabis consists of the flowers and subtending leaves and stalks of mature pistillate of female plants. The resinous form of the drug is known as hashish (or merely as 'hash').

The major psychoactive chemical compound in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly abbreviated as THC). At least 66 other cannabinoids are also present in cannabis, including cannabidiol (CBD), cannabinol (CBN) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), which can result in different effects from those of THC alone.

Cannabis use has been found to have occurred as long ago as the third millennium B.C. In modern times, the drug has been used for recreational, religious or spiritual, and medicinal purposes. The UN estimated that in 2004 about 4% of the world's adult population (162 million people) use cannabis annually, and about 0.6% (22.5 million) use it on a daily basis. The possession, use, or sale of cannabis preparations containing psychoactive cannabinoids became illegal in most parts of the world in the early 20th century. Since then, some countries have intensified the enforcement of cannabis prohibition, while others have reduced it.

Cannabis is indigenous to Central and South Asia. Evidence of the inhalation of cannabis smoke can be found in the 3rd millennium B.C., as indicated by charred cannabis seeds found in a ritual brazier at an ancient burial site in present day Romania. Cannabis is also known to have been used by the ancient Hindus and Nihang Sikhs of India and Nepal thousands of years ago. The herb was called ganjika in Sanskrit (ganja in modern Indic languages). The ancient drug soma, mentioned in the Vedas, was sometimes associated with cannabis.

Cannabis was also known to the ancient Assyrians, who discovered its psychoactive properties through the Aryans. Using it in some religious ceremonies, they called it qunubu (meaning "way to produce smoke"), a probable origin of the modern word "cannabis". Cannabis was also introduced by the Aryans to the Scythians and Thracians/Dacians, whose shamans (the kapnobatai-"those who walk on smoke/clouds") burned cannabis flowers to induce a state of trance. Members of the cult of Dionysus, believed to have originated in Thrace (Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey), are also thought to have inhaled cannabis smoke. In 2003, a leather basket filled with cannabis leaf fragments and seeds was found next to a 2,500- to 2,800-year-old mummified shaman in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China.

Cannabis has an ancient history of ritual use and is found in pharmacological cults around the world. Hemp seeds discovered by archaeologists at Pazyryk suggest early ceremonial practices like eating by the Scythians occurred during the 5th to 2nd century B.C., confirming previous historical reports by Herodotus. One writer has claimed that cannabis was used as a religious sacrament by ancient Jews and early Christians due to the similarity between the Hebrew word "qannabbos" ("cannabis") and the Hebrew phrase "qené bósem" ("aromatic cane"). It was used by Muslims in various Sufi orders as early as the Mamluk period, for example by the Qalandars.

A study published in the South African Journal of Science showed that "pipes dug up from the garden of Shakespeare's home in Stratford upon Avon contain traces of cannabis." The chemical analysis was carried out after researchers hypothesized that the "noted weed" mentioned in Sonnet 76 and the "journey in my head" from Sonnet 27 could be references to cannabis and the use thereof.

Cannabis was criminalized in various countries beginning in the early 20th century. It was outlawed in South Africa in 1911, in Jamaica (then a British colony) in 1913, and in the United Kingdom and New Zealand in the 1920s. Canada criminalized marijuana in the Opium and Drug Act of 1923, before any reports of use of the drug in Canada. In 1925 a compromise was made at an international conference in Haag about the International Opium Convention that banned exportation of "Indian hemp" to countries that had prohibited its use, and requiring importing countries to issue certificates approving the importation and stating that the shipment was required "exclusively for medical or scientific purposes". It also required parties to "exercise an effective control of such a nature as to prevent the illicit international traffic in Indian hemp and especially in the resin".

In the United States the first restrictions for sale of cannabis came in 1906 (in District of Columbia). In 1937, the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act was passed, and prohibited the production of hemp in addition to marijuana. The reasons that hemp was also included in this law are disputed. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics agents reported that fields with hemp were also used as a source for marijuana dealers. Other authors have claimed that it was passed in order to destroy the hemp industry, largely as an effort of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family. With the invention of the decorticator, hemp became a very cheap substitute for the paper pulp that was used in the newspaper industry. Hearst felt that this was a threat to his extensive timber holdings. Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury and the wealthiest man in America, had invested heavily in the Du Pont families new synthetic fiber, nylon, which was also being outcompeted by hemp.

Cannabis has psychoactive and physiological effects when consumed. The minimum amount of THC required to have a perceptible psychoactive effect is about 10 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. Aside from a subjective change in perception and, most notably, mood, the most common short-term physical and neurological effects include increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, impairment of short-term episodic memory, working memory, psychomotor coordination, and concentration. Long-term effects are less clear.

While many drugs clearly fall into the category of either stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogen, cannabis exhibits a mix of all properties, perhaps leaning the most towards hallucinogenic or psychedelic properties, though with other effects quite pronounced as well. Though THC is typically considered the primary active component of the cannabis plant, various scientific studies have suggested that certain other cannabinoids like CBD may also play a significant role in its psychoactive effects.

Medical use

Cannabis used medically does have several well-documented beneficial effects. Among these are: the amelioration of nausea and vomiting, stimulation of hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients, lowered intraocular eye pressure (shown to be effective for treating glaucoma), as well as general analgesic effects (pain reliever).

Cannabis was manufactured and sold by U.S. pharmaceutical companies from the 1880s through the 1930s, but the lack of documented information on the frequency and effectiveness of its use makes it difficult to evaluate its medicinal value. Cannabis in the form of a tincture and a fluid extract is documented in a 1929-30 Parke Davis & Co catalog, and is listed as an active ingredient in ten products for cough, colic, neuralgia, cholera mordus and other medical conditions, as well as a "narcotic, analgesic, and sedative". The catalog also lists compound medications containing cannabis that in some cases were apparently formulated by medical doctors, in its Pills and Tablets section.

As cannabis is further legalized for medicinal use, it is possible that some of the foregoing compound medicines, whose formulas have been copied exactly as published, may be scientifically tested to determine whether they are effective medications.

Less confirmed individual studies also have been conducted indicating cannabis to be beneficial to a gamut of conditions running from multiple sclerosis to depression. Synthesized cannabinoids are also sold as prescription drugs, including Marinol (dronabinol in the United States and Germany) and Cesamet (nabilone in Canada, Mexico, The United States and The United Kingdom).

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved smoked marijuana for any condition or disease in the United States, largely because good quality scientific evidence for its use from U.S. studies is lacking; however, a major barrier to acquiring the necessary evidence is the lack of federal funding for this kind of research. Regardless, fourteen states have legalized cannabis for medical use. Canada, Spain, The Netherlands and Austria have also legalized cannabis for medicinal use.

Long-term effects

The smoking of cannabis is the most harmful method of consumption, as the inhalation of smoke from organic materials can cause various health problems. (However, studies have proven that smoking pot is LESS harmful that cigarettes, alcohol, and many over the counter drugs). Cannabis is ranked one of the least harmful drugs by a study published in the UK medical journal, The Lancet.

By comparison, studies on the vaporization of cannabis found that subjects were "only 40% as likely to report respiratory symptoms as users who do not vaporize, even when age, sex, cigarette use, and amount of cannabis consumed are controlled." Another study found vaporizers to be "a safe and effective cannabinoid delivery system."

While a study in New Zealand of 79 lung-cancer patients suggested daily cannabis smokers have a 5.7 times higher risk of lung cancer than non-users, another study of 2252 people in Los Angeles failed to find a correlation between the smoking of cannabis and lung, head or neck cancers. Some studies have also found that moderate cannabis use may protect against head and neck cancers, as well as lung cancer. Some studies have shown that cannabidiol may also be useful in treating breast cancer. These effects have been attributed to the well documented anti-tumoral properties of cannabinoids, specifically tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol.

Cannabis use has been assessed by several studies to be correlated with the development of anxiety, psychosis, and depression. A 2007 meta-analysis estimated that cannabis use is statistically associated, in a dose-dependent manner, to an increased risk in the development of psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. No causal mechanism has been proven, however, and the meaning of the correlation and its direction is a subject of debate that has not been resolved in the scientific community. Some studies assess that the causality is more likely to involve a path from cannabis use to psychotic symptoms rather than a path from psychotic symptoms to cannabis use, while other studies assess the opposite direction of the causality, or hold cannabis to only form parts of a "causal constellation", while not inflicting mental health problems that would not have occurred in the absence of the cannabis use.

Though cannabis use has at times been associated with stroke, there is no firmly established link, and potential mechanisms are unknown. Similarly, there is no established relationship between cannabis use and heart disease, including exacerbation of cases of existing heart disease. Though some fMRI studies have shown changes in neurological function in long term heavy cannabis users, no long term behavioral effects after abstinence have been linked to these changes.

Gateway drug theory

Some claim that trying cannabis increases the probability that users will eventually use "harder" drugs. This hypothesis has been one of the central pillars of anti-cannabis drug policy in the United States, though the validity and implications of these hypotheses are highly debated. Studies have shown that tobacco smoking is a better predictor of concurrent illicit hard drug use than smoking cannabis.

No widely accepted study has ever demonstrated a cause-and-effect relationship between the use of cannabis and the later use of harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. However, the prevalence of tobacco cigarette advertising and the practice of mixing tobacco and cannabis together in a single large joint, common in Europe, are believed to be cofactors in promoting nicotine dependency among young persons investigating cannabis.

A 2005 comprehensive review of the literature on the cannabis gateway hypothesis found that pre-existing traits may predispose users to addiction in general, the availability of multiple drugs in a given setting confounds predictive patterns in their usage, and drug sub-cultures are more influential than cannabis itself. The study called for further research on "social context, individual characteristics, and drug effects" to discover the actual relationships between cannabis and the use of other drugs.

A new user of cannabis who feels there is a difference between anti-drug information and their own experiences will apply this distrust to public information about other, more powerful drugs. Some studies state that while there is no proof for this gateway hypothesis, young cannabis users should still be considered as a risk group for intervention programs. Other findings indicate that hard drug users are likely to be "poly-drug" users, and that interventions must address the use of multiple drugs instead of a single hard drug.

Another gateway hypothesis is that while cannabis is not as harmful or addictive as other drugs, a gateway effect may be detected as a result of the "common factors" involved with using any illegal drug. Because of its illegal status, cannabis users are more likely to be in situations which allow them to become acquainted with people who use and sell other illegal drugs. By this argument, some studies have shown that alcohol and tobacco may be regarded as gateway drugs. However, a more parsimonious explanation could be that cannabis is simply more readily available (and at an earlier age) than illegal hard drugs, and alcohol/tobacco are in turn easier to obtain earlier than cannabis (though the reverse may be true in some areas), thus leading to the "gateway sequence" in those people who are most likely to experiment with any drug offered.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that the main factors in users moving on to other drugs were age, wealth, unemployment status, and psychological stress. The study found there is no "gateway theory" and that drug use is more closely tied to a person's life situation, although marijuana users are more likely to use other drugs.

Legal status

Since the beginning of the 20th century, most countries have enacted laws against the cultivation, possession or transfer of cannabis. These laws have impacted adversely on the cannabis plant's cultivation for non-recreational purposes, but there are many regions where, under certain circumstances, handling of cannabis is legal or licensed. Many jurisdictions have lessened the penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation and sometimes a fine, rather than imprisonment, focusing more on those who traffic the drug on the black market.

In some areas where cannabis use has been historically tolerated, some new restrictions have been put in place, such as the closing of cannabis coffee shops near the borders of the Netherlands, closing of coffee shops near secondary schools in the Netherlands and crackdowns on "Pusher Street" in Christiania, Copenhagen in 2004.

Some jurisdictions use free voluntary treatment programs and/or mandatory treatment programs for frequent known users. Simple possession can carry long prison terms in some countries, particularly in East Asia, where the sale of cannabis may lead to a sentence of life in prison or even execution. More recently however, many political parties, non-profit organizations and causes based on the legalization of medical cannabis and/or legalizing the plant entirely (with some restrictions) have emerged.

Okay, so now you know the story of marijuana.

Recently on Facebook, someone started a thread about Willie Nelson once again getting busted in Texas for having 6 ounces in his possession (recently downgrade to 4 ozs). Several people left comments and at least two (who seemed to be connected in some way with law enforcement) applauded the arrest, based SOLELY on the fact that it was "illegal". I made some off the cuff and glib reply that now perhaps we should go after all those criminals that removed the tags on pillows. The immediate reply was that it only applied to the owners of the pillows, and that "stealing pillows" to remove the tags was tantamount to theft, and therefore…… "illegal". This intimated that ALL illegalities should be vigorously pursued based solely on the premise that it was deemed illegal. While I admire the zeal with which the author of the reply stated that comparing tag removal to pot use was apples and oranges, I question the validity of their statement based on their own criteria of "all things illegal". One person wrote: "It is wrong because it is ILLEGAL. If pot were legal I wouldn't care at all. If they want to use that awful stuff then go ahead. But it is ILLEGAL and therefore should be handled as such by the authorities".

Well, based on that benchmark, I submit that the following laws upheld on the books at the state capitol in Little Rock should be adhered to:

o A law provides that school teachers who bob their hair will not get a raise.
o A man can legally beat his wife, but not more than once a month. (!)
o Alligators may not be kept in bathtubs.
o Oral sex is considered to be sodomy.
o Men are not allowed to ask women to dance during the month of July.

In Fayetteville:

oIt is against the law to make bats and owls into burgers.
oIt is illegal to kill "any living creature".
o A voter is only allowed five minutes to mark his ballot.
o At Arkansas State University two people cannot hold hands while standing in a doorway unless they belong to a union.
o In Arkansas it is illegal to buy or sell blue light bulbs.
o It's illegal to mispronounce the name of the state of Arkansas in that state.
o The Arkansas legislature passed a law that states that the Arkansas River can rise no higher than to the Main Street bridge in Little Rock.

In Little Rock:

o Honking one's car horn at a sandwich shop after 9 PM is against the law.
o No one may suddenly start or stop their car at a McDonald's.
o Dogs may not bark after 6 PM.
o It is an offense to eat cheese on a Friday unless it is accompanied by a large bottle of beer.
o Flirtation between men and women on the streets of Little Rock may result in a 30-day jail term.
o It is unlawful to walk one's cow down Main Street after 1:00 PM on Sunday.
o It's illegal to yell at your kids at a drive-in restaurant.

These laws seem pretty stupid and/or archaic, right? But they are THE LAW, nevertheless. I submit to you, dear reader, that the current marijuana laws are just as stupid. Our parent's generation was able to repeal prohibition because it was stupid and encouraged bootlegging and organized crime. The only difference today is that the "organizers" are largely behind the scenes.

Legalizing it may not be the right answer. Consider decriminalization and regulation. I know how we all balk at government control, but if it were under regulation just imagine the taxes we could collect. Imagine how it would pull the plug on the black market, the "pusher", and the drug cartel. Cigarette smoking would drop drastically. Alcohol abuse would surely lessen. How many people would (re)turn to smoking an occasional joint instead of heading to the bottle or hacking away outside in the NO SMOKING area? To my thinking the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, especially considering the medical applications. And I'm not even addressing the tragedy of throwing relative innocents into jails filled with habitual criminals.

And finally, for those of you who consider it a bad step in any event, may I just ask that you give the same considerations to alcohol and tobacco abuse? Okay, if we continue to make marijuana illegal, then let's be fair and also ban alcohol and tobacco products. They are PROVEN to be more detrimental that pot and so if you wish to cling to the old "Reefer Madness" mindset, then let's wipe the slate completely clean.


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