Politicians continually fail to recognize marijuana's value

October 24, 2007

Tim Strube, Daily Trojan (USC)

"I am not in favor of medical marijuana being legal in the country," gloated Mitt Romney during an "Ask Mitt Anything" session in New Hampshire.

The former Massachusetts governor's statement was in response to the inquiry of Clayton Holton, an individual who finds relief from the symptoms of his muscle dystrophy by using medical marijuana.

The video of wheelchair-bound Holton asking, "Will you arrest me or my doctors if I get medical marijuana?" has been widely circulated online and made it unequivocally clear that Romney, in true American fashion, refuses to take an objective look at medical marijuana.

Like Romney, a large number of Americans don't take marijuana seriously.

To many, the very utterance of the word "marijuana" conjures up images of stoners, hippies and Grateful Dead fans who wear ponchos and participate in drum circles.

From what the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests, if you smoke it you'll either find your dad's shotgun and shoot yourself in the face or run over a little girl on her bike at a drive-thru.

Marijuana users are widely perceived as apathetic, lazy, unmotivated and downright empty-headed - a joke to be joked about, if you will.

Marijuana was not always viewed this way, though. The notion of marijuana as a dangerous, addictive substance is exclusive to modern-American discourse - merely the result of the misguided social politics of the 20th century.

What most people don't know is the current American view of marijuana is a misconception that denies thousands of years of history.

In fact, the recreational use we commonly associate with marijuana is its most fruitless application.

Prior to the 20th century, marijuana (properly referred to as cannabis) was widely used in the American and international pharmacopeia, and its medicinal use since 2,737 B.C.

The nonintoxicating, untreated cannabis plant itself is said to have more than 25,000 uses (textiles and clothing, paper, rope, culinary oil, cosmetics, paint and varnish, dietary supplements and bio-fuels, just to name a few) and accordingly, it's been referred to by many as "the most useful plant known to mankind."

Despite this, all derivatives of the cannabis plant remain illegal on the federal level.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, it's a Schedule I drug alongside such substances as heroin, methamphetamines (e.g. MDMA, ecstasy) and lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. As such, cannabis is considered to have absolutely "no medical use in treatment in the United States."

Even cocaine and PCP have a more moderate scheduling.

Why has "the most useful plant known to mankind" remained illegal in the United States for more than three-quarters of a century? Why people such as Romney avoid the topic of marijuana is a difficult question to answer.

But a variety of factors have snowballed over the years into this seemingly never ending prohibition we see today.

It's possible, however, to name a few individuals who have had the most significant contribution to this continued misunderstanding.

Harry Anslinger, the first American drug czar, is said to be the father of cannabis prohibition. In the 1930s, Anslinger, employing manipulative rhetoric, almost single-handedly created the notion that "marihuana" was a societal ill, threatening the lives of our youth.

Anslinger's (and many other politicians') racist inclinations led them to criminalize cannabis. Anslinger, unabashed by his racism said, "the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races…[It] makes darkies think they're as good as white men."

Obviously, he wasn't basing his views on any sort of clinical or scientific research.

Moreover, because cannabis was first used by Mexican workers in the American Southwest (and, interestingly enough, Mormons living in Mexico brought it to Utah), it was a common belief that Hispanic culture's use of "devil's weed" was tainting the American social atmosphere.

Upon the latter half of the 20th century, one would think that such irrational thinking would have faded with time, but inevitably, that wasn't the case. Richard Nixon, the U.S. president who years later insisted upon an "all out war" on cannabis as a part of his "war on drugs," was no different than his irrational predecessors.

Nixon asserted that "every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish" and that there's something "wrong with them." Apparently, Nixon didn't care for the commission's scientific findings (or Judaism).

Unfortunately, things are no different today. The severely misguided, unfounded and prejudiced views of years past still prevail, evident in Mitt Romney's refusal to appropriately field the question of a seriously ill individual who uses cannabis for medicinal purposes.

As far as evaluating its potential for medicinal use, things remain in a stalemate. The American Medical Association concluded that the lack of "high-quality clinical research ... continues to hamper development of rational public policy" on medical marijuana.

In other words, a number of researchers would love nothing more than to investigate cannabis further, but its tough scheduling makes any research virtually impossible.

Unless proper research is conducted, cannabis will forever remain an undeserved societal taboo.

Its continued illegality is nothing more than a mistake that's been echoed for generations, the basis of which takes time to understand and will take even more time to change. At this point, given the persistent 75-year-long campaign against cannabis, it's almost impossible to look at it objectively.

Imagine waking up one morning and hearing about a newly discovered plant: Not only can its derivatives be used medically in treating a variety of ailments, but it can also be used in place of a variety of petroleum-based products and, consequently, compensate for our country's over-consumption of said resources and greatly reduce our nation's harm to the environment. And that's just the half of it.

Contrary to popular belief, such a plant does exist; the American population, Mitt Romney included, has just been told otherwise for far too long.



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