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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

September, 2005

Snatching The Patient's Pot
By Edward W. Miller, MD

The US Supreme Court on Monday, June 6, 2005 ruled that physicians will no longer be permitted to prescribe marijuana for patient suffering. Thus, at one stroke of his judicial pen, Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion, removed from the American physician's pharmacopedia one of the most valuable drugs for the treatment of : nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, the high intraocular pressure in glaucoma, asthmatic breathing, migraine and insomnia as well as the best available medicine for weaning addicts from speed, heroin and related hard drugs. Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion, whereas Justices Sandra Day O'Conner, William Renquist and Clarence Thomas dissented. This Supreme Court Case ( 03-1454) Gonzales, Attorney General et al vs. Raich et, al had been argued before the Court in November 2004
The respondents, Raich and Monson were California residents with serious medical conditions for which, under California's "Compassionate Use Act" their physicians had legally prescribed marijuana. After Federal Drug Administration agents (DEA) had seized and destroyed all six of Monson's cannabis plants, these respondents, sought relief in the courts. The District Court denied their request for a preliminary injunction, but the Ninth Circuit Court reversed the ruling, finding that the respondents "demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the claim that the CSA (Controlled Substance Act) exceeded Congress Commercial Clause Authority as expressed in the Constitution.
Justice Stevens and the majority held that: "Congress' Commercial Cause authority includes the power to prohibit the cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law. "This decision means that federal anti-drug laws now trump laws in those nine states that are permitting physicians to prescribe marijuana for selected patients.
On reading the detailed discussions of Justices Stevens, Scalia and O'Conner, (available on the Net) I realized their arguments revolved around the numerous court decisions regarding States' Rights, (James Madison has been turning in his grave) while totally excluding any concern for that vast array of other issues related to marijuana, which include the potential value of reviving commercial hemp, the cost in dollars and personal lives of imprisoning drug offenders, the power of the prison-building and prison-staffing lobbies in Washington, and the cost to the country of cheap prison labor for big industry. Though Justice O'Conner dissented, her decision was based solely on States vs. Federal rights. A paragraph from a letter I wrote her reads:
"I agree with your position regarding James Madison and State's Rights as the framework of your dissent, but in your final paragraph, your comment that neither as a California citizen nor as a legislator would you have supported the medical uses of marijuana, enforces my belief that neither you nor any of your fellow Justices fully understand either the political, the economic or the medical issues regarding marijuana." I mailed the retiring Justice a copy of THE EMPEROR WEARS NO CLOTHES, for summer reading.
Writer Gore Vidal has addressed the drug issue thusly:
"Our narcotic laws are the scandal of the world. With the passage in 1914 of the Harrison Act, addiction to narcotics was found not to be the result of illness or bad luck, but of sin. And sin must of course be punished by the state. And since you cannot have cops without robbers, they have created the robbers by maintaining that the sinful taking of drugs must be wiped out by law. As a result, the government's severity boosts the price of drugs, makes the game more desperate for addicts as well as pushers, and encourages crime which in turn increases the payroll of the Narcotics Bureau. This lunatic state of affairs could exist only in a society still obsessed by the idea that the punishing of sin is the responsibility of the state."
As for the commercial hemp issue, the March 21st, 1998 New York Times announced that the North American Industrial Hemp Council, "a coalition of farmers, politicians, manufacturers and environmental groups" was filing two petitions. One, to ask the US Department of Agriculture to create a licensing system permitting farmers to once again grow hemp in this country, and another to ask the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to end its classification of industrial hemp as an illegal drug. The DEA had refused, citing its concern that industrial hemp might be diverted as an illegal drug, though experts had noted industrial hemp contains too low a level ( 0.3% ) of the psychedelic component, THC (tetrahydro cannabinol) to interest the underground drug market, the DEA did not change its mind. America's carpet manufacturers emphasize hemp's "durability," the expense of importing it, plus the fact that, unlike the present-day synthetic carpets such as nylon, hemp is completely bio-degradable.
The Hemp Council also argued that in contrast to cotton which is "the most environmentally damaging of all crops because of its intensive need for pesticides," hemp cultivation requires no pesticides and little water. Cotton is a water-intensive crop. The NIAHC petitions got nowhere.
The history of hemp, or marijuana, goes back thousands of years. In a Chinese pharmacy book as early as 2737 BC, hemp was recommended for rheumatism, ulcers, earaches, menstrual cramps and malaria. The Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II recommended it as an eyewash. Hemp was the first plant known to be cultivated by man, and both its healing and mind-altering properties were understood across the ancient world. Hemp fibers were used in the first woven fabric. carbon dated as 8,000 BC. Hemp was used for paper long before linen or papyrus, whereas wood pulp as the mainstay for paper manufacture became popular only after the 1920s.
Early American settlers grew hemp. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations and Benjamin Franklin started one of America's first paper mills, using cannabis (hemp) as the basis. America's Bill of Rights and our Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, and until the 1920s, all official documents were ordered to be written on hemp paper. The sails, ropes and rigging of ships used to be made of hemp, and early Americans traveled west in wagons covered with hemp canvas. "Canvas" is the Dutch word for "cannabis." Levi Strauss made his first trousers for the Gold Rush pioneers from hemp canvas. The 1850 US census counted 8,327 hemp plantations (minimum 2,000 acres), not including millions of hemp patches on family farms.
The mood-altering qualities of hemp (marijuana or hashish) have been understood and used both socially and in religious rites since man's pre-dawn history.
The story of hemp's early popularity in this country, its disappearance after being criminalized as "marijuana," its resurgence as a vital commercial crop during WWII and its second demise after the defeat of Germany and Japan is a fascinating chronicle of commercial greed, the almost criminal compliance of the press, and our isolationist attitude that makes it easy for our commercially-directed press and media to manipulate Americans. Ignorance of foreign cultures also restricts our understanding of those mood-altering drugs which people around the world accept as part of their lifestyle.
Hemp's demise and plant's criminalization is a story understood today by few Americans. For those interested I recommend either of two books: The Great Book of Hemp by Rowan Robinson (Park Street Press) or The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer (Hemp Publishing, Van Nuys, CA).
The campaign to destroy hemp as a commercial crop began in the early 1930s when DuPont chemists developed their first petrochemical fiber, nylon, and patented the sulfate and sulfite processes for making paper from wood pulp. About that time William Randolph Hearst, newspaper giant, was investing widely in lumber holdings as pulp for newsprint. Since hemp was a cheaper and better source for paper than wood pulp, and hemp's superior fiber length, strength and low cost competed with nylon, the two commercial giants connived to destroy the hemp industry.
Cotton with a fiber length of 1 1/2 inches compared to hemp's 15 feet plus cotton's extensive water and pesticide requirements offered no threat to DuPont. Other industrial chemists were likewise developing plastics from hemp. Henry Ford, at his secret biomass conversion plant, built a model automobile of plastics derived largely from hemp with only the frame of metal. The car's fuel was also derived from hemp.
To destroy commercial hemp it was necessary first to criminalize it, and so the campaign began. First, the name hemp was changed to "marijuana." DuPont lobbied the chief counsel of the Treasury Department, Herman Oliphant, to prohibit cannabis (hemp) cultivation, saying DuPont's synthetics could replace hemp oil commercially, and Hearst's papers began a campaign which portrayed Mexicans as "lazy, degenerate, and violent," marijuana smokers and job stealers.
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, established in 1930, had as its first commissioner, Harry J. Anslinger, who become its most violent suppresser. When the Uniform Drug Act, which criminalized cannabis was passed by the National Council of Commissioners in 1932, and referred to the states for ratification, Anslinger assigned his 300 FBI agents to lobby state legislatures to pass the Act. Anslinger, was nephew-in-law to Treasury Secretary and banker Andrew Mellon, who helped finance DuPont, and actually designed Anslinger's government position. Anslinger's campaign against marijuana with its often fabricated horror stories of marijuana use was widely printed and gained a significant following.
On August 2nd, 1937, the Senate finally passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Act. As author Rowen Robinson noted: "Hemp, the environment and the American farmer had lost. The corporate giants had won. But the crusade against hemp had only begun."
Today, with more than a million young men imprisoned for marijuana use and drug-related crimes, and while our prison-building and prison-maintenance industries grow exponentially, the private lives of Americans are increasingly threatened by the intrusions of local, state and federal drug squads. The latest FBI Uniform Crime Report (released Aug. 2, 2005 ) says 697,028 persons were arrested for marijuana violations in 2002 One every 45 seconds. Since 1992, approximately six million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges, most for simple possession. (www.norml.org/index)
Proponents of marijuana criminalization are those who most stand to benefit from this on-going campaign: the DEA and their state and local battalions; the entire petrochemical industry who fear the competition from today's biomass derivatives, those who build, maintain and staff prisons, the many American businesses which enjoy cheap prison labor; the military who are elbowing their way into the anti-drug scene; and finally, our INS and their supporting court system.
American's fight for that personal right to control their state of conscious awareness continues to be a tough one. No one has ever died from marijuana use, though millions have succumbed to both alcohol and cigarettes. Marijuana is not addicting, and over 70,000,000 Americans admitting to have tried "reefers".
That marijuana use may lead to hard drug use has never been substantiated. Holland and Switzerland accept marijuana use, and British groups are rallying to decriminalize it. All 11 countries of the European Union permit the growing of commercial hemp, a plant whose protein content rivals that of the soy bean, and whose oil is nutritionally better.
The time has come to re-introduce commercial hemp in this country. As a first step Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and five other Reps have recently introduced the INDUSTRIAL HEMP FARMING ACT, ( HR 3037) which, Ron's office informs me, is presently under review in both the Energy & Commerce and Judicial Committees. Hold your breath!

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