Friday, May 11, 2012


(This is an edited-for-reading version of the last speech I gave in my Public Shrieking class.  I had considered lecturing in favor of legalizing gay marriage, but ultimately determined that I would be better off with a topic about which I would be less likely to rant and froth at the mouth.  Ultimately my speech was very well received, by my fellow students and by Prof. Apollo herself.  She said it was the best I had done to date, which was very kind of her.  But it's always easier to be convincing when it's something you're genuinely passionate about.  Except for the frothing part, I mean.)

I grew up in a house with an open door. 

When we bothered to set places at the table at all, there was always extra for the Unexpected Guest, just in case.  There is a tradition in my family – one that I broke with when I started having daughters – of taking in whoever is in need and helping them get back on their feet.  Rarely did I see the time when we did not have guests in the house, sometimes for a week or two, sometimes for years.  I had a lot of adoptive older brothers and sisters, and yes, we got ripped off, too.  But it was a vital part of my education, and occasionally I wish that circumstances had allowed me to share it with my own children.

Addicts, homeless, runaways, escapees from some bad situation at home or some poor chicken who found out the hard way that even KC can be a big city when it feels the urge.  I saw a lot of mean addictions, people hooked on drugs, sex, religion, money, alcohol, politics, or even their own sense of failure.  There were a lot of heavy trips, too, from the young gigglers making out on a couch to the poor girl whose date slipped her LSD at a party, told her he was the Devil and had come for her soul.  He ended up locking her in a closet, lights off, her head full of Boyfriend’s acid and Daddy’s Anti-Christ.

And, of course, there were the withdrawal cases, the DTs that might have my foster brothers and sisters sweating, snapping, fighting, freaking, or just snorting Polo cologne from the cap sometime ‘round the midnight hour.

But I never, ever, saw anything bad come from marijuana.  In all the years I spent growing up surrounded by the best and worst poster children for Bad Habits Inc. and all its subsidiaries, I never, not once, saw cannabis act as an addictive substance in and of itself, nor as a gateway drug of any kind.  I never saw anyone go through bad withdrawal from giving up pot, and I never saw any harm come from a marijuana OD.

Please understand: I don’t smoke the reefer.  I’ve never tried cannabis, and I probably never will.  It’s just not my thing.  In addition, I have seen, not just the parties, but their aftermath, time and time again throughout my life.  Which means that I have observed the cannabis situation, inside and out, from as close to an unbiased point of view as you can get.  So when I say that marijuana should be legal, I speak as someone with absolutely no personal gain in the matter.

And marijuana should most definitely be legal.  Its classification as a controlled substance is a symptom of the blind, unthinking hysteria that has pervaded American culture for far too long.  The history of its illegalization is steeped in greed, racism, and racketeering.  And the time to end this madness is long overdue.

I ran an anonymous survey recently, as part of my classes at good old Wotsamotta U.  I quizzed classmates and people in my own neighborhood, no one too close to me personally.  Of those surveyed, 80% had tried cannabis at least once.  70% imbibed on at least a “sometimes” basis, 50% regularly.  And no one, not even the 20% who had never tried it, answered “yes” when asked if they would turn in a friend or family member for using the illegal drug.

Which means that almost everyone surveyed secretly breaks this law.  And if you know one of those lawbreakers, or used to know them, and you did not report them immediately to the police . . .

Under current law, we are all criminals.

But how is this possible?  If marijuana is so great, why is it illegal in the first place?  At what point could a law be passed to transform literally millions Americans, otherwise considering themselves upright and law-abiding, into habitual, hardened criminals? 

To better understand the answer to that question, let us take a brief look at the effects and risks of cannabis as a drug, regarding both health and society.

First of all, Marijuana is not a harmful substance in and of itself.  In his book, simply titled The Herb Book, John Lust identified the active chemical behind marijuana’s high as THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.  This chemical can cause relaxation, fatigue, alteration of the senses, and of course, appetite stimulation.  As such, it has been used by humankind for centuries, some say for thousands of years.

There is no way to be sure how many people use cannabis, or marijuana, in the US today.  Most users know they are doing so illegally, and are understandably reluctant to offer themselves up.  And as any census taker will have their own agenda.  The more money and politics are involved the more their statistics will be twisted around to their own ends.  But almost everyone knows someone who has smoked marijuana at least once.  It bears repeating.  We are all criminals here.

In 1995, the Lancet, one of the most recognized and respected journals of medicine for over a hundred years, published the following conclusion: "The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health."    

In 1998, three years later, the Lancet acknowledged that there are technically dangers in marijuana use, primarily accidents while intoxicated and possible cognitive impairment with heavy, long-term use.  In this, however, it remains, “It would be reasonable to judge cannabis less of a threat to health than alcohol or tobacco, products that in many countries are not only tolerated and advertised but are also a useful source of tax revenue.”

Approximately 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Over 400,000 deaths can be linked to tobacco smoking each year.   By comparison, if a person overdoses on marijuana, they eat a peanut-butter – banana-crunch burrito and sleep for two days.      

But cannabis, or marijuana, isn’t just a recreational drug.  It has been proven to have positive effects regarding pain – including pain from nerve damage – eyesight, and, of course, stress.  It is also a powerful appetite stimulant, especially for those suffering from AIDS and from organ failure.  Manufactured pharmaceuticals often have detrimental, even hospitalizing side effects.  Cannabis does not.  But being a black market drug means that not only is it prohibitively expensive, its supply is also unreliable. 

Small wonder, then, that according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, “. . . more than 60 U.S. and international health organizations support granting patients immediate legal access to medicinal marijuana under a physician's supervision.”

Here are just a few of them:

AIDS Action Council
Aids Treatment News
American Nurses Association
American Preventative Medical Association
American Public Health Association
American Society of Addiction Medicine
The Montel Williams MS Foundation
Multiple Sclerosis Society (Canada)
The Multiple Sclerosis Society (UK)
National Association for Public Health Policy
National Nurses on Addictions

This is not to say, of course, that there are no risks . . .

Prosecution of marijuana has gone up and down a lot in recent decades, but the trend is definitely an upward one. 

In 1965, an average of two people were arrested for cannabis-related charges every hour.  By 2010, that number had gone up to an average of 97.5.  In 2005, more than 786, 000 people were arrested in this country for marijuana-related offenses alone.  That’s more arrests than there are people living in Kansas City Missouri, and since then it’s gone up.

As an aside, the cost to the taxpayers for monitoring, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration for marijuana criminals is estimated at about $10 billion per year.  All for a drug that, when not cut with chemicals, has no major side effects, is not toxic, is not addictive, and has some major medical benefits.

And, of course, there are crime risks.  Much like in prohibition, when something becomes illegal, the gangs get involved.

I met a man in Topeka who made his living as a pot courier.  He decided to retire, but he made the mistake of staying in town.  He was dead in six months.

While most casual buyers aren’t dealing with quite that level of risk, it is there.  Sometimes, there is the risk of getting marijuana laced with toxic chemicals.  But most often, there is the risk that one of your contacts will get arrested, and then give the police your name to get a lighter sentence.

So long as cannabis is a controlled substance, those who cannot obtain it legally will have to deal with the crime elements to obtain it.  And that means risking having the substance cut with poisons, being arrested, or even just having their physical safety threatened.  All this for something anyone could grow in their own back yard if it were not illegal.

So, now that we have seen the benefits and the basic harmlessness of cannabis itself, the question remains: how did we end up with this level of hysteria?  How did the institution of marijuana’s illegality come to be so well entrenched?  If cannabis isn’t bad, as indeed it is not, how did the American public ever come to fear it in the first place?

The simplest explanation, the most pivotal, happens to be from Abbie Hoffman’s book, Steal This Urine Test.  According to Abbie Hoffman, the blame lies with a man named Harry J. Anslinger.  Mr. Anslinger was the Assistant Prohibition Commissioner in the Bureau of Prohibition.  Which means when prohibition started winding down, he was in danger of losing money, power, and influence.  He was also, as many were at the time, a racist.

Harry Anslinger started putting out pamphlets and newsletters about the evils of certain drugs, including cocaine and cannabis – or, as he called it, marijuana.  Each drug was associated with at least one racial stereotype, and played on racist fears.

Marijuana was the drug Anslinger chose to be the drug of the black man.  He claimed it was highly, instantly addictive, and was the herald of society’s utter destruction. 

He wrote police-styled “reports” of how otherwise fine young white men would be found in their blood-spattered houses, wandering dazed, axe in hand, the mutilated corpses of their loved ones surrounding them.  He published findings of black men losing their minds and raping white women, destroying their lives forever.  All this horror, he maintained, because of marijuana.

In 1929, he was quoted as stating, “Marijuana makes darkies think they are as good as white men.”  This in and of itself was enough to stir the fear and hatred he needed.  But it was later, in 1937, he revealed the real fear behind the anti-cannabis movement: sexually free women and inter-racial sex.    

By that time he was just keeping the ball rolling, though.  On June 14, 1930, Harry Anslinger was appointed the first commissioner of the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  Now his power was secure.  And we have been living with the aftershocks of the fear that he instilled, and the bureaucratic machine that has grown up around it, ever since.

Marijuana is not, and never was, a threat to any individual or group.

In conclusion, the continued treatment of cannabis as a controlled substance is like a very bad joke that history has played at our expense.  Cannabis, or marijuana, is not harmful.  Besides being a popular recreational drug, it has multiple medical uses.  The history of its illegalization is steeped in greed, racism, and racketeering.  By making it freely available for anyone, the sick and chronically ill will be able to treat themselves, responsible adults will be able to use it recreationally (much like with alcohol), and the kids of the nation will be able to experiment without fear of arrest, poison or gang violence.

Visit NORML.ORG for more information on cannabis and how you can help free everyone from this madness.


(Images of Al Capone and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre courtesy of  Image of a beautiful sleeping woman courtesy of  All rights reserved by their rightful holders, if any or at all.)

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