Ganja Mission
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September 13, 2013

Ganja Mission

by Frank E. da Silva Fri Sep 13, 2013

“I mistakenly believed the US Drug Enforcement Agency acted on the basis of sound scientific proof in listing marijuana as a schedule 1 substance.” – Dr Sanjay Gupta, CNN August 11, 2013.

(The following article was first published fifteen years ago. Given the current debate, it is essential that all sides get the facts.){{more}}

I do not know what was the reaction in SVG to last weekend’s front page story (Ganja Mission, Searchlight, 20/11/98), but in New York, I was berated by several persons. “Your paper is promoting the use of marijuana. Worse, the picture of those supporting the use of an illegal substance put SVG in a bad light.” This, from someone whom I assume was a former policeman in St Vincent. He actually believes that they should have been arrested.

Unjust laws

That someone would suggest imprisonment of persons who merely seek dialogue on an issue of national concern was quite disquieting. I responded to the individual who was at the time comforting himself with a mixture of SVG strong rum and coke. “Why is marijuana, a natural substance, illegal while the stuff you are consuming from your Styrofoam container, perhaps a faster acting mind altering drug, legal,” I asked him. He could not give me an answer, but he opined that people should obey the law. This is a sentiment that I have seen expressed elsewhere in the Vincentian media, but those parroting this as being a sound argument are quite mistaken, if the assumption is that the legality of something makes it just or right.

Owing slaves was once legal. Many persons have been jailed for gambling, yet it is a behaviour now widely encouraged by many governments, with their officially sponsored lotteries. Until recently, it was a crime to perform an abortion. The truth is many natural human activities are labelled crimes until those who want to restrict our freedoms can figure out ways to obtain maximum benefits from those activities. And many persons fail to educate themselves before they start accusing others of promoting law breaking.

Two years ago, when there was similar furor about the invasion of our country by another that seeks to blame its drug problem on others, in order to educate myself, I did some research. As a result of that research, I penned a couple of articles (The Story of an Illegal Herb) that detailed the story of two mind-altering drugs – marijuana and alcohol – and cigarettes. In the next two weeks, I shall reprise portions of those two articles, not to promote the use of any substance, but to equip persons with the available data before they make their judgements.

Inventing a criminal offence

Cannabis was a legal substance in the USA until 1937. In order to understand the mind set of the people who were instrumental in this herb being classified as illegal, it is necessary to know of the society that existed prior to 1937. It may be news to many young people that alcohol was the “dangerous drug” between 1750 and 1933. After several failed attempts to discourage the use of pure alcohol, governments sought to end its use by making it illegal to manufacture and sell “spirituous or intoxicating liquors,” except for medical purposes.

As the anti-alcohol sentiments grew, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, described alcohol as the “Egyptian angel of death”. The fervour grew to totally prohibit the substance in 1917. This amendment made it a Federal crime to engage in the manufacture of alcohol. Following the American decision, Canada, England, Germany, Austria, and others also passed laws prohibiting or attempting to control the use of alcohol. It was around this time that my great-grandfather was carted off to jail in SVG for having a distillery in the foothills of Mt. St Andrew.

In order to enforce the law, the US government in 1919 passed the National Prohibition Act, otherwise known as the Volstead Act after its chief sponsor, Congressman Andrew Volstead of Minnesota. The law gave federal police wide latitude to enter, seize and destroy the property of persons suspected of engaging in production of alcohol. Rather than curtail the use of distilled spirits, the law created a new breed of criminals – gangsters and bootleggers. The most famous of these bootleggers was Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President Kennedy. By the end of the 20s, the Volstead Act was being referred to as Volsteadism – meaning intolerable searches and seizures and shootings by the police (sound familiar?). By 1933, the American people began to view the 18th Amendment as a threat to individual freedom and demanded its repeal. The 21st Amendment, passed that year, did just that.

Ganja outlawed

As can be expected, there were those who opposed the repeal. Chief among them was a man named Harry Anslinger. Mr Anslinger, who was once a key figure in the alcohol prohibition, was now head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and went straight after marijuana. The herb, which is believed was introduced to Jamaica by Chinese immigrants for medicinal purposes, was flourishing. Mr Anslinger began by writing a series of articles, which appeared in newspapers all across America, about the dangers of marijuana. In 1927, a sensational article appeared in the New York Times, claiming that a Mexican had gone insane after eating cannabis leaves. At a hearing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, Anslinger testified that a 21-year-old Florida man had killed his entire family after smoking “weed”. What he did not tell the committee was that the young man had been judged to be insane sometime before his use of “weed”. Marijuana was outlawed. Man declared a natural substance illegal, and I have just added Viagra, a known killer, to the dictionary of my computer.

As was the case of the prohibition of alcohol, many other countries soon copied America. And, as also was the case in 1919, a new criminal element emerged. Perhaps worse was that the herb soon began to surface in countries where it was never thought of as “something to try”. Appearing in places like Trinidad and Tobago and SVG in the 60’s. Holland decriminalized marijuana use in 1976, while at the same time cracking down on hard drugs. It is now estimated that 25 per cent of Holland’s tourist income, US$5.3 billion, is from narco-tourism. There are stores selling everything from hemp lingerie, hemp jeans to hemp shampoo. No one has, to date, axed anyone to death. A United Nations drug control programme estimates that in America, where the use of cannabis is illegal, 13 per cent of the population abuses it; in Holland it is under four per cent.

(Next week the advantages and disadvantages of ganja, alcohol, cigarettes and Viagara.)