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Cannabis: An American History

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Cannabis: An American History back

Box Brown


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"The report said cannabis is not physically addictive.
"The gateway drug theory is false. It's not harmful to anyone.
"It should be descheduled and declassified.

"Nixon went into a rage. He trashed the report.

"Instead, Nixon had Senator James "Segregation-Is-Not-Discrimination" Eastland hold hearings. The hearings would present a different view, using their own experts... They would completely disregard the thousands of hours put into the Schafer report in favour of hours of provably false testimony by a litany of people in on the whole point: to demonise cannabis.

""Oh, it damages your immune system, your white blood cells, other cells, too. All kinds of cell damage. There are many cases of brilliant young people going on pot benders, and even after they quit they are left dumb. This all started in Berkeley with the students. The culture is out of control. It's spreading and soon our whole population will be half-zombie. We may find ourselves with a generation of brain-damaged youth.""

"President Nixon signed the comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention Control Act in the 1970."

Obviously Tricky Dicky ended up with more than his so-called 'war on drugs' to worry about, but he did manage to even more deeply entrench already conservative views in the US population regarding marijuana use. A trite approach that various other Presidents continued to espouse including Ronald Regan, who even managed to famously get wife Nancy to perform a truly cringe-worthy anti-drugs cameo on the hit TV show Diff'rent Strokes with her "Just Say No" message. The kids of Grange Hill did it far better, even if it didn't do poor Zammo any good...

Anyway... the legislation Nixon helped drive through in the early '70s equating cannabis with the likes of heroin would, and still does to this day, ensure an astonishing number of entirely unnecessary marijuana-related convictions and particularly against the Black American community, something Box also highlights.

But, of course, it didn't begin with Nixon. So how did it come about that a drug which had been used for recreational and medicinal purposes for centuries be suddenly demonised as one of the primary ills of American society? To examine the complex history of this most controversial substance, Box Brown starts by going even further back, just as he did with the origins of gaming in his award-winning look at the story of the ground-breaking video game TETRIS.

Here, Box begins with Indian mythology and recounts the creation myth of how Shiva received the cannabis plant as a divine blessing during a ceremony known as the Churning and promptly ate the leaves and flowers before planting the seeds. Presumably he didn't have time to bake a hash brownie.

We then skip forward to late 19th century India where the British colonial rulers were busy debating the wisdom of allowing their Indian 'citizens' the right to continue using a plant they had been consuming for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And so, the use of disinformation began as an attempt to support prohibiting something regarded as a religious sacrament by the local populace...

Meanwhile across the Atlantic in the New World in 1518 and Conquistador Hernan Cortes arrives in Mexico, bringing with him Spanish hemp seeds, along with disease and destruction. Interestingly, given the current right-wing media obsession with blaming immigrants for everything, by the time that cannabis eventually made its way up to the US and began to be noticed by the authorities in the late 17th century, the press were already hard at work demonising migrant Mexican workers...

Box then settles into his modern chronology proper by showing how certain factions - indeed a very small number of exceedingly determined individuals - single-handedly made the moral decision on behalf of the entire US population that cannabis was evil and set about 'proving it' so that legislation could be passed to bring about their vision of a cannabis-free country, in fact cannabis-free world.

If that prospect sounds more than a little megalomaniacal let us not forget that this is the country which attempted to enact Prohibition... before eventually realising the sheer preposterous folly of that misadventure. It's taking somewhat longer for them to get there with marijuana but at the time of typing 10 US states have legalised the recreational use of cannabis with a further 14 states having decriminalised it. Progress, it would seem. Were it not for the fact that certain minorities are still being disproportionately punished, in some cases unbelievably punitively so, for marijuana-related 'crimes'.

As an inevitably potted history (sorry) of how we got to the ridiculous situation we find ourselves in today Box manages to highlight the key points and statistics along the timeline in an informed, incisive and extremely interesting and frequently ironic manner. It's quite shocking to discover just how much disinformation and indeed downright lies the US authorities have told over the years to first begin and then maintain their war on a very benign and indeed now recognised to be extremely beneficial drug.

I suppose I shouldn't be remotely surprised about politicians lying to us by now, but it is still astonishing to see the lengths these people will go to simply to further their own agenda. Fortunately we have the likes of Box to ensure their lies will be exposed in perpetuity and help exert a little bit more pressure for common sense and social justice to prevail.


Stephen adds:

Agreed, agreed and agreed on every level.

I'm no martinet and I'm certainly no angel. For a year in my early twenties I wouldn't get out of bed before a couple of spliffs; at which point I couldn't and - when I did - I might as well not have for all the writing I got done. Still, I enjoyed it all enormously and so many other illicit pleasures well into my late 30s.

However, conscience dictates a cautionary note about cannabis psychosis which I have seen destroy the minds and subsequently lives of two friends. This strikes me as an extraordinarily high hit rate, however many total stoners I've known in my life. Neither Billy nor Kes were total stoners. Both were in their late teens when cannabis psychosis struck out of the blue, so they hadn't had time to get caned too often; my uneducated guess is that their minds simply weren't wired to handle that specific drug well, but I am no Doctor Science.

One tried to kill his mother and girlfriend, and then gave me one particularly worrying night while I was trying to get him re-housed. Eventually we got him committed and consequently re-orientated, rebalanced, but he believed the process so complete that, once discharged, he came straight off his medicinals and back onto the mighty weed. I didn't particularly enjoy being informed once more that the spiders were invading under the command of maniacal killer dolphins.

All I'll add is that, fifteen years later, neither of these stories has ended well, although some other stories most surely must have.

Okay, that's it, feel free to roll up and zone out. I'm off to open the first of my two daily bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and light up yet another of those ciggies, all of which have a far greater chance of killing me than cannabis ever could.