By Rasta KEITH
Although the prevailing brouhaha about the Canadian government’s plans to legalize marijuana might leave many people thinking that the widely used herb is one of those recently engineered genetically modified products dumped on society by Monsanto and other agrochemical corporations, nothing could be further from the truth.
While the many varieties of hydroponic marijuana available on the market might give credence to such a view, the plain truth is that marijuana is a natural plant which has been used in almost every known society of the “ancient” world for medicinal, spiritual, recreational and countless other purposes for over 5000 years. (Come to think of it, though, those folks might not have been as “primitive” as we, so-called modern folks, are led to believe.)
It was during the 1930s that horror stories about the use of marijuana leading to the rape of white women by Black men, etc., etc., began to spread like wildfire. Ignoring the fact that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana, is one of the most common ingredients in a plethora of medications, the U.S. and Canadian governments rushed to classify marijuana as an illegal “drug.”
By one stroke of the pen, the powers-that-be had added the word “drug” to the long list of names by which marijuana is known. The result, therefore, was the criminalization of the cultivation, possession and commercialization (trafficking) of the plant. As is so often the case with most matters, other countries wishing to remain in the good books of the United States knew that they had no other choice but to follow suit. And so, it came about that the ban on marijuana became a worldwide phenomenon.
As the saying goes: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may not offend me.” In the case of the substance which is scientifically known as cannabis sativa, the number of words used to name it certainly presents a mouthful.
To quote the controversial reggae singer Peter Tosh of the defunct Bob Marley and the Wailers: “Some call it Tampee. Some call it Weed. Some call it Marijuana. Some of them call it Ganja.”
It might seem a bit wimpish, therefore, for anyone to take issue with the addition of just one more word to the long list of names by which marijuana is known. But while words truly may not offend, the classification of marijuana as an “illegal drug” or “illicit substance” has surely provided the legal authorities in almost every country with a convenient rationale for adding a broad cross-section of otherwise law-abiding members of society to an ever-expanding list of criminal offenders.
It is certainly the case that a number of crimes have been committed by individuals who turned out to have THC in their system. But generally speaking, people react differently to just about every genus of chemical substance. Such is the case whether the particular substance be alcohol, tobacco, penicillin, peanuts, red meat or any of the millions of flora and fauna on the face of the earth. And the scope of the situation becomes even clearer when one factors into the equation the well-known fact that some people have addictive personalities.
Meanwhile, it had been known long ago that most of the housewife’s tales about the anti-social effects of marijuana use have absolutely no scientific legs to stand on. During the 1960s, Prime Minister Eric Williams of Trinidad And Tobago had attested to a remarkable reduction in the degree of violence plaguing the annual carnival celebrations in that country with the advent of marijuana use. And the Schafer Commission which had been appointed by U.S. President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s had concluded that far from being a substance which renders users prone to violence, marijuana actually makes users more timid, drowsy and passive. For legislators in any country to usurp their authority by placing a universal ban on marijuana must make it seem that society has not really learned anything from the prohibition of alcohol. During the prohibition period, thousands of individuals were arrested, fined and imprisoned solely on the whims and fancies of cliques of self-righteous politicians, social workers and church leaders who pretended to have a privileged access to knowledge of what constituted proper human conduct. It took the better part of fourteen years before such policy makers came to the realization that regulation rather than prohibition was a far more effective policy for the control of alcohol use, and as the saying goes: “the rest is history.”
While many folks might mistakenly believe that the changing attitude of government officials toward marijuana use might be the result of one kind of epiphany or another, even the late Ray Charles would have been able to see that the only motive driving the new policy is the awareness of the cash cow that marijuana actually is.
The legal authorities in the U.S. and Mexico have known all along that so-called drug lords like “El Chapo” Guzman had been raking in billions of dollars through their dealings in marijuana and other prohibited merchandise. And so, with the government having the infrastructure and logistical capabilities already in place, there is obviously no limit to the amount of revenue the state stands to derive from the monopoly of the “drug” trade.
In the meantime, millions of people around the world are continuing to be deprived of their inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And the major force behind that movement is none other than lobbyists for the police and prison guard associations. Since the higher the level of crime in any society the greater the amount of money allocated for policing, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to discern why most police officers would be staunchly opposed to any attempt to remove marijuana use from the long list of probable grounds on which they could be expected to extend the long arm of the law.
Prison officers, too, are very mindful of the correlation between the number of persons placed behind bars and their job security. The greater the number of inmates that could be generated in any society, the more prison guards would be needed. Thus, by having such a soft target as marijuana possession as a probable ground for incarcerating an individual, the assurance of always having a reliable pool of probable clients would hardly cause any loss of sleep to such “law and order” personnel. And with the statistics on peace and security clearly skewed in their favor, they could always make even greater demands for higher wages.
The Chinese have a saying that “every journey begins with one step.” Accordingly, the government’s willingness to view marijuana in a more favorable light must be viewed as a move in the right direction. Even so, with the primary motive for such kinds of “criminal” law reforms being the prospect of filling the governments’ coffers, the changing policy must be held in abeyance since such a policy clearly bespeaks of a polity in which profits take precedence over people.
And so, any hope of realizing a just society amid such a self-serving scheme of things could only be graded as a Work-In-Progress.