That Green Stuff


Money Grows on... Bushes?

I think that marijuana should not only be legal, I think it should be a cottage industry.
It would be wonderful for the state of Maine.  There's some pretty good homegrown dope.
I'm sure it would be even better if you could grow it with fertilisers and have greenhouses.

- Stephen King

Forestry Workers "Paid with Drugs"

by Paul Mulrooney

Rogue forestry sub-contractors were paying some of their casual workers partly in cannabis, a former Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) scientist said yesterday.  Mark Fielder, who is now the health and safety manager at the Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua, said some workers in forestry gangs were so indoctrinated in the drug culture they worked in that they accepted the arrangement without question.  "In remote areas, cannabis is accepted as a payment system.  A lot of these workers are on the dole so they're being paid under the table, say $100 in cash and $100 in cannabis."

Mr Fielder said that in his position with OSH he had come across such cases from Te Kuiti, the east coast and Northland. Legitimate contractors were the ones that suffered, he said, as by using cannabis for payment the rogue operators were cutting their costs and therefore able to put in lower tenders.

The chief executive of east coast forestry firm PF Olsen and Company, Peter Clark, said that though he had no personal knowledge of such activity, any sub-contractor working that way was only short-changing the industry.  "Forestry employers won't tolerate contractors misleading their workers that way," Mr Clark said.

Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton said he also had no knowledge of such under-the-table practices and said anyone caught would be subject to prosecution.  Provisions in the Health and Safety in Employment Act, now being reviewed and to be tabled in Parliament later this year, would tighten regulations and make illegal payments more difficult to get away with, Mr Anderton said.

Source: The Dominion 7 August 2000

The paragraph above ("Legitimate contractors were the ones that suffered..." pretty much explains the problem in this particular case.

I read a small article in a recent Dominion about the American country and western singer Willie Nelson.  He said he smoked cannabis all the time and considered it an "herb" rather than a drug.  As far as I know, Nelson still lives in Texas where "smokin' dope" is highly illegal.  Yet he spoke candidly, seemingly without fear of reprisal.  Presumably local authorities feel Nelson does the community good - tourists come and buy souvenirs plus Texas gets some good PR through his international fame - so they leave him alone.

2,700-Year-Old Marijuana Found in Chinese Tomb

Stash seems to have been intended for buried shaman to use in the afterlife

by Dean Beeby

Ottawa – Researchers say they have located the world's oldest stash of marijuana, in a tomb in a remote part of China.  The cache of cannabis is about 2,700 years old and was clearly "cultivated for psychoactive purposes," rather than as fibre for clothing or as food, says a research paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany.  The 789 grams of dried cannabis was buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, near Turpan in northwestern China.  The extremely dry conditions and alkaline soil acted as preservatives, allowing a team of scientists to carefully analyze the stash, which still looked green though it had lost its distinctive odour.

"To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent," says the newly published paper, whose lead author was American neurologist Dr Ethan B Russo.  Remnants of cannabis have been found in ancient Egypt and other sites, and the substance has been referred to by authors such as the Greek historian Herodotus.  But the tomb stash is the oldest so far that could be thoroughly tested for its properties.  The 18 researchers, most of them based in China, subjected the cannabis to a battery of tests, including carbon dating and genetic analysis.  Scientists also tried to germinate 100 of the seeds found in the cache, without success.

The marijuana was found to have a relatively high content of THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, but the sample was too old to determine a precise percentage.  Researchers also could not determine whether the cannabis was smoked or ingested, as there were no pipes or other clues in the tomb of the shaman, who was about 45 years old.  The large cache was contained in a leather basket and in a wooden bowl, and was likely meant to be used by the shaman in the afterlife.

"This materially is unequivocally cannabis, and no material has previously had this degree of analysis possible," Russo said in an interview from Missoula, Montana.  "It was common practice in burials to provide materials needed for the afterlife.  No hemp or seeds were provided for fabric or food. Rather, cannabis as medicine or for visionary purposes was supplied."  The tomb also contained bridles, archery equipment and a harp, confirming the man's high social standing.

Russo is a full-time consultant with GW Pharmaceuticals, which makes Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine approved in Canada for pain linked to multiple sclerosis and cancer.  The company operates a cannabis-testing laboratory at a secret location in southern England to monitor crop quality for producing Sativex, and allowed Russo use of the facility for tests on 11 grams of the tomb cannabis.  Researchers needed about 10 months to cut red tape barring the transfer of the cannabis to England from China, Russo said.

The inter-disciplinary study was published this week by the British-based botany journal, which uses independent reviewers to ensure the accuracy and objectivity of all submitted papers.  The substance has been found in two of the 500 Gushi tombs excavated so far in northwestern China, indicating that cannabis was either restricted for use by a few individuals or was administered as a medicine to others through shamans, Russo said.  "It certainly does indicate that cannabis has been used by man for a variety of purposes for thousands of years."

Russo, who had a neurology practice for 20 years, has previously published studies examining the history of cannabis.  "I hope we can avoid some of the political liabilities of the issue," he said, referring to his latest paper.  The region of China where the tomb is located, Xinjiang, is considered an original source of many cannabis strains worldwide.

Source: The Canadian Press 27 November 2008

Federal Rx: Marijuana

by Christopher Largen

George McMahon knows he hasn't got much time to live.  On this fall day he sits in his truck beside an empty windswept beach and opens a shiny metal canister filled with tightly rolled marijuana cigarettes.  McMahon presses a large joint between his wrinkled lips, then lights it.  He inhales deeply, holds his breath for a few moments, and then exhales.  He grins and mutters, "Seize the day."

He's not in Amsterdam but in rural Texas, home to a prison system renowned for zero-tolerance sentences and assembly-line executions.  Even so, he's not concerned about legal repercussions.  He can smoke his pot in any state of the union without being prosecuted.

Afflicted with a rare neurological condition, George McMahon, age 51, is the 5th United States citizen to receive legal medical marijuana from the United States Government.  He receives 300 joints a month, courtesy of the little-known Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program, run since 1978 by the Food and Drug Administration.

The US has a long history of allowing the use of experimental pharmaceuticals, whether an unproven root bought in a health food store or the once-shunned thalidomide recently given to blood cancer patients like former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.  Medical marijuana patients suffered a major legal setback in 2001, however, when the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that "marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception" from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  The nine justices made no mention of Uncle Sam's own pot farm at the University of Mississippi, nor of the machine-rolled joints sent free of charge to sick people like George.

Despite last year's ruling, ballot-mandated cooperatives continue to provide marijuana to sick and dying citizens in 9 states including California, where DEA agents have recently focused efforts to seize records, close clinics, and destroy medical cannabis plants, violating the express will of the citizenry.  Public outrage over these intrusive enforcement tactics has been so overwhelming that Santa Cruz officials recently joined local activists to pass out medical marijuana in front of city hall, in direct defiance of federal law.  This is the first time in nearly 40 years (since the civil rights movement in the 1960s) that federal and state laws are in direct conflict.

George McMahon has strong emotions about the recent headlines from California.  "It's like some absurd cosmic joke.  I have safe, legal access to my medicine, but my fellow patients are being threatened and jailed.  Where's the justice in that?"

For now, George continues to receive marijuana from the federal program because, officially at least, it's considered a research project.  In theory, officials are supposed to be collecting data on the therapeutic effectiveness of marijuana, but George says the government agencies have never conducted longitudinal case studies on the legal patients.  "I'm just so pleased to be able to use what they send me legally," McMahon says.  "To be relieved of some of the pain and still be within the law means so much."

The FDA's "compassionate" approach hasn't been available to many.  The agency originally implemented the program under Jimmy Carter, following a lawsuit by Robert Randall, a glaucoma patient who demanded that the government acknowledge the medical necessity of his marijuana use.  Randall was soon joined by cancer patients and people with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries, who smoked federal pot for relief from nausea, pain, and muscle spasms.

But as the AIDS epidemic swelled, so did the number of applicants.  Overwhelmed officials in the Bush administration stopped accepting applications in 1992, throwing hundreds of requests in the garbage and forcing chronically and terminally ill patients to break the law by seeking their medicine on the black market.

The government agreed, however, to continue supplying the 15 patients, like George, who had already been accepted.  Today, only a half-dozen remain.

His pain momentarily quieted, George steps onto the green grass and limps toward the rickety wooden dock that reaches into glistening water.  He suffers from a poorly understood genetic condition known as Nail Patella Syndrome.  NPS can attack major organs, including the kidney and liver, disrupt the immune system in ways that are difficult to comprehend, and cause bones to be deformed, become brittle, and easily break.  It affects the joints, limits mobility, and causes chronic pain, muscle cramps, and spasms.  Some NPS patients also have serious immune system complications from the anomalous genetic condition.

George winces slightly as a cool breeze carries a cloud of marijuana smoke toward the lake.  Although he's well acquainted with pain, he lived without a concrete diagnosis for many years.  As a child George contracted colds and the flu frequently.  Muscles in his arms didn't develop normally, and lifting weights didn't help.  He was constantly breaking bones, especially in his hands and wrists, and he lost all of his teeth by the time he was 21.  He felt exhausted and could stand for only a few minutes without experiencing unbearable pain.  Spells of nausea, fever, chills, and night sweats were common for him.  He suffered from hepatitis A and B and tuberculosis, and there were times when his pain was constant, whether he was walking, lying down, or sitting up.

Although marijuana does not directly treat Nail Patella Syndrome, the herb has brought McMahon symptomatic relief that he couldn't find in traditional pills, and with fewer side effects.  "Before I was accepted to the federal marijuana program, I was taking 17 different pharmaceutical substances.  My children remember me sprawled on the living room couch, virtually comatose for days on end.  I was in and out of the hospital, sometimes receiving intensive inpatient treatment for months at a time.  Since I started smoking marijuana, I've come off of every single prescription drug I was taking.  Nowadays most people don't even know that I'm sick unless I tell them," McMahon says.  "The marijuana has really been that effective in controlling my pain, spasms, and nausea.  I don't need empirical statistics and clinical research.  I'm living proof that marijuana works as medicine."

For people like McMahon, the true goal to relieve suffering seems obvious, as does the need to grant relief to all who need it.  His medical history includes 19 major surgeries, seven of them performed in one week.  Throughout his life, he has been prescribed morphine, Demerol, Codeine, Valium, and other sedating medications.  He has been rushed to hospital emergency rooms on at least six occasions with severe drug-induced conditions, including respiratory and renal failure and hallucinations.  The medications did little for his chronic pain and spasms, and he was both mentally and physically incapacitated.

Convinced that using small amounts of pot daily helped ease his discomfort without life-threatening side effects, McMahon smoked marijuana illegally for several years.  Finally, he tracked down a doctor at the University of Iowa, who took a special interest in helping him get marijuana legally.  He put McMahon through an investigation protocol and a spastic pain evaluation.  A native Iowan, George then contacted assistants at Senator Charles Grassley's office, and was pleased at their willingness to help.

After yet more tests and stacks of legal paperwork, George received his first shipment of marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in March 1990.  These days, he goes to a designated pharmacy, where he picks up the medicine in the form of joints, stored in a silver tin with a prescription tag.  "I’ve been smoking 10 joints a day for 12 years, and during that time I haven’t had one surgery or hospitalization.  Marijuana literally saved my life."

McMahon keeps his monthly supply with him at all times.  As a general rule, he tries to be discreet, in hopes of not offending people or appearing to kids as a recreational pothead.  "I cope with the pain," he says.  "Some days are better than others, but if I go more than a few hours without my medicine, I can get myself in trouble."

Sometimes, however, he lands in a jam by taking it.  McMahon says few cops seem to be aware of the program.  On one occasion George and Margaret, his wife of 30 years, were attending a Virginia conference sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, where he intended to contradict the agency's specious claim that marijuana was addictive.  George had meandered away from the main crowd to smoke his medicine, when he was approached by two police officers, one of whom began hitting his fingers, trying to knock the joint out of his hand, yelling at him to put it out.  "He called me a mother fucker, called my wife a fucking bitch, and told me to shut my fucking mouth," he says.  "They tried to get us to leave by intimidating us.  They treated me like a criminal.  I am not a criminal.  It was one of the worst feelings I've ever had."

Despite the intensity of his daily struggles, McMahon describes himself as a "regular family man who has had to make wide adjustments."  His voice and appearance are rugged, the heavy toll of years spent at manual labour, for mining companies and large farming operations.  Today, he lives quietly on disability insurance at his modest home in an East Texas gated community, and enjoys spending time with his three adult children and seven grandchildren.

George was given a certificate of heroism for participating in the President's Drug Awareness Program in 1990.  The prestigious parchment is signed by former first lady and prohibition advocate Nancy Reagan, and hangs in his home office next to an American flag woven from hemp cloth.  McMahon chuckles as he thinks about the dubious honour, saying, "I don’t even know if Nancy knew what she was signing.  Maybe she got a little too tipsy during one of those White House cocktail parties."

McMahon is a reluctant hero, and he expresses gratitude to his family, particularly his wife, who has seen firsthand the difference cannabis makes.  "If he didn’t receive the marijuana," Margaret says, "George would probably be dead by now from all the pharmaceutical drugs he'd be taking."  In addition to struggling for survival, McMahon is fighting for the decriminalization of medical marijuana.  McMahon remains lucid and eloquent as he travels the country, speaking with university students and faculty, legislators, physicians, and law enforcement officials all while smoking 10 joints a day.

The Supreme Court decision to ban state-authorised clinics from distributing medical pot exposes blatant hypocrisy on the part of the federal government.  If the Drug Enforcement Administration is correct when they claim that marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug with no medical value, then why has the US Government been growing and giving it to sick and dying people for 24 years?  On the other hand, if cannabis has medical applications, why is the government closing marijuana clinics, criminalizing patients, and overriding the legal autonomy of the states?

At the time of the Supreme Court ruling, few officials expected the federal government to start zealously enforcing the law.  Consider the ramifications if officials begin arresting and incarcerating tens of thousands of patients, breaking apart the families of sick and dying people, and using our tax dollars to prosecute and imprison these patients.  Politicians want to avoid front-page photos of MS patients with spasmodic arms handcuffed to wheelchairs while relatives sob in the background.  Nevertheless, political concerns did not prevent federal agents from recently storm-trooping the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana cooperative, chain sawing 130 cannabis plants, and handcuffing a paraplegic patient at the state-sanctioned garden.

Recent national polls indicate 70 to 80% of the public approves of patients having legal access to medical marijuana.  Yet when decriminalization advocates push for reform, the government counters that there simply isn't enough research to warrant the reclassification of a potentially dangerous drug.  This call for evidence operates in a circular fashion, as the drug laws themselves have prevented the accumulation of much data.  Legitimate scientists who seek to perform controlled studies on cannabis face a daunting bureaucratic gauntlet.  Additionally, officials have repeatedly ignored the findings of their own commissioned research panels, which argue that marijuana is a relatively safe substance with numerous medical applications.

Meanwhile, as attorneys and pharmaceutical executives play politics and debate where to draw the line, sick and dying people like George McMahon continue to be arrested, and medical marijuana cooperatives are being trampled by federal agents armed with shackles and chainsaws.

George extinguishes his government roach as a blazing marmalade sun descends behind him on the lake.  It seems unreasonable to him that our nation locks patients in prison, strips them of their voting rights, confiscates their property, and destroys their families, all because it seeks to eradicate a natural herb that has no fatal side effects, was used medically for thousands of years, and is less harmful and addictive than tobacco or alcohol.  "I want people to know that I am just a normal guy," he says.  "I'm not an activist, but I do believe that every sick patient in America should be able to make these personal choices without going to jail."

Source: Freezerbox 11 November 2002

US Marijuana Advocate Walks Free from Jail

A US judge yesterday freed high-profile US "ganja guru" Ed Rosenthal after sentencing him to just one day in jail following his conviction for illegally cultivating marijuana plants.  Medical marijuana activists across the United States celebrated 58-year-old Rosenthal's freedom after he escaped a possible prison term that his legal team said could have run to as much as 80 years behind bars.  Rosenthal's supporters hailed the penalty as a stunning victory for their cause after a jury in January reluctantly convicted him of violating federal law by growing more than 100 "medicinal marijuana" plants.

Prosecutors had asked for a jail term of 6.5 years in the case that became the focus of a high-profile battle between states like California which have passed laws allowing the cultivation and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and the federal government, which forbids it.  "Today marks the beginning of the end of the federal war on medical marijuana patients," said Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington.  "The judge's ruling today completely rejects the bad federal law, which demonstrates better than we ever could that the federal system of persecuting medical marijuana patients and providers is broken."

Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Rosenthal to one day in jail, counting time served, and ordered him released.  He also ordered the activist to pay a fine of $1,000 and put him on supervised release for three years.  After the hearing, Rosenthal called for an end to all legal restrictions on marijuana and vowed to take his legalisation campaign nationwide.  "These laws are doomed," he told to a crowd of cheering supporters. "I'm going to make it safe for everyone to grow by bringing these laws down."  Rosenthal was convicted in January of marijuana cultivation and conspiracy for growing plants that he sold to patients for use in palliative medical care.

His case came to symbolise an explosive conflict between federal law and statutes such as the one in California that allows sick people to grow, possess, and consume cannabis with a doctor's recommendation if they suffer from such diseases as AIDS and cancer.  At the sentencing, the judge said Rosenthal had reason to believe that he was acting within state and local laws when he grew marijuana in a warehouse in Oakland, near San Francisco.  But after the hearing, Rosenthal, who had been free on bail, slammed the judge claiming he had allegedly "manipulated the evidence" at his trial and called for his resignation.

Five of the jurors who had heard the case publicly apologised for having convicted him, saying they would not have done so if they had been told that Rosenthal had been deputised by the city of Oakland to grow medical cannabis for critically ill patients.  "It's the most horrible mistake I have ever made," said juror Marney Craig, a 58-year-old property manager at the time.

Source: Agence France-Presse 6 June 2003

There are lots of other people who have committed exactly the same crime as Mr Rosenthal - growing medical marijuana for others (or even for themselves) - however, lacking as high a profile as Mr Rosenthal's, they remain incarcerated.  In fact, 55.1% of those incarcerated in US prisons are there for drug-related crimes and the related drug is often marijuana.

From my journal for 4 August 1994 (we were in Suva living aboard Lady Fair):

I read in the 11 June 1994 issue of the Economist that most drug users are neither addicts nor miserable.  Half of drug users say they've taken only cannabis.  Curiously (I thought) recent British Home Office research shows cannabis smokers are concentrated in the managerial and professional classes.  In the past few months in Britain, the maximum fine for cannabis possession has increased five-fold yet cannabis use is no more damaging to health than tobacco.  (Actually, after filtering, it's less.)  Even Raymond Kendall, head of Interpol, has stated publicly that he feels drug use should be legalised.  In Fiji, cannabis use brings an automatic three-month stay in Suva prison.

From the 7 June [1994] issue of the Fiji Times, in an article entitled "Father Turns in Wayward Son":

A Lautoka teenager who was turned in by his father to police for smoking marijuana was jailed for three months by a Lautoka Court yesterday.  Shalendra Singh, 17, unemployed, of Tavakubu, pleaded guilty before magistrate Aminiasi Katonivualiku to being in possession of dangerous drugs.  Police prosecutor Sergeant Ramesh Chandra told the court that on 18 May Shalendra's father, Shri Singh, went into his son's bedroom looking for video tape.  While in there, he found cigarette butts in the room.  The court heard that Singh became suspicious as Shalendra never smoked in front of him.  On searching further, Singh found a plastic bag containing dried leaves under his son's bed.  When Shalendra returned home, his father asked him about the leaves.  Shalendra admitted that he had been smoking marijuana for some time.  Mr Singh then took his son to the police station, handed over the leaves and reported the matter.  Shalendra told police he had bought the leaves from an unknown Fijian man.  In mitigation, Shalendra asked for leniency and begged the court to take his age into consideration.  But, passing sentence, Mr Katonivualiku commended Mr Singh for turning his son over to the police.  He said very few fathers could do what Mr Singh had done.

In a recent issue of the Fiji Times, I read about a woman, 3 months pregnant, who was arrested when her "suspicious behaviour" caused her to be searched; a "bag of dried leaves" was found on her person.  She was sentenced to 3 months in prison by the judge.  The judge said he was forced to sentence her as he had because the law required it.  Were these news stories true, or planted to convince the gullible not to smoke?  One of Hugh's friends [Hugh, a resident of Tonga, was a member of the crew on our boat at the time] told us a member of the Fijian police had sometimes brought him cannabis that the department had confiscated.

I personally think acts not directly harmful to others and which do not involve minors should not be proscribed by the state.  (And though I personally disapprove of pornography as well, this freedom from prosecution should apply to adults-only internet porn but not to child pornography.)  The majority of humans, however, must not share my opinion.

Fiji, for example, must feel there is more overall economic benefit in pushing the sedating kava than in tolerating marijuana which appeals to loners and fringe elements and isn't always cohesive to society.  Fiji has that right - but I think proscriptions against various drugs should be spelled out for what they are - a social clamp on the type of culture that grows out of a group of people who regularly use a particular drug.  Control all drugs and you control society.

As I was writing this, my husband returned from a business trip to Bangkok and brought me several newspapers.  In one of Bangkok's daily newspaper  I read the following article:

Five Face Execution in Singapore

Singapore - Five people arrested in two drug raids in Singapore face the mandatory death penalty if convicted, a report said yesterday.  The five were arrested during an anti-drug swoop which also netted another four people accused of drug trafficking and 97 alleged drug users, The Strait Times said.  Two men were arrested after police found 5 kilograms of cannabis in their car. - Agence France-Presse

Source: The Nation 26 October 2000

I don't know about you, but I think death seems a bit excessive.  For another excessive punishment, see also:

bulletDrug-Growing Mother Loses House (in the section on Money and Politics) - A Hastings woman began growing cannabis to try to finance a kidney replacement for her dying son.  She never made a cent of the $355,000 which police said her crop could have been worth, but she was jailed for 8 months; her son died in December.  Now, the Court of Appeal has upheld a District Court order for the forfeiture of her home under the Proceeds of Crimes Act...

Cannabis Puts Females in the Mood for Love

Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana.
The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can't remember what they are.

- Matt Lauer

London - Cannabis is a potent female aphrodisiac that works by interfering with a "neural love triangle" of body chemicals that influence sexual behaviour, scientists have found.  When female rats are given tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient of cannabis, they become much more receptive to the sexual attentions of males.  Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas, believe changes in sexual behaviour hinge on the way THC interacts with progesterone, a female sex hormone, and with dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that allows signals to be sent from one neuron to another.

When the team repeated the experiments on female rats treated with drugs to block the brain's receptors for progesterone and dopamine, THC had no discernible effects on the animals' sexual behaviour.  The results suggests that cannabis forms the third side, with progesterone and dopamine, of a "neural love triangle" that can be a powerful aphrodisiac. - The Times

Source: The Dominion Monday 29 January 2001

Where does a responsibility to report all the news stop and irresponsibility begin?  This article clearly makes cannabis seem desirable and doesn't even mention it is illegal.

And finally

Did the Bard Inhale?

[Members of the commission] simply state that smoking marijuana in the privacy of your home should be perfectly legal -
as long as no one gave it to you [or] sold it to you and you didn't grow it yourself.

- W Walter Menninger

Scientists might have found the source of William Shakespeare's genius - smoking cannabis, it was reported yesterday.  Pipes found at Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon were being tested for traces of the drug, the report said.

Frances Thackeray, head of paleontology at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, South Africa, says the Bard's use of complex imagery and mental journeys is evidence of drug-induced visions.  A police lab has been asked to analyse contents of several clay pipes.

Source: The Dominion Monday 6 November 2000 on the front page

So pot will not only make your girlfriend put out, it'll make you write like a dream for that creative writing essay you need to turn in?

Mixed messages, anyone?

Source: If you like online comics, this site is a treasure trove of opinionated art.


Plant Is Called Hibiscus, but It Won't Get You High

Blair Davis with his hibiscus plant

by Susan K Bardwell

Landscape contractor Blair Davis was in his northwest Harris County home around 2pm Tuesday when there was a knock at his door.  Davis said he hadn't even gotten his hand on the doorknob when it flew open and he was looking at the barrel of a pistol.  Behind the gun were about 10 members of the Harris County Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force, who burst into the home, guns drawn, and began shouting at him to get down on the floor.  There on the floor, Davis said, it took a while to figure out that what had caused the swarm of lawmen to descend upon him was the hibiscus in his front yard.

That's right, hibiscus.  The foliage of the Texas Star hibiscus, a native plant that's growing in popularity, vaguely resembles that of marijuana.  But: "It's got white buds on it," Davis said.  "Hello."  Davis had several of the plants in his yard, where he grows stock for his business.  "They were in containers," he said: "I don't want to say potted plants."

Evidently, some well-meaning but horticulturally challenged citizen turned Davis in.  Davis said the team of narcotics officers combed his house for about an hour, at one point discussing whether red and gold bamboo growing in his window might be marijuana.  They also asked what he did with the watermelons and cantaloupes growing in his back yard.

"What would I do with them?" Davis said.

Finally the officers gave up and left, leaving Davis only a "citizen's information card" with "closed-report" written on it.  "No apology, no nothing," Davis said.  "I realise they have a job to do, but this seems a little bizarre."

Calls to the task force were not returned Wednesday.

Davis hasn't let the episode put him off the Texas Star hibiscus.  "It tolerates heat and drought and our rains," he said.  "It's a great plant, except for the police."

Source: 29 July 2004 © Houston Chronicle photo credit Meg Loucks / Houston Chronicle

The Great Texas Hibiscus Raid

A close up of the Texas Star hibiscus plant; a photograph of a real marijuana leaf

The plant on the left is the Texas Star Hibiscus and the one on the right is marijuana.  Apparently 10 members of the Harris County, Texas Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force couldn't tell the difference.  The hibiscus plants were in the front yard and based upon their presence a full scale raid of the house took place.  But wait, if you think it's bizarre that members of a narcotics task force didn't know what marijuana looks like you need to know that it gets even stranger: [T]he team of narcotics officers combed [the] house for about an hour, at one point discussing whether red and gold bamboo growing in [a] window might be marijuana.  They also asked [the owner] what he did with the watermelons and cantaloupes growing in his back yard.

So, I guess the owner was going to cut a cantaloupe in half, hollow out one side, poke a bamboo shoot into it, and smoke his hibiscus through the improvised pipe.

From this point on every time a Harris County officer tries to use the artifice of claiming that he acted "based on my training and experience" the defense attorneys should have a field day.


You Know You've Lost the War on Drugs When...

...the police don't even know what marijuana looks like.

"All of a sudden, they burst in with their guns loaded, pointing at me, screaming, 'Get on the floor! Get on the floor!'" northwest Harris County resident Blair Davis told KHOU-TV.  It turns out the tall plants with the narrow leaves arranged in a fan pattern weren't pot plants at all, but specimens of Texas Star hibiscus, which Davis grows for his landscaping business.  That didn't convince the 10 or so members of the Harris County Organized Crime Unit who stormed around the house.

"I just put my head down, shook it and said: 'Guys, you are making a terrible mistake.  That is Texas Star hibiscus, not marijuana,'" Davis told the TV station.  "They just told me to shut up."  Apparently bummed out they couldn't cage the guy for growing marijuana they expanded their suspicion to the dangerous bamboo, watermelons and cantaloupes.  At one point, the officers discussed whether the bamboo in the window might be the demon weed as well, Davis told the Houston Chronicle.  They also asked him what he planned to do with the watermelons and cantaloupes growing out back.

Jeff Trigg


The Big Question: So How Dangerous Is Cannabis?

by Steve Connor

Why are we asking this question now?

The head of the UN's anti-drugs office has said that cannabis use has turned into a major pandemic which is causing as much harm as cocaine and heroin.  Antonio Maria Costa also implicitly criticised countries such as Britain for relaxing the law on the possession of cannabis.  "Policy reversals leave young people confused as to just how dangerous cannabis is," Mr Costa said.  "With cannabis-related health damage increasing, it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government.  Today, the harmful characteristics of cannabis are no longer that different from those of other plant-based drugs such as cocaine and heroin."

What is cannabis?

The most commonly used illicit drug in Britain, if not the world, also called marijuana, it is produced from certain parts of the Cannabis sativa plant and comes in various forms - dried leaves, concentrated resin known as hashish, or distilled oil.  The strongest parts of the plant are the female flowering tops, which are prevented from going to seed by growing them in a pollen-free environment.  Sensemillia, as this form of cannabis is sometimes called, is strong because none of the plant's energy goes into making seeds, but instead produces the psychoactive substances which cause the desired effect.

Cannabis grows wild in many parts of the world, from Poland and Hungary to Afghanistan, India and China.  Its dried leaves or resin have been smoked by varied cultures over many thousands of years.  Cannabis has been used in societies ranging from the Hindus of India, the Thracians of southern Europe and the ancient Scythians, who liked to smoke it in a steam room.  Indeed the charred seeds of cannabis have been found at a Stone Age burial site in Romania, and cannabis was first documented as a herbal remedy in a Chinese pharmacy text of the first century AD.

Why do people take it?

Cannabis is a psychoactive substance; in other words, it affects the brain.  But it also affects other parts of the body.  It increases pulse rate, decreases blood pressure, causes bloodshot eyes and increases appetite.  However, it is the effects on the brain that cause the feelings of calm euphoria and gentle elation that many users enjoy.

The drug has a mild sedative effect but the experience depends greatly on individual mood and the social environment at the time it is taken.  Some people get the giggles and become talkative, others become subdued and quiet - the classic symptoms of being "stoned".  Many people feel less inhibited while under the influence of cannabis, in much the same way as drinking alcohol, which is why it is a common party drug.

What does it do to the brain?

The most active ingredient of cannabis is a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  It can pass across the biological barrier that separates the brain from the bloodstream, and in doing so penetrates the central nervous system.  Here, it acts on the natural proteins or receptors that control nerve impulses passed from one part of the brain to another.

Cannabinoids such as THC act on a specific protein receptor that is widely distributed in the brain.  As a result it interferes with concentration and thought, memory, pain perception and muscle co-ordination.  THC particularly interferes with the cerebellum - the "autopilot" of the brain - which is important for balance, posture, and co-ordination of movement.  The drug also affects the hippocampus, which is important for the formation of memory.  These influences on the brain help to explain why cannabis intensifies ordinary sensory experiences, such as eating, watching films or listening to music.  They also explain why users get a false sense of how time passes, and why they suffer from various problems with short-term memory, poor reaction time and general unsteadiness.

Are there any more dangerous side-effects?

This is a hotly disputed topic.  Cannabis does not produce physical dependency, as does heroin, but some people who use it regularly can become psychologically dependent.  Cannabis smoke is carcinogenic, and so can contribute to lung cancer, just like tobacco smoke.  And regular smoking can exacerbate existing respiratory problems, such as asthma, bronchitis and wheezing.

A few studies have suggested that regular users may also have impaired immune systems, and there is little doubt that driving while stoned is dangerous - one study found that smoking cannabis doubles the risk of fatal car crashes.  According to a study in The Lancet, large doses of THC produce confusion, amnesia, delusions, hallucinations, anxiety and agitation.  "Such reactions are rare, occurring after unusually heavy cannabis use; in most cases they remit rapidly after abstinence from cannabis," it says.

The really important issue is whether cannabis can cause serious, long-term problems for a person's mental health.  Earlier this year the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded that there may be a link between cannabis use and the onset of psychotic illnesses, although there was insufficient evidence to state that frequent users were more likely to develop schizophrenia.  Nevertheless, several studies have suggested that there may well be an association between smoking cannabis in adolescence and mental illness in later life - including schizophrenia.

What does the stronger version do to you?

It has been suggested that the smoking of more potent forms of cannabis, known as "skunk", can result in something called cannabis psychosis, although this has not been conclusively proved.  Skunk is a generic name used to describe the 100 or so varieties of cannabis plant that have higher-than-average levels of THC.  Skunk may also contain higher levels of the 40 other substances in cannabis that are thought to be capable of having an effect on the body.

Traditional varieties of cannabis have a THC content of between 2 and 4%, while some varieties of skunk can have THC levels of up to 20%.  Some users say the immediate effect of smoking skunk is that they get stoned more quickly.  They also report higher levels of transient hallucinations, which are particularly common in people who have already taken LSD, a known hallucinogenic drug.  Skunk's potency can sometimes catch people out if they have been used to more dilute forms of cannabis.  As a result they can suffer from anxiety attacks and feelings of mild paranoia.  However, there is no evidence to suggest that smoking skunk poses any new risks compared with the heavy smoking of weaker forms of cannabis.

Is cannabis medicinal?

Cannabis has a long history as a folk remedy, and some of its natural constituents are reported to have therapeutic value for illnesses such as asthma, glaucoma, mild to severe muscle spasms and pain, as well as anorexia and mood disorders.

Is smoking cannabis really that bad for you?

bulletThere is convincing evidence to suggest a link between heavy use and serious mental illness
bulletCannabis smoke is just as dangerous as cigarette smoke in causing lung disease
bulletDriving while even mildly stoned significantly increases the risk of fatal accidents
bulletThere is no evidence that cannabis causes physical dependency in the manner of heroin or cocaine
bulletMild users of cannabis are not more likely to become addicted to "harder drugs"
bulletMany long-term users of cannabis lead normal, healthy lives which they find enhanced by recreational use of the drug

Source: The Independent 28 June 2006, 18 October 2006

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