Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hemp ≠ Marijuana, Alcohol = Drugs

I ran across a clip on You Tube the other day while looking for information on the candidates’ views on the war on drugs. It showed a portion of a town hall meeting in New Hampshire recorded on July 14, 2007 in which Senator John McCain, Republican candidate for the presidency, said the following:

“When first I came to New Hampshire in 1999, a young woman stood up and said, ‘What do you think about the use of hemp?’ Being an old Navy man I said, ‘It’s great. It’s wonderful. You make ropes out of it.’ It was only later that I learned that there’s other uses for hemp besides making rope.” [at which point the conservative crowd chuckles knowingly]

I don’t think he was talking about using hemp as a petroleum substitute or in the manufacture of paper or cloth. To me, this is a little bit scary. How can an individual that I believe is reasonably well educated and intelligent not know the difference between one of the most valuable industrial crops known to mankind and a popular recreational drug? (Yes, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt in assuming he’s just plain ignorant.) If that’s what he really believes, how many other legislators (and citizens) also don’t know the difference? And if such ignorance is as pervasive as I fear it to be, how are we ever going to make any progress toward a more sensible system of legislation and control of either crop?

Just so we’re clear, hemp and marijuana are related. They do share a lot of DNA. But so do humans and chimpanzees. Granted we don’t physically resemble our great ape relatives as much as hemp resembles marijuana (you can’t really tell them apart based on the plant’s physical appearance), but that’s no excuse. Marijuana contains a number of psychoactive substances and is, and always has been, a popular recreational drug. Hemp on the other hand, by definition, has no psychoactive properties and therefore cannot be used recreationally. Unless of course you consider the recreational uses of rope, cloth, fuel, and plastics. The two crops may look alike, but they have no overlap whatsoever in how they are used.

And speaking of psychoactive substances, Mr. McCain made another statement that (I hope) further illustrates his ignorance. He made a clear distinction between drugs and alcohol. Sadly, I know from personal experience that many others make this same distinction. For some reason that I don’t fully understand, many people today do not consider alcohol a “drug.” It probably has something to do with the fact that it’s legal, while recreational drugs are illegal. Or because it doesn’t come in small, plastic pill bottles with child-proof caps and is never prescribed. Maybe it’s because it’s a liquid while most drugs people use on a regular basis are in pill form. Whatever the reason, there’s simply no excuse in this day and age for so many people to be consuming a recreational drug and not even knowing they are doing so.

Again, just to be clear, ethyl alcohol is a psychoactive (i.e., having a significant effect on mood or behavior) substance, aka a recreational drug. If you want to get technical about it, so are caffeine and nicotine. But unlike marijuana, alcohol is highly toxic. It is essentially a poison that if you don’t consume enough to kill you, will temporarily alter your consciousness. It has no medicinal value (other than as an antiseptic—a benefit of its toxicity) and is used purely recreationally, often with disastrous consequences. Using the phrase “alcohol and drugs” is like saying “apples and fruit.” If you want to make some kind of distinction between the two, at least insert the word “other” after “and.”

It’s not just Mr. McCain either. Even scarier, the DEA appears equally ignorant, or so they’d like us to believe. In an official news release , the DEA states that “many Americans do not know that hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant and that hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana.” I guess DEA administrator, Asa Hutchinson, would be one of those “many Americans” who is confused. You can produce hemp without producing marijuana. I think it would be kind of a good thing if the people responsible for enforcing the laws, knew what substances the laws referred to. It would also be a good thing if our government got their facts straight and stopped lying to the public. Perhaps someone should sit Mr. Hutchinson down and tell him the story about the boy who cried wolf.

So, Mr. McCain and everyone else holding or aspiring to public office, please get your facts straight. Marijuana and hemp are not the same thing. As they say, you can’t judge a house by its front door. And, regardless of what you call it, alcohol is most definitely a recreational drug. A rose by any other name...

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