For thousands of years, history has recorded the use of the cannabis plant in various forms, as well as methods of ingestion or application. The medicinal utility and psychoactive qualities of cannabis are chronicled in the journals of numerous worldwide cultures. The Chinese are credited with being the first to regularly use cannabis in the treatment of a wide range of conditions, but when Dr. Floyd Huen organized a community meeting to discuss a possible cannabis dispensary in a San Francisco district with a significant Chinese population, he was met by an angry crowd and had to leave before he could say a word. Video of the meeting showed older Chinese residents shaking their fists and shouting at Dr. Huen, physician and co-owner of the proposed dispensary. The federal government’s 87-year war on a plant had successfully demonized cannabis in the minds of descendants of the earliest culture to embrace the medicinal utility of it.
Early prohibitionists, like America’s first “drug czar” Harry Anslinger and media giant William Randolph Hearst, deemed “marijuana” to be the scourge of a nation brought to us by low-caste Mexican immigrants who smoked it and committed crimes, African-American jazz musicians were also a target of the frenzy to assail cannabis. The first attempt to remove the stigma attached to cannabis by lying prohibitionists was an opinion from the American Medical Association’s legislative counsel Dr. William C. Woodward, who testified, at 1937 hearings related to federal prohibition of cannabis, that “there is nothing in the medicinal use of cannabis that has any relation to cannabis addiction. I use the word ‘cannabis’ in preference to the word ‘marijuana,’ because cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products. The term ‘marijuana’ is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of cannabis preparations for smoking.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was unimpressed. The 1944 LaGuardia Report concluded essentially the same thing, and added that use is not a precursor to criminal activity, but FDR again rejected the conclusions. Likewise, Richard Nixon rejected Shafer Commission findings in the early ’70s that mirrored previous studies advocating decriminalization, and added a slam at “the Jews” being behind legalization. But he did get a nice photo with Elvis, even gave him a badge as an “agent at large” in the war on drugs. In 1976, a federal court ruled that Robert Randall’s possession and use of cannabis to treat glaucoma was a medical necessity. The re-emergence of cannabis as a bona fide medicine began. The most significant pie-in-the-face of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s continued insistence that cannabis had no medical value was the ruling by one of their own, Judge Francis Young, in 1988, in response to a formal petition to the DEA to re-schedule cannabis to Schedule II in order to allow it to be prescribed for use and researched more. “The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record,” Young said.
Ronald Reagan opted to continue Nixon’s “war on drugs” instead, which wasn’t so much a war on cannabis as it was a war on the youthful counter-culture that consumed it routinely. Then Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama did not intercede to at least move cannabis down one place on the Schedule of Controlled Substances, so physicians could prescribe it and banks could handle accounts related to cannabis. The emergence of pharmaceutical companies in the early years of cannabis prohibition opened the doors to a flood of opioid drug therapies. In my opinion, the pharmaceutical industry has a tremendous amount of influence on our federal government’s position that cannabis has no medical value.
Author Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same name defines “tipping point” as “the moment of critical mass…” preceding major social change. Our country is at that point now on restoring whole plant cannabis to its rightful role as medicine, fiber, food, and fuel. Less than 25 percent of cannabis resin contains the psychoactive component THC. The remainder of cannabinoids in the resin are mostly the molecule CBD, recognized for its utility in medical applications. Many cannabis products today have high percentages of CBD for pain relief, anti-inflammatory, etc. while others have high percentages of THC for a sense of well being, energy, and creativity. Twenty-eight states presently regulate medicinal cannabis. Eight have decriminalized adult possession. Washington, D.C. has done both. Our DEA has even come around to acknowledging cannabis is not a gateway to harder drugs, and that there is no lethal dose. In states that have approved medical cannabis, opioid-related deaths have gone down about 25 percent across the board. This is especially encouraging with regard to veterans who now have an option, a pathway out of opioid dependence as a consequence of traditional VA hospital regimens of prescription opioids. Clearly, the trend is growing acceptance of whole plant cannabis, nationwide and worldwide. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, is moving fast towards legalization in 2018. US investment dollars are already moving into Canadian cannabusiness opportunities. It will be interesting to observe how our business-minded administration will respond to investment funds going north because of the DEA blockade on cannabis.
Locally, approval of cannabis tipped convincingly in 2016 when close to two-thirds of Benicia voters approved Proposition 64. In response to this, most of our City Council agreed to end the prohibition on cannabis in Benicia, and directed staff to return with options to consider for cannabusiness in our city. Storefront cannabis, both medical and adult retail, should not be limited to approval only in the industrial park. We have 67 alcohol and 16 tobacco products licenses in Benicia today, in mixed use and commercial zoning areas. Alcohol and tobacco are known killers when used in excess, but there has never been a death attributed to cannabis in the history of its use. Anybody running for office here in 2018, and advocating for whole plant cannabis, has very good odds of winning around 9,000 votes, in my opinion.
Another trend that is spreading quickly is use of the word “cannabis” in lieu of the pejorative term “marijuana,” which is rooted in racism during the early days of cannabis prohibition. The city of Benicia should symbolically ban “marijuana” and welcome cannabusiness as a mainstream component of our economic strategy. I know of no other city in the world that has done this, and by doing so we could have cannabusinesses knocking on our door sooner rather than later, plus some expanded media attention is always welcome.
Stan Golovich, is a 31-year Benicia resident, senior, veteran, artist, and cannabis advocate-educator. He is presently a Spring Semester student at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, America’s first “cannabis college.” He is the husband of former Benicia City Councilmember Jan Cox-Golovich, and is often seen riding his bike on First Street, said to be the only bicycle in the world with a stained glass window in the frame, a product of his work in stained glass.