2011? Jesus, how did you arrive here - on your dinosaur? Click here to go to hencewise.com, and stop a weirdo holding a candle in the dark, looking all dramatic and old-fashioned.
Cannabis has almost certainly been illegal for your entire life and that's quite a long time for a certain impression to form on you, I think you'd agree. If you are brought up with certain rules, those rules still hold today, and you buy into this idea that you're part of a society where the Law reflects the will of the people, you might be prone to accept that they're probably the status quo for some amazingly complex and thoroughly superb reasons. Reasons you may not have had time to investigate, perhaps, on the assumption that there must be really clever and noble people out there, with big graphs and nice pens and special rooms for this kind of thing, and they've checked with everyone, and definitely made the right decisions for you and everyone you know. Weed is a drug, and drugs are bad.
But what if they're wrong?
No. If they were wrong about that, what else could they be wrong about? If Santa wasn't real, then what about God or ghosts or soul mates or unlimited broadband? I mean, have you actually ever seen a terrorist? How different could toothpastes really be? Where do countries end? Are you special? Are paragraphs really paragraphs when they're just a list of questions? What was that noise?
See, now you've frightened yourself. It's easy to see why we might go along with lies to ourselves and each other if there could be real reasons to be afraid of the truth. It is, after all, an easier life to follow the majority and not question what you're told. However, here's the conundrum: people are often wrong and, for some curious reason, seem to get collectively more wrong the more of them you put together. Throw politicians and bad journalists in to the mix and before you know it, everybody is so wrong about everything that when somebody comes along who's actually right about something, people stare at them like they're a bizarre poo fetishist who's asked to borrow their grandmother.
So it is with cannabis, I believe, and what follows are perhaps the five most common myths likely to splatter loudly on the windshield of your face when you try to have a rational debate about it with the kind of dullard who will one day be wandering around your neighbourhood with a lot of carrier bags and a face like a punched ham.
1. Cannabis is dangerous/bad for you.
Originally I was going to bang endlessly on - like every righteous, boring stoner you’ve ever met in the wrong corner of a bad party - about how cannabis doesn’t affect your memory, its many medicinal purposes, its legitimate uses in reducing anxiety, easing pain, increasing appetite, the false-proven claims that it damages your brain, the false-proven claims that it causes cancer, the original ‘evidence’ of its harms involving the suffocation of monkeys (we’ll get to that), the endless propaganda that’s smeared shit all over our naive little minds, the inability to overdose, how it doesn't affect your memory, the many harmless ways it can be taken without smoking, the entire absence of a single attributable death in its thousands-of-years-plus history, the rank hypocrisy in the staggering contrast of the millions-of-people-a-year megakillacide caused by tobacco and alcohol, and how it doesn’t affect your memory, but then I thought it’s so much simpler than all that.
What right does anyone, especially the tiny minority of people that make up a government, have to tell you what you can and can’t do with your own body?
We, quite simply, just don’t accept this shit anywhere else.
You can cross roads at night, motorcycle, get tattoos, pierce any and all the flappiest bits of yourself, live near volcanoes, sky dive, fill yourself with steroids, be reckless with cutlery, bleach your hair, lose weight, gain weight, touch the genitals of any other adult that will let you, own dangerous animals, live on a boat, climb trees, base jump, cable-tie staplers to your thighs, be a builder, or just sit in a caravan until the end of your days, never exercising and eating endless biscuits until you burst in a spectacular explosion of gore and dry cake.
There’s no end of ‘bad for us’ activities that we are allowed to undertake without the bubble-wrap brigade sticking their pissy little noses in. Even if cannabis was incredibly bad for you, what makes it different from any other legal trade-off between risk and reward? We didn’t ask for legislation to protect ourselves from ourselves. We didn't ask that rules be doled out with moral authority by the kind of corrupt, joyless fucks who couldn’t figure out what 'fun' is without a diagram and an expenses scandal.
We all make choices between short-term benefits and long-term costs all the time, and, inevitably, sometimes we do make the wrong decisions.
But they are our decisions to make.
2. Cannabis is addictive.
Cannabis is not, if at all, very chemically addictive. In fact, all of the recent studies that have measured the harms and addictiveness of various substances have put it at the bottom of the spectrum - well below tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, underwear, jogging, and compliments. You won’t crave more after you try it, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms after even heavy use, and no permanent changes occur in a healthy brain that could cause dependence.
Indeed, addiction is a lot more complicated than a switch in your head that can suddenly be triggered by a chemical, contrary to the message of almost every anti-drug campaign ever, from the murder-raping, one-puff psychopaths portrayed in 1936 film Reefer Madness to the 1980s all-singing, slogan-on-a-pencil-case, celebrity prick-a-thon Just Say No.
No. The problem is a lot more deeply rooted in pre-existing mental disorders, personality traits, and hormonal predispositions than in ‘wrong’ choices, uncontrollable consequences, and naughty bloody children not bloody doing what they are bloody well told. The truth is if you aren’t predisposed to compulsive behaviour, then there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy cannabis, or almost anything, in healthy moderation. And for people who are predisposed to addiction –some estimates place the figure at around 10 to 15% of the population– they have the capacity to get addicted to all kinds of vices, from gambling to religion to coffee to violence. And if you gave me the choice of a day with someone who would risk their own kneecaps guessing that a ball might end up more times in one place than another, any twat who tries to give me books about their imaginary friend, some jittery fuck who’s talking too much, someone that’s sizing up my head for the point their fist will bounce off the easiest, and a cannabis ‘addict’, I know who I would choose.
But ignoring how much fun it would be to actually buy five addicts and pit them against each other for their fix in a twisted Big Brother-style experiment, it’s easy to see how mainstream society gets so quickly confused between people who are addicted and people who enjoy something regularly when the thing in question is something they personally don’t understand, use, or approve of.
Maybe you know countless people who have tried and enjoyed weed, then started smoking more of it. Well, isn’t that just the obvious thing that happens with things that you like? You wouldn’t call someone addicted to The X Factor if they watched a few episodes of it, liked it, and then ended up 'abusing' it every night from then until the Big Crunch. If you like something, it doesn’t negatively affect your life, and you want to do it again, are you addicted? Of course not, otherwise you’d have to say I was addicted to breakfast, washing and murder. Indeed, whether you are addicted to something or not seems to be a diagnosis you can only apply to yourself. For most people, they would define themselves as having a problem at the point when they realise their habit is negatively affecting their life but cannot stop regardless, or the point when they suddenly become aware that they’re standing on a church roof, naked and swearing, with binoculars and a mouthful of pastry, wearing two policemen for shoes and staring at neighbouring chimneys with manic, hallucinogenic lust.
And that happens half as much as you'd think.
3. Cannabis makes you stupid/lazy.
The stereotype that pot makes you lazy is as old, absurd and as soon to be full of holes as Colonel Gaddafi’s face. That’s not to say that lazy people aren’t going to smoke it and get worse, of course, but that using cannabis isn’t going to have any backwards motivational effects on who you are or your life goals. Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to name-drop a few high profile and incredibly successful, out-of-the-closet cannabis smokers.
So if you think that smoking weed precludes you from success, you could talk to ‘Sir’ Richard Branson, balloon-commuting rich man and owner of anything you can slap the slightly giggly word Virgin on. He smokes weed with his kids, petitions for it to be legalised, and is standing ready with price stickers for when it inevitably is. Or Ted Turner, hat-wearing multi-billionaire, the biggest landowner in America, inventor of the unendingworryfest that is the 24-hour news cycle, and Time’s 1991 Man of the Year. Or Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York; Al Gore, the Nobel Prize-winning former Vice U.S. President; or Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California and Terminator. Or if you think that the problem with smoking weed is that it stops you from being motivated, you could also talk to swimming, walking pants-commercial Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympic athlete of all time; a young man with enough gold around his neck to buy a mid-sized Fijian island, who founded his own charity, but was still dropped by his munchies-funded sponsor Kelloggs after one photo of him surfaced with a bong. Now one Google Image Search of him with the word ‘pot’ brings up so many hundreds of pictures linked to shitty, sneery 'journalism' that you’d be forgiven for thinking his crime was close on the spectrum of evil to pissing on a blind child while strangling a rare owl.
You could even talk to the last three Presidents of the United States, all of whom openly --and rather hypocritically, you might think-- admitted to smoking cannabis... although Clinton exclaimed with his famously muddled brand of honesty, “I didn't like it, and I didn't inhale.” Well, it would be easy to see roughly where you’d gone wrong there, Bill, if you were telling the truth. You wouldn’t enjoy your first game of football either if you sat outside the stadium thinking about your shoelaces. As for the next President, skipping any coke-taking, drink-driving intelligence gaps in between, Obama replied to the same question: “I inhaled frequently. That was the point.”
In short, it is only if you are lazy already that your lack of motivation could lead you to heavy cannabis use, the same way it could lead you to overindulgence in video gaming, excessive masturbation, dependence on fast food, or any other unproductive hobby like painting your body green, gluing toy animals to yourself and pretending you’re a farm.
Weed can’t make you lazy, it can only capitalise on your already fat arse.
As for it making you stupid, it would probably be a shorter task to list the creative people who haven’t used it. There are cannabis smokers who are and always have been at the very highest peaks of every major artistic craft in the world, from writing, art and film-making to acting, stand-up and, of course, music; People so renowned and respected you only need to list their surnames to generate a smug, simple argument: Shakespeare, Picasso, Wilde, Sagan, Speilberg, Lucas, Stone, Tarantino, Fonda, Clooney, Nicholson, Pitt, Kipling, Kerouac, Thompson, King, Dylan, Marley, Lennon, McCartney, Cash, Jagger, Jackson, Hendrix, Cobain, Dogg, Gaga. Indeed, Bill Hicks probably summarised it best: “If you don't think drugs have done good things for us, then take all of your records, tapes and CDs and fucking burn them.”
Basically, all that ‘stupid’ stuff, that’s a bubbling pint of cow bile too.
But this... but that...
But what? Even if it was true that smoking weed did make someone stupid... so? One more moron for the pile. Let’s face it, people in general aren’t really behind the idea that our collective intelligence should be the noblest driving force in society – how else could you explain the existence of both nuclear warheads and Justin Beiber concerts? Or the fact that in America almost anyone can own a gun and yet Sarah Palin has absolutely no known bullets in her horrible fucking head? We still bite our tongues, sleep-dribble, and forget what we came in to the room for. English-speaking people still quote the Bible as definitive instructions, blissfully unaware that it’s been translated over 30 times and is originally from a language that we’re still missing massive chunks of. Twilight is the fastest selling book of all time; Big Momma’s House 3 grossed over $30 million in its first week; and people happily insist on continuing to point cameras at Bear Grylls while he runs around the woods acting like a deranged child who's had too much marmalade and not enough attention. I guess my point is that if we live in a world where ‘democracy’ and homeopathy can apparently co-exist without any level of irony, how worried can we seriously be about more fucking idiots?
4. Cannabis must be illegal for a reason.
The history of cannabis prohibition is just less than one Elvis moon-lizard away from being a full-blown conspiracy. The roots of the plant’s current illegality are dug deep in racism, fear, greed, lies and stupidity. It’s a story that has a whole lot more to do with money than morality, a history skewed towards the false narratives of the industries and individuals who profited from its criminalization, and a saga littered with widespread deception, rampant sensationalism, the constant dismissal of scientific opinion, and more lunatic quotes than you’d find on the walls of an insane asylum after the warden lost a big box of crayons.
It all starts with hemp -- the durable, versatile fibre that can be cultivated from the cannabis plant and used for paper, chemicals, textiles, biodegradable plastics, fuel, everything, and food. It boasts being amongst the fastest growing known biomasses, requires no herbicides, few pesticides, can be grown almost anywhere and is incredibly environmentally friendly. Indeed, it was so useful that the first laws regarding hemp in Virginia were ordering farmers to grow it. For many, it was the plants other wonder product.
For others, though, it was a very dangerous rival. To the bullies in the playground, hemp was the handsome, sensitive boy at school, the only one comfortable enough to join Drama and play netball, and the one who was now being orbited by wet, willing fanny all day long while they stood around, grunting and hitting each other, and looking about as attractive to girls as pork scratchings in uniform. It would be too difficult to compete fairly, of course, so this large and varied gang of thugs, including the Egyptian cotton industry, nylon-inventing petrochemical giant DuPont, and timber-newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, gathered behind the bullshit bike shed of my metaphor, smoked a carton of bummed cigarettes, and hatched the recurring master plan of every bully for centuries:
Lie. Call them names. Maybe grab their bollocks at playtime when nobody's looking.
Luckily for the Baddies of this particular story, this all coincided with the mass exodus of cannabis-smoking Mexicans into America and the rise of weed-friendly black jazz music in the South. So, what better way to ban a fashionable new ‘drug’ than by scapegoating it for society’s problems, demonising its effects, and then giving a sinister nudge in the direction of all those brown people? Thus ‘marijuana,’ itself a racialist term coined to connect the plant with certain undesirable ethnicities (while distancing it from white-friendly hemp), was widely and publicly smeared with the help of Hearst’s newspaper empire to gain support for its prohibition. It worked incredibly well. Indeed, to get a sense of the source of the most heinous myths surrounding cannabis, and the height of the plateau from which they have had to erode over time, we have to spend a bit of time with wind-up one-man moron Harry J. Anslinger, the Commissioner of the US Bureau of Narcotics between 1930 and 1962 and ‘The Father of the War on Drugs.’ He explained to us, presumably with the help a sock puppet and a self-invented contraption he called The Big Audience Silly Hammer, that marijuana “produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death,” "makes darkies think they're as good as white men," “leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing," and “is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother,” he went on.
... But that was year’s ago!
People didn’t know as much about it back then!
People in positions of power don’t say stuff like that anymore, you might say.
Well, you’re right. Except you’re not.
For instance: Ronald Reagan, the actor, said in the ‘70s, “permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the use of marijuana.” He knew this, apparently, because some cunt scientists had pumped 63 joints worth of cannabis smoke into strapped-down monkeys for five minutes, once a day, every day, for 90 days, then were giddy with themselves for finding out afterwards that the monkeys were more brain damaged than a man who sprinkles batteries on his salad. Hooray! (It later turned out to be from suffocation, incidentally.) Or ten years later in the ‘80s, when the White House’s Drug Czar Carlton Turner said, all on his own, that “marijuana leads to homosexuality ... and therefore to AIDS." Or one more slow decade onwards, when kind-natured, loveable Chief of Los Angeles police Daryl Gates remarked in the ‘90s, with all the tact of a clumsy rapist at your wedding, that “casual drug users should be taken out and shot.”
Nearer to home though, and that period that I’m still not sure if we’re calling the Noughties (are we?), this baffling Daily Mail article struggles its way through a thousand theatrical words on the flimsy premise that the risk of schizophrenia might go up in 3% of people, perhaps, that are already prone to psychotic disorders, maybe. The author unashamedly goes on to end her vague-as-trousers argument with the unsettling photographs of three murderers and the details of their horrific acts, before making a causal link between cannabis and their crimes with all the authority of an ice cream man standing on a beanbag shouting at a yoghurt.
Mental, isn’t it? But that’s alright because it’s not like millions of people read it every day, or like it has the second biggest readership of any British newspaper, squeezed as it isn’t between The Sun and The Mirror, two papers you couldn’t rub together to produce a fact. When you understand that these millions of people, who have never knowingly been within twenty metres of their own opinions, are the popular masses that politicians must pander to, you can see why it is a lot less of a risk to maintain a popular, wrong policy than it is to reverse it. Yet it’s not like you can blame these people for their views, any more than you could blame a melon for having the words 'Fuck All Eskimoes' carved on it. Sure it’s offensive, ill-informed, racist and wrong, but it’s not like the melon formulated that opinion itself. Of course not, it's a fruit. And if you believed without question what you were told about drugs from your parents, your school, your church, the media or a cartoon character called Terry the T-Total Tortoise, you might just be the same as that fucking melon.
Indeed, to further contextualise this madness, just think about the many millions of voters who, on one hand, continually insist on believing in a divine, good and all-knowing sky man who created everything on Earth, yet on the other continue to ban His arts and crafts like He's some silly toddler who hasn't quite managed to crayon inside the lines. How's this for a sensible sentence? People you've never met spend your taxes tracking down and destroying a wild plant because they don't think you should have it. God, could there be anything more unnatural than banning nature?
Yet we do, and it’s the ill-informed opinions and general ignorance towards the issue of legalization that means politicians won’t do anything about it until they absolutely have to. Your liberty is only as real, after all, as it’s allowed it to be. In the meantime the dark reality is that, while society suffers, some powerful forces make a lot of money from criminalization. Those who still profit from its continued restriction range from the massive pharmaceutical industry, which would lose both its monopoly on cannabis as medicine and revenue from the wide range of drugs it would replace, to the alcohol and tobacco industries, who would both prefer you to keep pointing your angry, waggling finger anywhere but at them while you fill your gob with their wayward little goods. These private industries can and do sponsor (‘buy’) political candidates, fund anti-drug commercials, hire expensive lobbyists to penis-prod governments, and even finance their own ‘scientific’ studies. These soulless researchers –also available to deny global warming for Oil money, by the way– usually publish any slight trend of potential concern as FACT and then jizz over themselves and each other with all the righteous self-importance of a prick in a parade. It doesn’t even matter that their findings are normally disproved by lunchtime because by that point politicians and the mainstream media have already seduced you to the ground, put their knee on your head, and pissed them through your ears.
Meanwhile, the police, the military and the privatised prison industries can all keep dipping their hands deep into the tax pot in the name of ‘fighting drugs,’ whatever that doesn’t mean in real life, and you can’t even numb the pain of the bill by smoking a joint without being on the same side of the law as someone who is a bit murdery.
If you’d like to further elaborate on that slightly paranoid-sounding theory, then you might also like to smoke that joint anyway and ponder the rather interesting reality that cannabis seems to alter the way a lot of people think, and often in ways which seem in opposition to the intentions and motivations of those in power. The main active chemical in cannabis, THC, works mainly by mimicking the actions of certain chemical neurotransmitters in your brain that prevent the release of inhibitory messages between neurons; sciencey flaptrap aside, it means your thought processes are less inhibited. Weed makes you interested in things, insightful, connect information into thoughts and trends, and maybe even scrutinise certain ‘truths’ that you’re offered from a new perspective. It can help you appreciate life and art, empathise with people, and nurture contentment, all while really wanting a cake. And maybe this is just a shit, gaudy generalisation on my part, but it’s something I’ve certainly found to be true: weed smokers seem to be more friendly, peaceful, appreciative and tolerant people. In short, precisely more like the kind of people who the most rigid, conventional, uptight, productive, greedy or aggressive people in society would judge and attack as hippies, wasters, losers, spongers, brand ‘stoners’ or ‘potheads,’ and associate with ‘unsavoury’ counterculture lifestyles. Well, here’s the goofy, tin-foil hat sounding bit: if you have a system that perpetuates through competition and conflict, where money gravitates like magenets towards the rich and from the poor, where greed is rewarded and harder workers can be taxed more, where money buys power but charity is unprofitable, where war is deemed necessary and soldiers deemed noble, questioning either is unpatriotic, and you’re at the top of that system with a monopoly on deciding what other people can and can’t do, well, maybe legalising cannabis just isn’t in your interests.
And maybe that’s just always been the case. Maybe the lies, laws and legislation have always had less to do with protecting us and more to do with baking a big fat money pie that we can’t have a slice of.
But, hey, that’s just, like, you know, my opinion, man.
5. Cannabis is a gateway drug.
The logic behind this persistent bit of guff is that cannabis should be illegal because it inevitably leads people to trying harder drugs, you know, the same way that trying a nice chocolate biscuit could lead someone to trying a slightly nicer double chocolate biscuit.
Or a drive-by.
So, firstly, while it is important to clarify that there is nothing in the physical or chemical make-up of any form of cannabis that creates the psychological effect of desiring other drugs, that is not to say that there isn’t any valid point hidden in this propaganda. There definitely is. The problem with this myth, however, is that it confuses correlation with causation. Put simply, just because someone does X then Y, does not therefore mean that X causes Y. Weed is often, for simple and logical reasons, the easiest drug to get hold of. It doesn’t have to begin its journey in the rainforests of Columbia, or leave Afghanistan up an arse, or be synthesised from toxic chemicals by some amateur chemist called Darren who owns a bathtub, a modem and a stick. It can be grown in a warehouse or a shed, or in your loft, or your kitchen, or in your pocket, or on a slow-moving tortoise. If you’re the kind of person who is inclined to take illegal, conscience-altering substances, it stands to reason that cannabis is likely the first one you would try... because it’s cheap, it's safe, it’s easy, and it’s there. To say that everything you do after weed is therefore caused by it, though, makes about as much sense as rubbing shit on your nipples and jumping off a bridge with a spoon for a parachute.
Hell, if you’re going to be that silly, you might as well say that people having children is a gateway to people dying, so maybe we just should ban being born then eventually nobody would die any more. But you wouldn’t say that, would you? People who say that kind of thing don’t get invited back to the house. No, they get given names like Bonkers John, end up on registers, and eventually make friends with the spiders in their garden.
However, this is where it really gets fucked up. If you’re one of the people who support the criminalization of cannabis because you believe that it is a ‘gateway drug,’ then you are a huge part of the problem that you’re invoking. As we’ve seen, the lies, intentional misinformation and propaganda surrounding weed are as crazy and widespread as they are easy to disprove. Well, here’s the thing; If you keep lying to kids, however unintentionally, the smarter ones that can’t be scared into doing what they’re told “just because” are going to very quickly realise that you’re wrong. They will figure out that you are ill-informed, or ignorant, or stupid.
They’ll grow up, and after any minor initial hesitance that you’ve scared into them, they will bow to peer pressure, or listen to their friends, or simply be overcome by curiosity listening to their musical heroes, and they’ll try cannabis.
They won’t become violent or stupid. They won’t get addicted. They won’t hurt anyone. And they might enjoy it.
Then maybe they’ll wonder what else you were wrong about.
There’s your ‘gateway.’
The War on Drugs is, and has always been, a catastrophic failure. In its seventy plus years, it hasn't succeeded at all in keeping drugs out of society; hell, it hasn't even succeeded in keeping them out of schools or prisons where every criminal and small idiot is smacked off their tits, presumably. In the meantime, states have wasted billions of dollars all over the world and imprisoned extraordinary numbers of non-violent citizens, all the while creating and nurturing the enormous criminal black market for illegal drugs -- an untaxed ‘industry’ with a global revenue estimated to be just behind arms and oil. The kind of money that people are given no choice but to inject into this sleazy network of veins beneath society makes criminals’ rich, gang warfare inevitable, and murder a competitive necessity It means teenagers can buy drugs younger, cheaper and easier than they can buy booze, and there's nothing stopping dealers from selling them anything. Worst of all, these guys are winning, because for all the decades that the drug war has been extended and expanded with easy tax money, it has not reduced the amount of drug users, or even prevented that number from growing to the highest it’s ever been. And therein lays the problem:
You can't fight a 'war against drugs.' You can only fight a war against people.
So as drug cartels in places like Mexico and Columbia become powerful enough to destabilise entire countries, and tax-guzzling policing agencies like the DEA grow in futile response to the size of increasingly unchecked and poorly restrained armies, we are all in the crossfire of a war where we created both sides. While the weapons industry swells happily to arm everyone involved, we're all victims regardless of how we ever felt about drugs in the first place because even if the ‘war’ is not against us personally, we’re still paying for it with real money and the safety of society.
It’s got to change.
The only way it is going to change, however, is if we change and, like any revolution against the established ways of old and evil, it requires truth, integrity and a dash of courage.
You change things by sticking up for what you believe. You change things by telling the truth, whether you think you're directly affected by these crazy laws or not. You change things by talking to people and not letting them bully you into outdated and unfounded opinions. If you smoke weed (or take any drug, for that matter), it’s because you don’t think it is the bad thing you've always been told. And you’re right, probably. Yet every time you hide it, or lie about it, or deny it, to any one, for any reason, at any time, you’re enforcing the false, bullshit narratives of whomever you’re pandering to. If you’re not ashamed to do it, then you shouldn't be ashamed to admit it. You’re preventing change, protecting ignorance, and showing a cowardly lack of consistancy between your actions and your beliefs. As much fun as you might be having in there, it's time to come out of the cannabis closet.
It’s time to change.