April 24, 2014

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Higher Ground

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Holy Smokes?

Apparently God, who — from a believer’s standpoint — is the creator of all things, including marijuana, doesn’t care if you use it. At least that’s the opinion of the Rev. John Jackson of Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, Ind., and probably quite a few of his peers.

Jackson attended a recent conference called “View from the Pulpit: Faith Leaders and Drug Decriminalization” at the American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn. The group of black pastors focused on the injustice of drug law enforcement because African-Americans make up only 13 percent of drug users, but make up 59 percent of those convicted for drug offenses.

Jackson took it even further. Speaking on camera at the conference, he said: “I have had several people share with me privately, ‘Reverend, I smoke weed and I know I shouldn’t.’ I say, ‘Let me stop you right there. I don’t believe the God we serve is that small or petty to be concerned about you smoking weed. I don’t think God cares about that.’ I let them know that our God is too big to be concerned about somebody smoking a joint.”

This is a rather refreshing attitude, considering that in years past most folks in religious communities condemned any kind of drug use. But it does make sense that those who represent the deity should not consider marijuana, one of the naturally occurring substances of creation, a bad thing. Their opinions have been coming around, as of late. Last year, evangelist Pat Robertson came out against marijuana prohibition.

There is indeed a stream of thought among cannabis enthusiasts who claim biblical precedents for use of the plant. The Rev. Steven Thompson, president of NORML in Michigan’s Benzie County, often cites “kaneh bosm,” the biblical tree of life for its healing properties. Kaneh bosm, or kannabosm, appears in the Old Testament book of Exodus as an ingredient in a preparation for anointing sacred individuals and objects. In Exodus, God tells Moses to make a preparation with kannabosm, cinnamon, myrrh, cassia (a tree bark similar to cinnamon) and olive oil. The recipe calls for a little more than 6 pounds each of kannabosm and cinnamon, along with about 12 pounds each of myrrh and cassia. Moses was instructed to anoint the meeting tent, various altars and utensils, and priests with the preparation.

It’s not difficult to find citations from other religious traditions for cannabis use. The ancient Chinese, Sythians, Hindus and Germanic peoples used it in religious ceremonies and as a medicine. Modern Rastafarians follow that tradition.

I don’t claim there is anything sacred about marijuana and its use. However, it’s interesting that it apparently had its sacred applications in many traditional cultures. And given what we are beginning to understand about medical uses for the plant, it makes sense that there was a very practical side to anointing the sick in ancient times. That doesn’t say much in terms of today’s ministers’ attitudes about marijuana. But if those folks want to get into it, there is a lot of tradition that can inform their evidence for a more compassionate approach.

Whether the reasons are spiritual, medicinal or just practical, it’s good to see people of the cloth, and the Book, speaking up for what is right.

Answers on Youth Use

The fear of young people getting their hands on marijuana is one of the last refuges of prohibitionists. They argue that medical marijuana gives teenagers the impression it is not big a deal — and that gives them carte blanche to then use it. Wrong! Yet another study counters that belief.

“Medical marijuana laws have not measurably impacted adolescent marijuana use,” researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine concluded in a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers looked at data from Montana, Rhode Island, Michigan and Delaware, all medical marijuana states, from 2003 to 2011. This agrees with conclusions made in recent years from the Institute for Labor Studies, and Brown and McGill Universities. One reason for these results, say some observers, is that marijuana is already so prevalent that anybody who wants some can get it regardless of what the law is. Therefore, changing the law has little impact on exposure. I’m not advocating that young people use marijuana, but those who want it can get it already. Let’s not throw them in jail for that. It’s much better to truthfully educate people rather than telling them lies. That way they might find some integrity in what you have to say.

Human Rights Issue

Human Rights Watch, an international research organization, took a position rejecting criminalization of drug use at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, earlier this month. Instead, HRW advocates that governments should rely on non-penal regulatory and public health policies. “The ‘drug war’ has taken a huge toll in the Americas, from the carnage of brutal drug-trafficking organizations to the egregious abuses by security forces fighting them,” says Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for HRW. “Governments should find new policies to address the harm drug use causes while curbing the violence and abuse that have plagued the current approach.”

Hemp on the Ropes

Last week’s defeat of the Farm Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives was big news. I think it was a good thing, as the bill cut more than $20 billion in nutritional programs. Less commonly known though, was a provision that would have legalized hemp for industrial purposes. Hemp is the nonpsychoactive cousin to marijuana that is used in making textiles and other products from food to fuels. The Drug Enforcement Agency lobbied heavily against the hemp provision, partly by circulating talking points that propagated some tired, old arguments against the fibrous plants.

One of the biggest arguments against hemp has been that law enforcement is too stupid to tell the difference between a hemp plant and a marijuana plant — and apparently it’s too onerous to

analyze it, scientifically. That nonsense is continued in the talking points. Also, since there are very small amounts of THC in hemp, it is possible to turn “low-grade marijuana into high-grade hashish oil.” That may be possible if you got a few pounds of hemp lying around, but why would you bother when, in most cases, you don’t have to work that hard to find the good stuff. It’s just not worth the bother.

Brains on Pot

Contrary to a formerly popular anti-drug ad, the brains of marijuana users do not look like fried eggs. Authors reporting a study in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Biological) suggest that activating the brain’s cannabinoid system, which marijuana does, may prevent or reverse brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease through a sort of antioxidant cleanse that removes damaged cells.  Could it be that everything we thought we knew about marijuana is wrong?

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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