Maybe it’s marijuana’s cultural baggage of Deadheads, dreadlocked Rastafarians, and psychedelic paraphernalia that does it, but there’s something about cannabis that brings out the school marm in certain segments of the population. It just makes the members of the more conservative contingent feel like their neckties are too tight, like their worldview is still endangered by the cultural descendants of the hippies who hoisted a green, smoke-wreathed flag in the turmoil of the ’60s.
But that’s a cartoonish, puritanical view of a plant that’s been around for millennia. Evidence from tombs in Asia reveals cannabis’ use as a psychoactive substance at least as far back as 3,000 B.C., and conjecture places its cultivation as far back as 12,000 years. American views were mostly formed in the past century, in the wake of Mexican immigration during the Mexican Revolution. Whether the resulting fear of psychoactive marijuana was about the plant or about the ethnicity of its then-primary smokers is a matter for debate, but regardless, it became illegal in 1937.
It was a curious turn for a plant with such close ties to America — it turns out the Puritans weren’t exactly puritanical when it came to hemp. Psychoactive use or no, the strain of cannabis that was necessary to rope- and sail-making was all the rage in the Jamestown colony. Even the founding fathers had no problem with the stuff. Unfortunately, 20th-century legislation did not discriminate between industrial and psychoactive hemp.
Maybe the contemporary anti-cannabis crusaders don’t realize how much of their opposition to marijuana is just a cultural thing. Many who voice their disapproval think nothing of imbibing alcohol, which certainly offers mood-altering effects and a host of unpleasant and dangerous drunken tendencies that don’t come with marijuana use. No movement for medical alcohol exists because so far, no clear medical use for alcohol exists, unless you’re a Civil War doctor who performs amputations with a bottle of rotgut and a bullet to bite.
Even if most of your marijuana information comes from Reefer Madness, you shouldn’t oppose legalizing medical marijuana or industrial hemp. Not only is cannabis an industrial crop with a host of uses from food to fuel and clothing, the science of medical marijuana is fast emerging, and the early results have fueled its increasing availability as a medicine. It’s legit, promising stuff, and its potential uses, from treating migraines to cancer and Parkinson’s, ought to outweigh the discomfort of anti-drug crusaders who at times seem to mostly be afraid that someone, somewhere will have too good a time.
Though the pro-cannabis forces seem to be prevailing in the slow push for full legalization, the culture clash of pro- and anti-cannabis contingents and the complications of legislation and law enforcement are creating a bewildering landscape for patients, growers, sellers, and even artists to navigate. It’s clear that those complications have real, detrimental effects, even on people trying their best to do things within the law. Take medical marijuana patient Julianne Dandy, one of Amanda Drane’s subjects in “The Promise of Pot” — Dandy uses it successfully for relief from chronic pain. Still, she says, “I don’t know what’s legal or not anymore.” She’s afraid to take her marijuana along on a trip to see family, uncertain what might happen during a layover in Texas.
Jim Robinson, owner of Jim Buddy’s Vapeshop in Chicopee and also a subject in Drane’s story, faced a high-stakes gamble in his role as “caregiver,” someone who’s allowed to grow cannabis to supply patients. In 2012, new laws allowed caregivers to grow for any number of patients. In 2013, the state said caregivers could only grow for themselves and one other person. Robinson and others had to decide whether to comply, and potentially never recoup large up-front investments.
In “Underground Glass,” glassblower Chris Hubbard tells about his experiences as a medical marijuana patient and beginning pipemaker in Washington state. Law enforcement suspected that his amateur glass studio was a meth lab, and sent in a SWAT team. By the time the dust settled, Hubbard ended up with a conviction for displaying medical marijuana, and costs and fines of around $18,000.
At the Enthusiast smokeshop in Greenfield, manager Kaeli Wickline told reporter Hunter Styles (in the story “Cloud Control”) that the store’s pipes and other smoking equipment are supposed to be used with tobacco and other legal substances, including medical marijuana. “It’s still a gray area for us, to be perfectly honest. We don’t want to cross any lines.”
Northampton medical marijuana consultant Ezra Parzybok employs a metaphor to explain why this confusion exists: “Say there’s a loud frat house, and you’re going to regulate it. So you put the lady next door who always complains about the noise in charge of regulating it. The Department of Public Health has been, for years, keeping [marijuana] out of people’s hands. Now they’re in charge of regulating it.”
Bay State Repeal recently filed three versions of marijuana legalization law, hoping to get the question on the ballot in an upcoming election. What those proposed laws provide is exactly what the state (if not nation) needs: simplicity. Whether it’s your thing or not, marijuana is emerging as a worthwhile substance. We owe those who embrace it — for any use — laws that leave no gray areas.•