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The Illegal Goldmine Essay, Research Paper

The Illegal Goldmine

Hemp, also known as Cannabis sativa, marijuana, grass, and by many other names, has not been a legal commercial crop in the United States for almost sixty years. As common two centuries ago as cotton is today, hemp is not seen on the market. As many groups fight for hemp to become legalized as a drug, many people are battling for the plant to become legalized for its industrial and medical uses. From Disney Indiana Jones hats to fuel for our automobile to cures for many medical ailments, hemp is a hardworking, environmentally sound renewable resource. People have become so wrapped up in the “drug” aspect of marijuana that many are forgetting its uses as an industrial material.

Hemp is an ancient drug, first mentioned in a Chinese manuscript in 2700 BC. Its uses included treating gout, malaria, gas pains, and absent-mindedness. Hemp was an integral part of early Indo-European religious ceremonies for thousands of years. Records from Assyria in 650 BC referred to it as a drug called azulla that was used for making rope and cloth, and which was also used for experiencing euphoria. Hempen sails brought the Spanish, Dutch, and British conquerors to the new world (Charpentier 18). In North America, hemp was planted near Jamestown in 1611 for use in making rope. In order to keep a constant supply of hemp available, a law was passed in Massachusetts in 1639, requiring every household to plant hemp seed. In Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, hemp was even used as a monetary unit. Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, released by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, was written on paper made from hemp (Whole Earth Review 46). And the 49ers washed gold from California creeks in Levi’s made from hemp. In 1937, the United States government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which prohibited the use of marijuana as an intoxicant and regulated its use as a medicine.

Although there are hundreds of ingredients in marijuana, the main ingredient is a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC affects the brain and the circulatory system, especially the heart. This makes the heart beat faster and causes small blood vessels to expand. This is the most visible in the eyes, where tiny capillaries swell and fill with blood, giving the eyes a bloodshot look (Ravage 6).

Marijuana had its day of glory in the 1960s. Casual use was widespread, mainly among college students, who saw it as a way to protest against the political and social “establishment.” The use of marijuana declined in the decades following the ’60s, but there is evidence that it is making a huge comeback-and with a dangerous difference. Its use among teenagers is increasing.

A 1993 survey about marijuana found that more than twelve percent of the eighth graders surveyed had tried marijuana at some time in their lives, and nearly five percent had used it in the previous thirty days. Among tenth graders, 24 percent tried it at least once and more than 10 percent in the previous thirty days. Among seniors, more than 35 percent had tried it and nearly sixteen percent had used it in the past thirty days (Ravage 6).

With these numbers increasing, the federal government is trying to stop at nothing to prevent people from using marijuana. But, unlike times before, there is a new threat that needs to be dealt with. For the past forty decades, the argument has mainly been whether or not to legalize hemp as a drug, but now leaders are beginning to see hemp for its use as a strong industrial product.

For thousands of years, hemp’s fibers have been used to make many different kinds of fabric including clothing and rope. Lately even big companies like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Disney have been testing the waters and offering some hempen products to the market. Not only can hemp fibers be used to make fabric, a 1938 Popular Mechanics article states that hemp can be used to manufacture over 25,000 products-ranging from cellophane to dynamite-and a 1916 U.S. Department of Agriculture bulletin calculated that over twenty years, one acre of hemp would yield as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees. There have been no more-recent studies to either confirm or discredit these reports (Barry 22).

Contrary to the belief of many people, the supply of wood for papermaking is not inexhaustible. As early as 1916, the federal government understood that the trees were running out; Bulletin 404 recommended the cultivation of hemp as an alternative source of fiber for papermaking. The USDA figured out that the supply of trees could barely last a century. We can see the logging industry fading away because all the easily-obtained trees have been taken, and there aren’t that many left to harvest (Whole Earth Review 46). Even now in the Pacific Northwest, economies are suffering due to the decreasing amount of trees available. Their state governments are asking, “Could common hemp-more famed for its smokability than its fiber in recent decades-help us out of our economic doldrums?” (Wood Technology 8)

Kentucky Officials are facing a similar problem. Tobacco is the state’s leading cash crop, with yearly revenues in excess of $700 million. In 1994, farmers reaped 14% less tobacco than in 1984. And according to recent investigations, the future for the tobacco market is dim. Higher taxes on cigarettes, declining numbers of smokers, corporate flight, and the possible collapse of special government price protection spell imminent disaster for small tobacco harvesters. One man has staked his political career on the ability of the hemp plan to rejuvenate Kentucky’s tobacco. Gatewood Galbraith has for years been a supporter for the legitimacy of the hemp plant. Campaigning in his Hempmobile, a 1980 Mercedes Benz fueled by hemp seed oil, Galbraith has caused a great stir with Kentucky political leaders and has convinced them to consider a task force to study the viability of hemp as a cash crop. Galbraith believes that if Kentucky is the first state to legalize hemp, it could establish a near-monopoly and give the economy a much needed boost (Charpentier 18). Even as recent as this past week, a former employee of a major tobacco company, Phillip Morris, has made accusations that nicotine, which is the addictive drug found in cigarettes, was placed in cigarettes purposely to addict smokers to their products so they would keep coming back for more. This is seriously going to impact many tobacco companies and hard times are in the future.

Marijuana has also been found to be valuable in its medicinal uses. Beginning in the 1980s, renewed interest in the therapeutic qualities of marijuana prompted many medical researchers to study the possible effects of its use as an antibiotic. The only authorized medical use of marijuana by the Food and Drug Administration arises in the case of chemotherapy. The THC seems to help patients who experience extreme nausea and vomiting that occur with chemotherapy. Although it s far from being a final cure, marijuana helps relieve pressure caused by the eye disease, glaucoma. Research also indicates that short-term smoking of marijuana has improved breathing in asthma patients. Muscle spasms are relieved when patients with muscle disorders take marijuana. In England, it has been used as an anti-depressant, and in South Africa, women smoke marijuana to ease the pain of childbirth.

Not only are people beginning to see hemp for its industrial and medical use, they are seeing it as a way to possibly help reduce their taxes. A study was done in 1992 concerning the potential tax revenues resulting from the speculated legalization of marijuana. Michael R. Caputo, associate professor of agriculture at the University of California, calculates that in 1991, at the Drug Enforcement Agency’s estimated figures of $120.94 per ounce, the total retail value of the marijuana would have been between $5.09 and $9.09 billion, had the marijuana trade been legalized and federally taxed.

Since the beginning of the 60s and the “hippie” movement, federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, have made presses against hemp use. Their primary concern being that marijuana causes harmful effects to people who smoke it. It is now in the minds of American citizens that marijuana is a bad thing, something that shouldn’t be a part of our society. The ones who smoke it are somewhat cast out of society, and due to this, the percentage of people who used it decreased over the last few decades. Now, due to the alternative movement and a sense of needing to rebel, many teenagers have again taken up the habit of smoking marijuana. Thinking that this is an unacceptable situation, millions of dollars are being spent to rid our country of marijuana. Officials feel that the “high” that marijuana gives people can be dangerous, especially to our teenagers.

But now, with our country’s economy and natural resources suffering, many pro-hemp companies can turn to the government and demand an explanation. Alcohol is legal and has no significant industrial value at all and has been proven to cause an equal amount or more damage than marijuana, so why isn’t hemp legalized?

There is no disputing that marijuana can be a harmful substance if misused. It can cause damaging short and long-term problems including effects on the reproductive health of men and women. Use of marijuana during pregnancy is known to be very harmful to a baby. On the other hand, there is no disputing that hemp isn’t a valuable industrial resource. With hemp being so versatile in its uses, its hard to say that we can’t “milk it for what it’s worth.”

I feel simply that marijuana should be legalized for use as a medical and industrial used product. It offers too many advantages for the health of our people and economy to turn away. The unfortunate thing is that there has been an argument since the middle of this century about legalizing it as a drug. Many contend that if alcohol is legal, then why shouldn’t marijuana be. The legalization of alcohol has been dealt with over time and it has been accepted, but that doesn’t mean that it is right. If there is already one bad thing out there, why should there be two? There is no logical reason for us to purposely endanger the health of our citizens any more that it already is. The alcohol versus marijuana debate will live forever, but it has come a time for people to see past it. It is not longer just a debate of a drug; there are significant advantages of legalizing marijuana for forces of good. It is past time to stop these petty discussions about getting high and understand the value of hemp as it is. Marijuana should be legalized, but not for smoking or any other way to experience euphoria. We have to use it for its industrial purposes. We need to use it to replenish our forests, help spark dying economies in many states, and at least to help comfort our ailing citizens.

The marijuana legalization issue has brought out the true colors of our society. Some are so blind to things and so set in their ways that they cannot see and accept that change is necessary. The marijuana drug issue is a big problem that needs to be stamped out, but the laws aren’t managing to do it. 1.3 million teenagers smoked marijuana last year (USA TODAY Health). “Anyone who thinks we’ve licked the drug problem in this country is living in a fantasy land,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, whose department conducted the survey. It has been the case thus far that no matter what the laws state, people are still going to smoke marijuana. They aren’t afraid to take the risk. The government may not approve of this, but it is going to happen. Legalize hemp to be used for its practical purposes.

For many years, there has been debate on whether or not to legalize marijuana. Hemp has been used in many ways; from using it to get high, to making paper for money. Throughout its history the plant has been very useful. It has proven to be a valuable asset to our economy and is something that cannot simply be brushed away. Although there are many people that abuse it, they are far many more people that can benefit from its legalization.

Works Cited

“Tree Free Paper.” Whole Earth Review Fall 1993: 46

Charpentier, Sean. “Kentucky’s Tobacco vs. Hemp.” Dollars and Sense May-June 1991: 18

“Can hemp help Northwest solve its timber problem?” Wood Technology May-June 1993 : 8

Ravage, Barbara. “Hemp or Health?” Current Health 2 Oct 1994 : 6

Mason, Alan. “Hemp for Victory.” Whole Earth Review Fall 1993 : 48

Barry, John Byrne. “Is grass really greener?” Sierra Nov-Dec 1995 : 22

“Marijuana use among teens nearly doubles in two years.” USA Today Nov 10, 1995 : Money


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