Sociological Imagination

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In this year of the millennium
, the American populace, even while in the midst of the most prolonged economic boom in the history of the Republic, is confronted with some serious problems. Any randomly chosen group of people asked to list the most dangerous of these, would include among their immediate answers: "The Drug Problem".

By the "Drug Problem", do they mean the proliferation in our communities of all illicit, mood-altering, physically dangerous drugs? Or do they really mean the accompanying problems bought on by these proscribed substances: crime and the threat of crime, violence, disease, the growing number of users on public welfare, the loss of productivity to the country's industry, the congestion of the court system, the over-crowding of our penal institutions, the diversion of our tax dollars from more productive areas, the corruption of our law enforcement agencies, and directly and indirectly the erosion of our civil rights?

Since I am confining this paper to discussing the laws prohibiting marijuana use, I will concede that it fits the first two categories above; i.e. it is by law, illicit, and by its nature, mood-altering. With the third category we enter upon shaky ground. There is no scientific proof that the prolonged use of marijuana exacts a greater physical toll on the user than the equivalent abuse of nicotine or alcohol.

Under the name Extract of Cannabis, marijuana was once widely used medicinally in the United States, and still has minor medicinal uses in other countries. There is only one species - Cannabis Sativa - which yields both a potent drug and a strong fiber long used in the manufacture of fine linen as well as canvas and rope. The seeds are valued as birdseed and the oil, which resembles linseed oil, is valuable because paints made with it dry quickly.

A Chinese treatise on pharmacology alleges to date from 2737 B.C. contains what is usually cited as the first reference to marijuana. Through out the history of man in just about every culture the mention of this substance is found used both as a fiber and a drug. The first definite mention of the marijuana plant in the New World, dates from 1545 A.D. when the Spaniards introduced it into Chile. The Jamestown settlers brought the plant to Virginia and cultivated it for its fiber. In 1762 "Virginia awarded bounties for hemp culture and imposed penalties on those who did not produce it."

George Washington was growing hemp at Mount Vernon three years later – presumably for its fiber, though it has been argued that Washington was also concerned in increasing the medicinal or intoxicating potency of his marijuana plants. The argument depends on a curious tradition, which may or may not be sound - that the quality or quantity of marijuana resin (hashish) is enhanced if the male and female are separated before the females are pollinated. There can be no doubt that Washington separated the males from the females. Two entries in his diary supply the evidence. May 12-13, 1765: "Sewed hemp at muddy hole by swamp" August 7, 1765 "- began to separate (sic) the male from the female hemp at do- rather too late". George Andrews has argued in the Book of Grass (1967): an anthology of Indian hemp that Washington's August 7 diary entry "clearly indicates that he was cultivating the plant for medicinal purposes as well as for its fiber". He might have separated the males from the females to get better fiber, Andrews concedes – but his phrase "rather too late" suggests that he wanted to complete the separation before the female plants were fertilized – and this was a practice relating to drug potency rather than to fiber culture Brecher, Edward M. and the Editors of Consumer Reports Licit and Illicit Drugs 1st ed. Mount Vernon, New York: Consumers Union, 1972

The plant has many names: marijuana, hemp, ganja... The list is almost endless. To the ancient Hebrew it was Kaneh Bosm, a name that can...
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