Plant Apartheid — A Conflict of Interests

In colonial Africa, the powers at be outlawed cultivation of the cannabis plant. Today, every former colonial power produces cannabis. The UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, & Italy are all among the forty or so countries that permit its growth. While the reintroduction of this versatile crop is only decades old in regions like the UK, its production was never outlawed in other areas such as France. Aside from a small scale research effort in South Africa, cannabis cultivation across the African continent is illegal.

Cannabis is a very adaptable species of plant, in the same way that humans are a very adaptable species of animal. When considering the growth of cannabis in Europe one might say “Europe grows cannabis for industrial purposes it does not grow marijuana as a drug.” However, what most people don’t realize is that drug type and industrial type cannabis are from the same species of plant. Species of plants and animals can vary in numerous ways without the necessity to be categorized differently. Just as the indigenous African and indigenous European have differing skin colors, hair textures, cannabis grown in these and other areas vary as well.

Consider this quote by Eric Small in his writing, American law and the species problem in Cannabis: Science and semantics:

We…examined the relationships between plants of three different intoxicant potentials. “Intoxicant” plants almost always originate from fairly southern countries, especially from Africa, southern Asia, and the central countries of the New World-areas which traditionally have been associated with the use of Cannabis for “narcotic” purposes (Small, Beckstead and Chan 1975). In such plants the bulk of the resin is composed of the intoxicating cannabinoid, Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). We found that these types of plant required a long growing season before they would mature into males and females, reflecting their origin from southern climates with long growing seasons. Very curiously (in view of the well-known practice of roguing male plants out of plantations), male and female plants both contained large amounts of resin. “Intoxicant” plants contrast with “non-intoxicant” and “semi-intoxicant” plants. The latter two closely-related categories of plant both usually originated from comparatively northern countries. Such plants tended to reach maturity relatively quickly. Oddly, in these groups female plants usually have much higher resin content than male plants. Both non-intoxicant plants and semi-intoxicant plants have limited THC content, but semi-intoxicant plants have sufficient THC in the females (but not in the males) to be utilizable for intoxicant preparations (Small and Beckstead 1973a, 1973b).

What does this mean? Well, it shows that characteristics of cannabis—both its physical and chemical makeup—is dependent largely on geographical and environmental factors. “Semi/non-intoxicant” varieties, are found in northern temperate climates that exist in Europe and North America. For the rest of us, due to the geography of our countries and climate associated therein, intoxicant varieties of cannabis are the norm.

In Europe and America, “industrial hemp” is touted as a separate entity from what is commonly referred to as “its non-intoxicating cousin — marijuana.” However, the two varieties of cannabis are different solely because of their growing environment. In American law, Small quotes botanist L.H. Dewey. He states, “Until I got some seed from India and grew them I had supposed that was a different species. I grew them in comparison with the Kentucky hemp with which you are all familiar, but in a year or two they were just alike. There was no specific difference; so it is with the other forms that have been described as different species. So there is only one species known as ‘hemp'” Dewey had proven to himself in 1914 that cannabis adapts rather quickly to the area in which it is grown. In only a couple generations the plant had changed in nature to match those of his well-known Kentucky variety. The THC found in Indian varieties, which had developed to protect the plant’s growth from the specific environmental conditions of India, was not needed to such a degree when the same plant had been grown in Kentucky.

The rhetoric of “industrial hemp” and placing this imagined subcategory of the cannabis plant in opposition to “marijuana” is essentially legislating not what plant can be grown but the geographical region in which can grow. It is affording special rights to a species of plant when grown within the confines of North America and Europe and not to that same species when grown elsewhere. Even without the scores of documentation that is readily available today proving the benefits of THC, it doesn’t make sense that this environmentally induced compound stipulate which variety of cannabis is legitimate. With the tens of thousands of uses for the cannabis plant, should “industrial hemp” be deemed legitimate when international law—by way of marking a threshold for THC content—stipulates that it can only be grown in the north? Or should this semantic blockade be done away with and cannabis has a whole be recognized as an important plant to humanity regardless of grow area and composition? Now with the United States, the main belligerent in the War on Drugs participating in growing industrial and drug varieties of cannabis how long will it be until the rest of the world follows suit?

Click here to read American law and the species problem in Cannabis: Science and semantics.

Hemp in History: The Bashilenge

Cannabis has been a major part of African History especially in East, South and Central Africa. Although West Africa was not exposed to the plant until after the second World War, since then it has been used to served both economic and social functions.

“The Bashilenge tribe [loc. modern day DRC] was transformed…by Chief Kalamba-Moukenge’s introduction of cannabis.

The tribe with another, one villag with another, always lived at daggers drawn. … Then about 25 years ago [c. 1850], … hemp-smoking worship began to be established, and the narcotic [sic.] effect of smoking masses of hemp made itself felt. The Ben-Riamba, Sons of Hemp, found more and more followers: they began to have intercourse with each other as they became less barbourous and made laws.” HEMP: Lifeline to the Future

Riamba became a metaphor for “peace, camaraderie, magic and protection.”

The Inexorable Link Part 2

Much like humans, overtime plants have adopted characteristics to ensure their survival in their environment. The most visible characteristic in humans is the variation in skin pigmentation. Pigmentation on land organisms prevent said organisms from being ruined by the sun’s harmful UV radiation. Logically, humans who are indigenous to areas with more exposure to UV-radiation, have darker skin—or more melanin—than those who are indigenous to areas with less.

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Cannabis in particular, has a unique way in absorbing UV radiation. Various cannabinoids emerge as a response to the plant’s environment. Since THC protects the plant from these harmful rays, in areas on Earth that are exposed to regular, harsh sunlight, more THC manifests itself in the plant regardless of the composition of cannabinoids in its parent seed.  Below is an excerpt from Advances in Hemp Research, by Paoli Ranalli:

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The climate zones found in Africa are not suited to grow “industrial hemp” as defined by European standards. In a few generations—if not the first generation of plants sown—the <.3% barrier of THC will be surpassed in locally grown crops. It is important to note that this does not magically render the resulting cannabis crop devoid of all industrial uses. Since the flowers—and to a lesser extent the leaves—are the only parts of the plant useful for psychoactive consumption (and furthermore due to the fact that when harvested, THC begins to steadily degrade from cannabis), cannabis grown therein will have industrial value regardless of THC content when in the ground. For cannabis to be grown industrially in Africa it is important to understand this. This <.3%THC threshold is an arbitrary number when it comes to industrial value of cannabis. It’s essentially the brown paper bag test for plants!

Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy Theory

what a great and thorough piece. bravo.

Moderate Observer

You could make a stronger case for Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin of John F. Kennedy; Oswald at least left a not-quite-smoking gun at the scene.

Pot activist Jack Herer’s book The Emperor Wears No Clothes is the prime source for the hemp-conspiracy theory. It alleges that in the mid-1930s, “when the new mechanical hemp fiber stripping machines to conserve hemp’s high-cellulose pulp finally became state of the art, available and affordable,” Hearst, with enormous holdings in timber acreage and investments in paper manufacturing, “stood to lose billions of dollars and perhaps go bankrupt.” Meanwhile, DuPont in 1937 had just patented nylon and “a new sulfate/sulfite process for making paper from wood pulp” — so “if hemp had not been made illegal, 80 percent of DuPont’s business would never have materialized.”

Herer, a somewhat cantankerous former marijuana-pipe salesman, deserves a lot of credit for his cannabis activism. He…

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The Inexorable Link Part 1

In our post “Why Not ‘Hemp’” we discussed briefly why we believe that when referring to cannabis—be it industrial, medicinal or recreational—we should use the word “cannabis” and not “hemp,” “weed,” “dagga,” etc. Over the next few posts we will elaborate on the four points made therein regarding why we use this practice.

1. Industrial and Medicinal/Recreational Cannabis are inexorably linked to one another.

Many people who are interested in cannabis law reformation have some knowledge of how this plant became illegal to cultivate. They will tell you that American whites who had substantial investments in paper, cotton and oil industries demonized cannabis by attaching the foreign sounding name, “marijuana” to the plant and claiming that it made Negroes and Mexicans—and I’m paraphrasing here—bat shit insane. This is true, but only partially.

If you were to ask the majority of people who might recite this or some similar tale in their effort to get you to “wake up” from your apparent slumber in regards to the racist—and there morally unfounded—nature of “pot criminalization” what was the first country to in fact criminalize pot, they most probably would say America. That is false. The first country to make cannabis illegal was South Africa in 1870. So it was racist whites who were afraid of losing their investments that were pushing this legislation. But it was not their investments in the paper, cotton or oil industry they were trying to protect, but rather those in the area of mining. And it was not Negroes and Mexicans white south Africans were demonizing, but Negroes and Indians.

Up until this point in time, Europeans had little to no idea that cannabis could be used as an intoxicant. Why? Because cannabis grown above 40°N (approximately the latitude of Athens Greece) does not produce THC. THC is produced only on those more southern plants as a protectant form the UV-B rays that would otherwise be damaging to their development (having a similar function as the melanin found in our skin). So Europeans traveling around the southern hemisphere—colonizing Africa and settling in it’s more temperate, Euro-friendly parts—were shocked to see that the plant that they had long prized as wonder crop (granting them with the sails and rope with which to travel to these more “exotic” places) could also be used for very different purposes—sacramental acts, spiritual enlightenment; or in European terms, “evil.”

Take a look at these quotes from  HISTORICAL STUDY OF CANNABIS

  • “In Egypt, when the Viceroy Mehemet Ali [reign 17 May 1805 – 2 March 1848] wished to create a navy, he got Cannabis seeds from Europe in order to obtain suitable fibre for cordage. New seed had to be brought periodically, because the hemp-plants obtained soon became incapable of producing good textile fibres. On the other hand, they began to secrete abundant quantities of the inebriating resin.”
  • “In any case, all varieties of Cannabis have textile fibres of varying industrial value, and all produce physiologically active resin in varying quantities.”

What do the above quotes tell us? First, “hemp”—the common term for low-THC industrial cannabis which is grown in those 40 or so developed nations in the global north—will not grow sustainably south of that 40°N region. South of 40°N the inebriating resin (or THC) is produced in cannabis to varying degrees depending on UV-B exposure. This disallows cannabis south of that latitude to be classified as what is commonly known to be “hemp.” This phenomenon in the phenotypic nature of cannabis has been known—to some extent—for centuries. However, as the second quote shows, cannabis grown in the global south does have industrial value. When harvested, THC levels in cannabis drop with sun exposure due to the plats inablity to regenerate THC after being uprooted. THC levels in industrial products are virtually undetectable.

Although cannabis may not be able to be grown for textiles in these southern areas, construction material (e.g. hempcrete) can be produced from the hurds, the whole plant can be used as biomass and the nutrition provided by the plant’s seeds will be substantial and not have any intoxicating effects. It is quite possible that cannabis grown south of 40°N can produce finer plastics than that grown in the north. However, since there is country south of this region where legal cannabis production occurs we are unable to test this claim.

As shown, South Africans had their part in the global criminalization of cannabis. Their inability at the time to to understand the inexorable link between their prized “hemp” plant and the African’s and Indian’s dagga and bhang respectively, led them to push for said legislation. Now, as more and more countries are re-legalizing cannabis, for industrial medicinal and—in the case of Uruguay—recreational use—it is important to understand the phenotypic differences of the plant based on region if we expect to let each nation benefit from what it has to offer on all three fronts.

For these and other reasons—upon which we will continue to elaborate—we choose to say “cannabis” in referring to “cannabis.” We will specify between industrial cannabis (i.e. that which is grown to produce material for industrial use) and medicinal and recreational, however we will not call this plant hemp.