Boko has a valid point about medical marijuana but …

19 Nov 2017

“We will explore and actively undertake as necessary and advisable the production of medical marijuana as well as industrial hemp to harness the unique potential offered by these enterprises,” said the Leader of the Opposition, Duma Boko, in his response to President Ian Khama’s state-of-the-nation address. “We will enact appropriate legislation to enable and facilitate these unique areas of economic activity.”

The future Boko was outlining is one that is current reality in progressive jurisdictions in the developed world. On account of its health benefits, medical marijuana is the rage in the United States where more and more states are passing marijuana legalisation laws. Earlier having been stigmatized as a gateway drug, marijuana is not really a drug in the way that alcohol, cocaine, heroin and nyaope are. Four years ago, CNN did a special documentary titled “Weed” that demonstrated the amazing medical benefits of this herb.

“Not only does it seem to work, it seems to work better than what’s out there,” said the programme presenter, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, whom President Barack Obama considered for the position of US Surgeon General at one point. “Every 19 minutes someone dies of accidental prescription overdose and with marijuana, I couldn’t find any documented cases of death from overdose.”

The science says that at least two active chemicals in marijuana that have medicinal applications. Those are cannabidiol (CBD) — which impacts the brain without a high — and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving (and other) properties.

Over the years, a wide body of scientific research has conclusively established that marijuana does the following wonders: it can be used to treat Glaucoma; may help reverse the carcinogenic effects of tobacco and improve lung health; can help control epileptic seizures; decreases the symptoms of a severe seizure disorder known as Dravet's Syndrome; a chemical found in marijuana stops cancer from spreading; may decrease anxiety; THC slows the progression of Alzheimer's disease; eases the pain of multiple sclerosis and treats other types of muscle spasms like diaphragm spasms and myoclonus diaphragmatic flutter; lessens side effects from treating hepatitis C and increases treatment effectiveness; treats inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis; relieves arthritis discomfort; keeps the body skinny and helps its metabolism; improves the symptoms of Lupus; spurs creativity in the brain; soothes tremours for people with Parkinson's disease; can be used for treatment of people with post-traumatic stress disorder; protects the brain after a stroke; might protect the brain from concussions and trauma; can help eliminate nightmares; reduces some of the severe pain and nausea from chemotherapy and stimulates appetite; and can help people trying to cut back on drinking. Ongoing research at the University of Florida indicates that marijuana may be useful in treating HIV by helping to block the virus’ entry into cells, thus reducing chronic inflammation and preventing neurocognitive disorders that can occur as a result of HIV infection. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, HIV positive gay men in the US found marijuana to help combat the symptoms of this disease.

An additional, non-medicinal benefit has been recorded. A recent study by three US universities that has been published in the academic journal Real Estate Economics, concluded that homes within 0.16 kilometres of marijuana dispensaries in Denver, Colorado saw increased home valuations by up to 8.4 percent. Cheng Cheng, one of the authors of the study, said that marijuana legalization affects both the demand and the supply in the residential housing market.

“Areas where it’s legal are going to attract more home buyers, including marijuana users as well as entrepreneurs and job seekers,” Cheng is quoted as saying.

On the other hand, any attempt to generate a list that long with alcohol or other drugs would necessarily have to be headlined “Harmful Effects.” Strangely, marijuana, which is far less dangerous than alcohol for both individual users and people around them, is illegal while alcohol is not. How did that happen? Simple: racism and cut-throat commerce.

In the US, part of the criminalisation was inspired by racism that President Richard Nixon expressed with, “You know it’s a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalising marijuana is Jewish.” He was adding to a lineage of racist rage against marijuana that stretched back to the early 1900s.

Following the Mexican Revolution, there was an influx of immigration from Mexico into states like Texas and Louisiana. These immigrants used, both as medicine and relaxant, a herbal drug they called “marihuana.” White people came to frown upon this drug as an extension of their demonisation of brown people from Mexico. During public hearings that followed three decades later, it was alleged that marihuana caused Mexican men to solicit sex from white women. Then would follow the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively banned the drug’s use and sale. Under Nixon, it would be replaced by the Controlled Substances Act which ranked substances according to their dangerousness and potential for addiction. Alongside heroin, marijuana was placed in the most restrictive category while alcohol was exempted. The term “controlled substance” means a drug and does not include distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco. 

A commercial reason has been advanced to explain this oddity: the Mexican-cultivated drug was hurting the white-controlled alcohol industry and the decision of what industry had to survive was made on basis of which race should benefit. In a world order designed around whiteness, marijuana (which is actually medicine) had to go. Nothing has changed in 2017.

With states legalizing marijuana, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies are bankrolling the fight against legalized used of the drug. The Beer Distributors PAC, a group that represents 16 beer-distribution companies in Massachusetts, has given an equivalent of P250 000 to an anti-marijuana organisation called the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts. In Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, the Boston Beer Company notified investors that laws that allow the sale and distribution of marijuana could adversely impact the demand for beer. The Brown-Forman Company, maker of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Finlandia Vodka, similarly warned in its filing that “consumer preferences and purchases may shift due to a host of factors, many of which are difficult to predict, including … the potential legalization of marijuana use on a more widespread basis within the United States, and changes in travel, leisure, dining, gifting, entertaining, and beverage consumption trends.”

If a future Umbrella for Democratic Change government - under Boko or whoever, plans to legalise medical marijuana, it should expect very aggressive lobbying from Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer and one of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies in the world. With assets totaling US$258.38 billion, the company has substantial shareholding in Botswana’s Kgalagadi Breweries Limited. All in all, Botswana’s liquor industry will view marijuana legalisation the same way it views the Liquor Act which has badly affected sales over the past 10 years.

Another very serious pushback will come from the pharmaceuticals industry which makes an awful lot of money from Botswana. In the US, pharmaceutical companies are the major donors to the anti-marijuana legalization campaign. Insys Therapeutics Inc., a drug company which currently markets a fast-acting version of the deadly painkiller fentanyl, has donated P5 000 000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, an anti-marijuana organisation. The company is currently developing a product called the Dronabinol Oral Solution, a drug that uses a synthetic version of THC to alleviate chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting. It has filed a disclosure statement with the SEC stating plainly that legal marijuana is a direct threat to its product line: “If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.”