The Need for Weed

It's a unique source of fiber, a natural painkiller, a valuable fuel source. So when Jack Herer talks about legalization, there's a method to his reefer madness.

Over near the display table, the one topped with copies of Herer's book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, the proverbial bible of the legalization movement now in its ninth printing, and reefer-leaf bumper stickers, patches, buttons, T-shirts, and a donation can, stands Elvy Musikka, watching and listening to Rosenfeld's plainly spoken plea for sanity. She's wearing a floppy sun hat, cream-colored summer dress, blue jacket A every stitch of her outfit made from the fibers of hemp plants. "Right down to her bloomers," Herer screams into the mike. "It's four times longer-lasting and softer than cotton." Musikka looks like a young, healthy grandmother, but she is nearly blind because of glaucoma. The sight in one eye has already been lost to traditional medicine, her glasses are so thick you wonder how her nose holds them up. Even if she were completely blind, Musikka could see the truth for what it is, and she travels to spread the word. She was the first woman for whom the government approved the use of marijuana as a medicine. Uncle Sam sends prerolled joints to her doctor. She is certain that marijuana has saved her from complete blindness, not to mention suffering, during the past decade.

Wayne J. Roques, coordinator of demand reduction for the Miami office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, stares at his notes, seemingly oblivious to the words blaring from the TV set on the second floor of UM's student center. A few hours after the rally at the courthouse, Jack Herer is set to debate Roques before a couple of hundred onlookers. The subject: Should the U.S. legalize hemp marijuana? Members of the school's Hemp Awareness Council have organized this event, and they've decided to introduce it by screening a short film, a fervent bit of propaganda that makes the case for hemp. The producer: our very own U.S. government.

In 1942, five years after marijuana was banned, the world was at war. With the pressure on, the government was forced to fight the hype of the mid-Thirties that led to pot's prohibition and admit that the weed was our last, best hope. The film is called Hemp for Victory, and you've probably never heard of it. No one in the U.S. government wants you to. It is probably the strongest pro-marijuana propaganda ever created.

The DEA's Roques will not attempt to explain away the movie's fervent message, brandished often by Herer and his compadres: America was built on hemp, from historic documents (including the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, written on hemp paper) to the sails of the USS Constitution, which used 60 tons of hemp. And that hemp can save America in its hour of need.

Instead Roques spends most of his allotted time talking about his brutal New Orleans childhood and the dangers of tobacco and alcohol. It's a brilliant tack. Because marijuana is usually smoked like cigarettes and because it is psychoactive like booze, then marijuana, obviously, is as bad as tobacco and alcohol. "No lungs are designed to accept smoke of any kind," says Roques, who smokes nothing and gave up all alcohol seven years ago. "We need to keep illegal drugs illegal and fight tobacco and alcohol. This is not a ploy by the government and the media."

When it's his turn to talk, Herer argues that no automobile accident has ever been documented as being caused by reefer inebriation and that not a single case of lung cancer caused by marijuana has ever been diagnosed. Regarding violent crime, Herer sees cannabis as an antidote. As for self-harm, Herer loves to note that pot has been used forever -- since prehistoric times, according to many sources -- and no one has ever died from an overdose. "Back in 1973 I was told that hemp could provide almost all the paper we need," he says. "I couldn't believe it. The government wouldn't keep that from me."

Roques is treated with polite silence, drawing snickers only once. He explains that most marijuana contains a 2.3 to 3.6 THC level, THC being the psychoactive ingredient. "But now we're seeing this 'kryptonite' or 'chronic,'" he says. "We had a seizure in Alaska with a 29.86 THC content." The audience's chuckles are purely desirous.

The reason most of today's pot is ten times stronger than a decade or two ago -- and everyone agrees that's true -- is that the Americans took over, and Americans do everything better. In the Sixties and Seventies almost all of the bud smoked in this nation came from places such as Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Jamaica, and Belize. Asian varieties, like Thai sticks, were savored rarities. Today almost all the pot consumed here is grown here, by large-scale outdoor farmers from Kentucky to California and by indoor harvesters who use hydroponic techniques. And it is often spectacularly potent, carefully hybridized and cultivated to achieve maximum buzz effect.

Herer tends to smoke the best. After a radio interview, the pot star is driven to a nearby apartment with several other user-friendly activists. He has flown in from the annual "Hash Bash" in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which took place April 1. At the apartment he tosses a glowing, primordial, High Times-centerfold bud the size of a banana on the table. Everyone's eyes bulge. Whoa! What the heck is that? "I don't know," Herer says. "Somebody gave that to me yesterday in Michigan." Speaking as if Herer isn't in the room one activist says, "You believe this guy? He just throws it in his carry-on flight bag." It's a nice bag, too, a big, soft, convenient carrying case for clothes and whatever. It is made completely of marijuana.

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