420 Magazine Background

The urban ecology of Cannabis

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Cannabis in silvis primum natum est

The urban ecology of cannabis is an exploration of the long inter-dependence between human culture, civilisation, cities and cannabis hemp. This paper will examine the marginalised history of cannabis hemp, and explore the inter-relationships with the physical and human ecology of cities, landscapes, regions and society. This paper will consider hemp in all its forms, but is not primarily concerned with debating the criminological, sociological or medical reasons for cannabis law reform. This has been done by many other individuals and groups, and will only be discussed briefly to provide a necessary social context. Instead this paper will document the historical context and demonstrate ecological and economic reasons to legalise cannabis and highlight new functions and roles for the demonised cannabis hemp plant in the brave new ecological city-state-world of the 21st Century. Cannabis hemp has been an adjunct to the growth and development of the human race for the last ten to twelve thousand years. It has occupied a central position in the history of civilisations, past and present. It's known to have provided fibre from 8,000 BC with medicinal uses being recorded in 4000 BC. Other sources confirm that hemp textiles have been dated from 10,000 years ago,(approximately the same time as pottery was invented and preceding metalworking). Up until the 1900¹s hemp remained the world's primary agricultural commodity. Hemp has been inextricably related to human development and well-being throughout history. Professor Hui-Lin Li, an economic botanist from the University of Pennsylvania states: textile fibres are next to cereal grains, in importance to the founding of human culture. Carl Sagan in the Dragons of Eden agrees, and speculates that the cultivation of hemp may have led to the invention of agriculture and thereby to civilisation. The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1856 supports this idea: It is not as a narcotic (sic) and excitant that the hemp plant is most useful to mankind; it is an advancer rather than a retarder of civilisation, that its utility is made most manifest. Its great value as a textile material, particularly for cordage and canvas, has made it eminently useful; and if we were to copy the figurative style of the Sanskrit writers, we might with justice call it the "accelerator of commerce" and the "spreader of wealth and intellect." For ages man has been dependant upon hempen cordage and hempen sails for enabling his ships to cross the seas; and in this respect it still occupies a most important place in our commercial affairs. (emphasis added)


Cannabis sativa is a tall, robust, dioecious annual that grows from three to fifteen feet high and is one of the oldest cultivated plants. Originally native to Central Asia, it has since spread to every inhabited continent, region and country. Herodotus, a Greek historian, circa 450 BC mentions it, talking of the hempen garments, made by the Thracians, as equal in fineness to flax. He makes further mention of the Scythians¹ use of the plant to "purge themselves after funerals". Other classical writers to mention it include Homer, Ovid, Pliny, Virgil, Livy, Martial, Gallien and many others. First classified botanically by the Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus in 1753 in Species Plantarum . The 1856 Encyclopaedia Britannica demonstrated the ubiquitous nature of cannabis. In China it is known as ma; in Sanskrit it is known as goni, sanu or shanapu; Persic, canna; Arabic, kannah or kinnub; Greek, kannabis; Latin, cannabis; Italian, canapa; French, chanvre or chanbre; Danish kamp or kennep; Lettish and Lithuanian, kannapes; Slavonic, konopi; Erse, canaib; Scandinavian, hampr; Swedish, hampa; German, hanf; Anglo-Saxon, haenep; and English hemp. Other terms for hemp include the Japanese, asa; Bulgarian, kenevir; Turkish, nasha; Syrian, kanabira; Polish, konopi and penek and Albanian, canep. Hemp is common to the "New World" as well, having been introduced early in the European colonisation of Central and South America. Jamaica (ganja, kaya) Mexico, (mota), Guatemala, Belize, Columbia and Brazil (diamba or maconha) all have long histories of production and use. It has played a significant role in the traditional cultures of at least one tribal group in Brazil, the Tenetehara, since their first contact with African slaves from Angola at least ten generations previously. Its use in Africa is widespread, in Nigeria and West Africa, Egypt, Morocco (kif), the Middle East, Malawi, the Congo and Southern Africa (dagga).


The development of the hemp industry in America can be traced from the time of the Puritans, who noted it grew "twice so high" . The industry was stimulated by legislation in Virginia in 1619 ordering farmers to grow hemp. Massachusetts followed in 1631 and Connecticut in 1632. During shortages in Virginia between 1763 and 1767 you could even be jailed for not growing it! Hemp was legal tender from 1631 till the early 1800¹s so as to encourage its cultivation; the colonists could even pay their taxes with it! By 1850 there were 8,327 hemp plantations (of a minimum size of 2,000 acres). The situation was similar in other parts of the world. In 1533, Tudor King Henry VIII imposed a stiff fine for not growing hemp with Queen Elizabeth I licensing agents by Letters Patent to form drug squads "in reverse" in 1563. , whilst Russia was the worlds¹ largest exporter and major supplier to the British Navy from 1740 to 1800. Hemp was vital to the British Empire, as it underpinned its naval power till the age of steamships. (See Figure 1, below.) Between 1851 and 1855, the UK imported about 245,000 tons of hemp in addition to domestic production. It is unsurprising therefore that the suitability of the new Australian colonies for hemp was considered early on.

In 1845, Francis Campbell, a notable academic of the day, conducted small scale experiments. From this he determined that the loamy soils of the river flats from the Hunter river to Grafton provided an ideal climate. Cultivation continued in NSW until the mid 1890¹s at least. Hemp¹s importance had diminished in England by the beginning of the 19th century: following the decline of local independence and the destruction of the village economy, which resulted from enclosures of the common lands, engrossing of farms and the rising power of manufacture and centres of capital Unable to take advantage of industrial scale processes, it left its mark on the landscape with names like Hempstead and Hempnall, reflecting village life and industry that were intimately related to hemp cultivation. This is common in American place names also. The labour intensive hemp industry suffered throughout the world in the early 1900¹s as the newly mechanised cotton industry, synthetic products and cheaper Asian imports of inferior fibres undermined it. The introduction of decorticators capable of harvesting, stripping and separating the fibre from the pulp promised to overcome this however. By 1937, the hemp industry was undergoing a resurgence following mechanisation, with acreage planted to hemp, having doubled every year since 1930. That year, against the wishes and advice of the American Medical Association and others, it was effectively banned in America, with the introduction of the prohibitive $100/oz Marijuana Transfer Tax Act (HR 6906).


Cannabis hemp was never prohibited because of any real "drug problem" in the U.S. When banned in Australia its use recreationally was almost unheard of. The prohibition and attempted eradication en masse of non-psycho-active fibre hemp, along with the drug variety, suggest more sinister motives. The available evidence points to vested interests, cooperatively acting together, to pressure legislators into banning cannabis to suit their own ends. These included the Du Pont corporation, Randolph Hearst and his tabloid newspaper chain (both with mutual interests in wood-based pulp technology and forest resources), and Harry J. Anslinger, the former Assistant U.S. Commissioner for Prohibition, and the newly promoted head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He was appointed by none other than his uncle-in-law, Andrew Mellon. Mellon was then the owner, and largest stockholder of the sixth largest bank in the US; The Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh, Anslinger and Hearst began a vitriolic, racist and sensationalist propaganda campaign in Hearst¹s papers (of which Reefer Madness, Marijuana: Assassin of Youth and Weed with it's Roots in Hell were just a part. See Figure 2 below) to whip up a climate of fear and hysteria regarding this "devil weed". Unsurprisingly, it was sponsored by the United Brewers Association.

In 1937, Anslinger testified before Congress saying: Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind. Anslinger¹s testimony included racist remarks such as "coloured men with big lips", luring white women with jazz music and marijuana, "with the result of pregnancy" and shocked the Southern dominated Congressional Ways and Means committee who enacted the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act in 1937.

This was fuelled by racism against hispanic and black minorities, and conflict surrounding the "medicalisation" of the patent medicine industry.

Meanwhile, nylon fibres had been developed between 1926-36 by Wallace Carruthers, a noted Harvard chemist working with an open-ended research grant from Du Pont. The process to convert coal and oil to nylon was patented in 1937, the same time as Du Pont developed new sulfate/sulfite processes to make paper from wood pulp. According to corporate records, this would then account for 80% by volume, of all its¹ railroad freight for the next 50 years. The President of Du Pont, Lammot Du Pont, had this to say:
Synthetic plastics find application in fabricating a wide variety of articles, many of which in the past were made from natural products..... Consider our natural resources; the chemist has aided in conserving natural resources by developing synthetic products to supplement or wholly replace natural products "

Coincidentally" at the same time high volume machinery to separate the bast fibre from hemp hurds became state of the art, available and affordable, "marijuana" was outlawed.

This action ranks with the other great corporate heist of the era, the privatisation and subsequent closure, of electric public transport sytems in many cities, by a conglomerate of Firestone Rubber, General Motors and Goodyear.

In Australia, the prohibition of cannabis, which included the fibre varieties of cannabis as well as medicinal and therapeutic applications, originally evolved as a response to US-led international pressure to which the British acquiesced. Legislation was not imposed as a response to identifiable pressure groups, but was derivative, both in inspiration and form, from the British Parliament.

Ironically , it was the fact that Australia had no "drug problem" to speak of at this time, and the consequent diffidence of Australian politicians and bureaucrats to the question of drug controls that allowed these pressures to operate. Drug laws throughout Australia developed steadily, if almost imperceptibly, between the wars not because heroin, cannabis or opium were dangerous social or health problems, but because they were not; and not because we as a community cared, but because, by and large, we did not.

The false classification of cannabis as a narcotic internationally shaped official policy and became enshrined in Australian law and judicial practice, as well as the debate on policy, ever since. State controls came into force in Victoria in 1928, New South Wales in 1935, South Australia & Queensland in 1937, Western Australia in 1950 and Tasmania in 1959. Federally, cannabis was absolutely prohibited in 1956. Internationally, the League of Nations officially requested the inclusion of Indian Hemp as a prohibited substance, under Article 10 of the 1925 Geneva Convention, in 1936.


Since the 1930's however,, recreational use of Cannabis has become ubiquitous throughout the world, becoming increasingly popular throughout the 1960¹s. In the USA, 58.6% of 26-34 year olds have tried it. In Australia 40% of the population aged 14 or over have tried marijuana with 83.5% of 20-24 year old men and 60% of 20-24 y.o. women, trying or using it, despite the prohibition on its cultivation, use and possession.

Arguments about its pros and cons still continue; despite unequivocal evidence to show its relative harm is less than that of alcohol or tobacco. In 1979, the SA Royal Commission noted that:

These consistent findings point to one of the striking features of the cannabis debate - the gap between the evidence and widely held beliefs. Respondents....stated that far too little is known about the drug and its effects to warrant reconsideration of its legal prohibitions. This approach seems to overlook the enormous quantity of scientific information which is available concerning the drug and its effects... Similarly , even a cursory glance at the modern history of cannabis shows a repeated pattern of widely believed myths which often fly in the face of the available evidence.

The legislative responses to drug use in general, and cannabis use in particular, may be affected more by such things as social status of users and the values and perhaps prejudices, of more politically powerful groups in the community, than by a careful consideration of the evidence concerning the pharmacological properties of the drug and its effects on users....in formulating policy on the regulation of cannabis (and other drugs), facts and values become intertwined [Emphasis added]

Despite its' multiplicity of uses, cannabis in Australia has been seen purely as a criminal problem related to its use as a drug. In the last ten years alone, there have been over 11 major reports, enquires and commissions in Australia that have considered cannabis. All but two, have recommended law reform. This has failed to alter legislative attitude, probably because of political concerns regarding a misinformed, conservative electorate and vested interests combining, to oppose any significant reforms being enacted. Analysis of the economics of the cannabis industry raises several important facts. The black market for illicit drugs in Australia is estimated at around $2 billion . Cannabis is estimated to account for about 70-80% of that figure. The Criminal Justice Commission in Queensland (CJC) estimates that cannabis production is the States¹ second largest cash crop, after sugar cane, worth around $633 million. This figure is artificially maintained however by the status quo - a legislative policy that is fundamentally flawed. The National Crime Authority have estimated that when all costs of police enforcement, courts, jails, drug related crime, preventative security, etc, are added up, it is equivalent to $1.7 billion dollars, or $1000 per man, woman and child in Australia. Proponents of cannabis law reform in contrast, use arguments, ranging from utilitarian viewpoints to legal, social, criminological, philosophical, pragmatic and ecological reasons to justify changing legislation appropriately. Their arguments also focus on the significant non-recreational uses of cannabis, which will be discussed below.



From the times of the Phoenicians to the age of steamships, 90% of all ships sails, were made from hemp, as were the rigging, anchor ropes, nets, flags, shrouds (and oakum - used for caulking) . Until about the 1820¹s in the US and until the 20th century elsewhere, hemp provided 80% of the textiles and fabrics for clothes, linens, rugs, drapes quilts, sheets, towels, nappies, etc. Examples include Old Glory (the original American flag) and the first pairs of Levi¹s jeans in 1853. Over 5000 different textile products have been made from cannabis hemp, ranging from rope to fine laces, carpet warp to linoleum backing. Hemp is softer, warmer, more water absorbent and more durable than cotton. It also has three times the tensile strength of cotton. There are major environmental benefits too: it¹s two to three times more productive than cotton, uses half the water and fertilisers, and needs no pesticides or herbicides. Hemp is cheaper to produce, more productive and an environmentally friendly alternative for farmers - a potential boon to depressed rural areas. In addition, hemp has its own built in sun block (THC) and thrives with increased UV radiation. (Unlike wheat and soya beans that are facing 30-50% reductions in yield, because of ozone depletion.) In 1938 Popular Mechanics ran an article highlighting the many economic advantages of being self-reliant in hemp fibre (see Figure 3): It would displace imports of raw material and manufactured products produced by underpaid coolie and peasant labour and will provide thousands of jobs for American workers throughout the land [providing raw materials for] more than 5,000 different textiles products....and 25,000 other uses ranging from cellophane to dynamite. (emphasis added)


There appears to be little doubt that under the present system of forest use and consumption, the present system cannot withstand the demands placed upon it.
So wrote Jason Merrill, in 1916, a sentiment shared by many today.

Paper made from trees is a very recent invention however, circa the late 1800¹s. Paper made from hemp was first recorded in China by Ts'ai Lun in 105 AD. (This predated the Islamic world's discovery by 800 years and the West's by 1,200 - 1,400 years. ) Hemp paper lasted 50 to a hundred times longer than papyrus and was hundreds of times cheaper and easier to make. Until 1883, from 75-90% of the world's paper was hemp based "rag paper"; including books, (The Gutenberg and King James Bible's from the 15th & 17th centuries), maps, paper money, stocks, bonds, newspapers etc. Even the first two drafts of the American Declaration of Independence were produced on (Dutch) hemp paper. In the early 1900¹s researchers discovered hemp hurds were suitable as a raw material for paper in addition to the exterior bast fibre. This received wide publicity in The Yearbook of the US Department of Agriculture, 1913, Paper Trade Journal , and USDA Bulletin No. 404 . Despite this, tree based paper became increasingly common, completely replacing cannabis as a raw material after 1937. The use of hemp as a raw material is now undergoing a resurgence in Europe and Australia with farmers, government and private sector corporate interest. The Netherlands has led the way, with it's Agricultural Research Department (DLO) re-investigating hemp as an ecologically sound crop with a multitude of industrial applications. Significant research has also been undertaken in Italy at the Enta Nationale Cellulosa e Carta (ENCC), France, at the Federation Nationale des Prodecteurs de Chanvre (FNPC), England, Portugal and now is beginning in Australia and America. England re-legalised hemp for fibre in 1993, and now joins France, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Turkey and China as legal suppliers. In Tasmania, the Hemp for Paper Consortium has already begun trial plantings and negotiated with ANM for them to accept hemp pulp for processing into paper. South Australia is poised to follow suit, with a bill soon to be put before Parliament by Democrat MLC Mike Elliott, proposing legalising hemp for fibre production. Cannabis is an ideal paper making material and the world¹s primary biomass producer, growing 10 tons/acre in four months. In U.S.D.A. Bulletin No. 404 Hemp Hurds as a Paper Making Material, Lyster Dewey, Botanist in Charge of Fibre Plant Investigations, wrote that one hectare (ha) of hemp will, in annual rotation over a twenty year period, produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 ha of trees. In 1977, an Italian study confirmed these figures. Furthermore, it would use only 1/5 to 1/7th as much sulphur-based acid chemicals to break down the lignin in the hemp. Feasability studies show only 5% of unplanted farm land (27 million acres) or 1% of all available farm land, would need to be planted to supply all the US's paper needs, returning the farmer $350 acre (@2 tons/acre) an industry total of about $18.9 billion. In addition, paper costs could be cut by 50-70%. The environmental benefits in terms of source reduction of waste, is clear, as non-Kraft, non-chlorine bleaching, paper mills can be used. Other benefits include spin-off jobs for farmers and small businesses, due to the labour intensive nature of annual sowing, harvesting, storage and transportation. Hemp paper has the following advantages over wood pulp paper: a higher tensile strength, higher wet strength, longer lifespan (centuries, not decades) and greater recyclability (seven times, compared to three). Hemp is an environmentally friendly method of producing pulp that minimises pollution, would make woodchipping obsolete, and create jobs and value-added export industries in the process. Other agricultural /ecological benefits of farming cannabis (for whatever purpose) include: suppression of weeds without herbicides, improvement of soil structure (deep tap root remains in soil after harvest, aerating and binding the soil), ease of cultivation, absence of diseases, modest need for nitrogen (that can be met by a prior crop); and it doesn't exhaust the soil fertility, (leaves and roots return 2/3 of the fertilising elements to the soil when left in situ).


Washington State University's Wood Products Engineering Laboratory, in conjunction with C & S Specialty Builders Supply Inc. have produced medium density fibreboard (MDF) using hemp as a wood substitute. Tested, it compares favourably with, or is superior to, wood products in terms of strength, flexibility and economy. Studies of plant bio-fractionation and de-lignification of hemp have shown promise in developing composite binders made from hemp. This would reduce needs for conventional chemicals such as formaldehyde and enables a closed production cycle with minimal waste. Isochanvre, developed by a French company, is composed of hemp hurds containing 77% cellulose, which is mixed with lime. (See Figure 4). It is used to make and insulate, buildings. Uniquely, it petrifies, literally turning to stone, as archaeologists in France found, when they discovered a bridge built in the Merovingian era (500-751 A.D.), built with this process. ¹ Isochanvre is also a good insulating material, yet has a high thermal mass, due to the high silica content. It's described as: excellent acoustic insulation, breathes, prevents condensation, self draining, waterproof, non-flammable, not eaten by rodents, termites, or insects due to its silica content, fungicidal, antibacteriological, easy to use, light, flexible, needing no plaster, painting or wall paper. The potential for ecologically sound constructions combining such products is unlimited as the resource is totally "solar powered" and 100% renewable. Waste is minimised, and pollution and toxic chemicals, avoided or reduced.


In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote in his famous Common Sense (printed on hemp paper) that there were four essential natural resources for the new nation: "cordage, iron, timber and tar...hemp flourishes even to rankness, we do not want for cordage". Most ships of the era used between 50-100 tons of hemp. The U.S.S. Constitution, for example, used over 4 miles of hemp rope on board, as shown in Figure 1. Historically, almost every American town and city had its own industry making hemp ropes. Russia was however the world's largest producer and best-quality supplier from 1740-1940. The previously suppressed, (now famous) film, Hemp for Victory, produced by the US Department of Agriculture in 1942, highlighted the value of the re-legalised hemp industry during WWII for the US Army, Navy and industry's war effort: For the sailor, no less than the hangman, hemp was indispensable. Farmers were issued with a copy of Hemp for Victory along with Farmers Bulletin No. 1935. (basically a growers' manual), and a target of 250,000 ha/year. The idea was that when rapidly dwindling stocks of imported manilla hemp (Musa textilis) ran out: American Hemp will go on duty again: hemp for mooring ships; hemp for tow lines; hemp for tackle and gear; hemp for countless naval uses both on ship and shore. Just as in the days when Old Ironsides sailed the seas, victorious with her hempen shrouds and hempen sails. Hemp for Victory. A distinct advantage of hemp over other fibre sources like kenaf, is its versatility. Hemp is cheaper, cleaner, grows more widely and is more productive (4-9 tonnes/acre of bast fibre + 12-40 tonnes/acre of hemp hurds, vs 6-8 tonnes/acre for kenaf). For a detailed examination at the advantages of a carbohydrate economy based on hemp and other plant materials, see David Morris & Irshad Ahmed, The Carbohydrate Economy: Making Chemicals and Industrial Materials from Plant Matter.


Hemp seed contains 30% oil by weight, whilst half the weight of a mature female plant is seeds. For thousands of years most good paints and varnishes were made with hemp seed oil and/or linseed oil. In 1929 consumption of cellulose - based paints in the U.S. Auto industry alone, was 43 million gallons. Soap and linoleum were also derived from hemp seed oil. Up until 1800, it was the most consumed lighting oil, then after 1870 it was overtaken by whale oil, then both declined after the introduction of hydrocarbon fuels (and the reduction in whales). The scale of the industry was revealed by National Institute of Oilseed Products congressional testimony against the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act showing that 62,813,000 pounds of seed were imported into the US in 1936 and 116 million pounds (or 58,000 tons)!. in 1935 Despite this, noted botanist Luther Burbank stated: The seed of [cannabis] is prized in other countries for its oil, and its neglect here illustrates the same wasteful use of our agricultural resources. Hemp seeds and oil were also used for birdseed, and the manufacture of meal and meal cake that was sold to cattle breeders for feed. Lozier's testimony included the use of these products in Russia and Asia as a food source for the peasantry. Cooked into soups, porridges and gruels they were especially useful in times of famine. Ground up hempseeds can be baked into bread, cakes, granola bars or casseroles and make a butter with much higher nutritional value than peanut butter. Research into hempseed's biochemical composition has revealed startling facts: Cannabis hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life. No other single plant source provides complete protein in such an easily digestible form, nor has the oils essential to life in as perfect a ratio for human health and vitality. Hempseed is the highest of any plant in essential fatty acids (which are responsible for our immune response) and is among the lowest in saturated fats (8% of total oil volume). In addition to being highly nutritious (second only to soybeans in total protein) hemp seeds' unique composition of essential oils may even be of value medicinally. These essential oils support the immune system and guard against viral and other insults to the immune system. Studies are in progress using the essential oils to support the immune systems of persons with the HIV virus. So far they have been extremely promising What is the richest source of these essential oils? Yes, you guessed it, the seeds of the cannabis plant. Dr Joanna Budwig, a Nobel nominee since 1979, has used these fatty acids to: successfully treat "terminal" cancer patients, as well as those suffering cardiovascular disease, glandular atrophy, gall stones, kidney degeneration, and immune deficiency.


Cannabis hemp was first introduced into the western pharmacopoeia in 1839 by W.B. O¹Shaughnessy although Culpeper had referred to it as early as 1652. Prior to this however, it had been traditionally used as a folk medicine for many thousands of years. The earliest pharmacopoeia in existence, the Pen-ts'ao-Ching (attributed to Emperor Shen-nung, circa 2000BC) was also aware of the psychoactive properties of the plant. The medicinal use of cannabis is central to both the Unani Tibbi and Ayurvedic systems of medicine, which in 1965 were estimated to be the only forms of health care accessible to 80% of Indians. From 1842 through to the 1890¹s extremely strong forms of cannabis known as extractums, tinctures and elixirs were routinely the second and third, most used medicines in the US. The US Pharmacopoeia listed over 100 separate conditions for which cannabis was prescribed for. In 1890, Queen Victoria¹s personal physician J. Russell Reynolds had stated: Indian hemp, when pure and administered carefully, is one of the most valuable medicines we possess. In 1916 it was included in Oslers Principles & Practices of Medicine. It was widely used in a variety of patent medicines and tinctures available through doctors and pharmacists marketed by Parke Davis, Eli Lilly and Squibbb among others until the 1930¹s. . (See Figures 4 & 5 below.) For 3,000 years previously however, varying parts of the plant (buds, leaves, roots, seeds) were the most commonly used medicine for the majority of the world's illnesses. Despite its widespread use, scientists had no idea of how cannabis worked, until Dr. Raphael Mechoulam isolated D-9, tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC) in 1964. In addition to medical research on the value of the biochemical constituents of cannabis hemp seeds (which contain negligible amounts of cannabinoids) much work has also been done on the therapeutic applications of cannabis for various conditions. To date more than 400 separate compounds have been isolated out of over a thousand suspected. At least 60 are considered to have some therapeutic potential. Mikuriya (1973) provides a comprehensive and well referenced list which include its use as an analgesic-hypnotic, appetite stimulant, antiepileptic-antispasmodic, prophylactic and treatment of neuralgia¹s, (including migraine and tic douloureaux), anti-depressant-tranquilliser, oxytocic, antitussive, topical anaesthetic, withdrawal aid for opiate and alcohol addiction, childbirth analgesic, antibiotic, intraocular hypotensive and as a hypothermagenic. In lay terms this means therapeutic potential for asthma, glaucoma, tumours, nausea relief (for HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, sea sickness), epilepsy, M.S., labour and back pain, muscle spasms, sleep and relaxation, emphysema, appetite stimulation, pruritus, paraplegia and quadriplegia, menstrual cramps, depression and other mood disorders. It can also be used as an antibiotic, disinfectant and expectorant. In 1988, Francis Young, the American Drug Enforcement Agency's own Administrative Law Judge went so far as to state that cannabis: "is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known" and recommended that it be immediately rescheduled, to allow doctors to prescribe it. Medicines, useful for many ailments and symptoms could thus be produced locally, free of multi-national pharmaceutical companies control. The good example is in Jamaica, where Cannisol (topical, anti-glaucoma eyedrops), derived directly from cannabis, is proving cheap, safe and effective, in preventing blindness.


The worlds most efficient solar power source has already been created; it's a plant. On a global scale the most energy efficient plant is hemp, an annually renewable resource able to replace all fossil fuels. In the early 1900¹s Henry Ford recognised that fossil fuels could be replaced by biomass such as hemp, cornstalks, waste paper, etc. Such biomass can be converted into methane, methanol or even petrol, and its mandated use would reduce acid rain, end sulfur based smog and reverse the greenhouse effect. Methanol can even be converted into a high octane, lead free petrol using a catalytic process developed by Georgia Tech University and Mobil Oil Corporation. (See figure 6) Ford produced a plastic car made from hemp, wheat straw and sisal, which weighed 1000 pounds less than an equivalent size steel car and had ten times the impact strength of steel panels. It wouldn't dent and it wouldn't rust - no wonder after 12 years of research they suppressed it. (See figures 7, below), Meanwhile the original diesel engine designed by Rudolf Diesel, was intended to be fuelled "by a variety of fuels, especially vegetable and seed oils," (emphasis added). Cannabis built and powered "Ford-Diesels" show clearly the potential reduction in environmental impact that could be possible. Biomass conversion has been used since ancient times to provide energy. The advantages of biomass "energy farming" are multi-fold. It would avoid pollution inevitably associated with fossil fuels, provide energy security for nations without hydrocarbon resources, reduce imports, trade deficits and foreign debt and stimulate rural economies. Farming only 6% of the continental U.S. could provide all of America's oil and gas energy needs, ending its dependence on fossil fuels and avoiding going to war over foreign oil resources. It would contribute to self reliant local communities based on a renewable, decentraliased energy resource. Biomass conversion through pyrolysis (applying heat to organic matter in the absence of air, or in reduced air) can produce charcoal, condensable organic liquids (pyrolytic fuel oil), non-condensable gases, acetic acid, acetone, and methanol. The process can be adjusted to favour charcoal, pyrolytic oil, gas or methanol production with a 95%.5 fuel to feed efficiency... It has the advantages of using the same technology as currently used to process crude oil and coal. Charcoal has nearly the same BTU value as coal with virtually no sulphur. (See figure 8 below) The Utne Reader provides a good summary of why hydrocarbons replaced carbohydrates and why with new biological processing techniques plant based technologies are poised to make a comeback.


The goal of the Cold War was to get others to change their values and behaviour, but winning the battle to save the planet depends on changing our own values and behaviour. The central environmental conflict today is essentially a conflict between two mutually exclusive cultural paradigms (or ways of thinking, valuing and doing things); the economic and the ecological, world views. The post cold-war new world order, is considered post-industrial, yet many nations are still in pre-industrial or industrial phases. Emerging economies of Asia and the nascent economies of Latin America and Africa are "guided" by the IBRD, IMF, GATT and other multilateral institutions like the Regional Development banks toward the western model of economic development. Unfortunately, this path is economically and ecologically unsustainable (and is yet to be attained, partly because it ignores structural constraints to "development". Cannabis, its use as a drug and its alternative uses, medicinally and industrially, is part of this major value system conflict. The debate spans not only issues of personal freedom, social control and human rights but also disciplines such as economics, criminology, environmental studies and medicine. Its relationship to urban ecology is complex and multi-faceted. By the beginning of the next millennium the majority of the human population will live in cities. Australia is already one of the most urbanised countries in the world. In 1991 in South Australia, 73% of the population lived within the Adelaide metropolitan area. As Lewis Mumford stated in 1938, however: We can no longer leave soils and landscapes and agricultural possibilities out of our calculations in consideration of the future of either industries or cities. For the era of the callous pioneer, who laid waste to a particular area, looted it¹s natural resources and moved on, is over: there is no place left to move.... Urban areas worldwide, account for a disproportionate share of natural resources, fossil fuel / energy consumption, pollution and environmental degradation. Our energy costs work out to be 80% of our total dollar expenditure. In other words, 33 out of 40 hours spent working, goes to pay for the cost of energy with fossil fuels currently accounting for 80% of airborne pollution. Many individual writers, scientists, community groups, environmental / development NGO's and even politicians and governments have identified the problems; the challenge facing individuals, groups and governments is to make cities sustainable, livable places, by necessity repairing the ecological damage and restoring ecosystems. This requires a reversal of current patterns of development, to living within our ecological "means"; in effect, a transition to a new ecological paradigm. As Eric Hobsbawm stated: We do not know where we are going. We only know that history has brought us to this point. However one thing is plain. If humanity is to have a recognisable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium on that basis we shall fail. And the price of failure - the alternative to a changed society - is darkness. Cannabis' potential value to the new paradigm is manyfold, as it provides the basic raw material for a multitude of products that will allow the transition towards self reliance and a conserver society, on the ecologically sound basis of a carbohydrate economy.


Cotton needs major inputs of chemicals and irrigation. If replaced with cannabis we could increase output, whilst decreasing the volume of irrigation and chemicals required. The environmental advantage over cotton and other fibre crops is clear. Cannabis can be grown without pesticides, herbicides, and with reduced fertiliser inputs. The use of these agro-chemicals is not only expensive in economic terms, but damaging ecologically, both in the production processes, transportation, storage and handling, and to the ecology of an area. Cannabis requires less water than cotton, when grown as a fibre. Hemp is suited to rotations as it is an annual and could be could be alley-cropped with leguminous trees or shrubs providing windbreaks. It replenishes and reconditions soil (by root binding) and preventing soil erosion. Harvesting is less destructive than timber, and would take the pressure off native old-growth forest and wildlife habitat. Similarly, degraded agricultural lands could be revitalised through a new rural industry and damage to aquatic ecosystems (from agro-chemical runoff feeding algal blooms), would be reduced. Cannabis grown for industrial purposes can be recycled completely with no waste. The roots can be left in the ground to aerate, bind and condition the soil and keep weeds out. Its outer bark or bast fibre is used in fabric, cordage or best quality paper making, whilst the inner hurds, are useful for pulp paper production, building materials or as feedstocks for biodegradable plastics, PVC plumbing pipes or other products. Its seeds are useful for many products ranging from paints, heating, lighting or lubricating oils, pharmaceutical products, feeds (animal or human). Even the sap, rich in silicates, can be utilised for production of abrasives. Any by-products of particular industrial processes could be fermented and used to make ethanol and used as a part of a CHP (combined heat and power) system that could be used to generate power regionally, or on-farm. Biodegradable plastics from cannabis-derived cellulose have many advantages over conventional hydrocarbon based plastics. Based on a non-renewable feedstock, pollution is inherent in their total life cycle, not only in the production. Problems of pollution, landfill saturation and collateral damage to wildlife are ubiquitous, and inevitable side-effects of petroleum based plastics. Cannabis derived plastics would minimise these problems as they would be biodegradable and compostable. Landfill costs would be reduced and life spans of dumps extended. The development of such "clean and green" industries is fundamental to our continued survival. The reversion to a carbohydrate based economy based on hemp would fundamentally alter the energy balance of the cities. If the main fuel source for automobiles was produced from renewable biofuels we could stop or reverse the greenhouse effect. Of course it wouldn't stop traffic jams...


The "neo-liberal" and "neo-classical" approaches typify "conventional" development and considers only development of the economy, measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product. Others are critical of such a definition as it ignores structural processes of "underdevelopment". The "free" market is not value free and is predicated on "Third World" nations supplying raw materials at the lowest possible cost. Western development is thus historically based on inversely proportional underdevelopment of Third World nations and "spending our own ecological capital". The Third World Debt crisis, is a powerful force shaping the policies of multi-lateral and bilateral financial assistance to entire countries and regions. Much of this assistance is dependant upon the country concerned undergoing a structural adjustment program - leading to the phenomenon known as "adjustment poverty" as the physical quality of life for most citizens declines along with the natural resource base, as economies are "liberalised" and markets opened to the competitive global economy. Most Third World nations are advised to concentrate upon what they do best - in most cases, providing raw materials. These are quickly exploited and exported in the name of growth and development, repatriated to foreign processing plants and re exported to its final end use and landfill destination. Thus tropical forests disappear from Third World nations, as they disappeared from Europe, America and Australia's lands during their industrialisation and subsequent "development". This assault on nature has continued, with complete disregard for any ecological functions these natural resources play. Despite the vulnerability to the whims of global commodity markets inherent in any export-orientated strategy, many nations are "locked in" to following that pattern. Previous attempts to "opt out" such as Tanzania's ujaama strategy have failed to work. It is certainly not desirable to many for economic, strategic and geo-political reasons. A new synthesis is needed, where nations become more self-reliant through sustainable development.


A prerequisite for sustaining any ecosystem is a transition towards ecologically sustainable lifestyles, consumption and production patterns. (Whilst we can minimise our "footprints" and reduce them, we cannot live without some impacts.) Production must shift towards a pattern of resource use that is ecologically and environmentally friendly and renewable. Proactive prescriptions must be developed to facilitate this. One essential component is a redefinition of current economic systems so as to account for the full ecological, environmental and social "externality" costs of present production methods and resource uses. Cars for example, produce lead, benzene, sulphur and nitrous oxide emissions, leading to acid rain, smog, respiratory problems and cancers. Similarly, cotton production involves extensive use of chemicals, with consequent poisoning of people and groundwater. Tree-based paper leads to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and dioxin produced from chlorine bleaching to remove lignin. When these externalities are factored in it clearly makes alternatives "economically" viable and ecologically necessary.

New, hemp industries providing paper, fabric, oils, seeds, building materials, bio-fuels and medicines would be suitable worldwide. They could have a massive impact on balance of payments, replacing imports and adding value to exports. The crop is suitable to labour intensive production or can processed mechanically. Grown for local self reliance, it could provide fodder and food for humans and animals. Cannabis as a building material, allows environmentally friendly, ecologically sound construction and sustainable production. A house could be partially built, insulated, painted and decorated with cannabis. It used to be the basic raw material for paints, varnishes and sealants and could be again. Its potential for energy-farming also makes it attractive in terms of sustainablitity. If, we retain the use of the private car (at least during some kind of yet-to-be-seen transition towards a conserver economy and society) then we will need to run them on "clean and green" renewables. This could be ethanol, distilled from the plant, methanol, or a pyrolytic fuel oil.

The conversion to a plant based economy is vital in terms of ecologically sustainable development. Cannabis could save our forests, reduce pollution at source, stimulate rural economies and benefit farmers. It could provide relief to millions of sufferers of medical conditions and provide clean eco-friendly paper, fuels and building materials.

The question is why we have continued to allow a hypocritical, unworkable and expensive prohibition against recreational use of this plant, to continue denying us all of its other benefits?


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