Few subjects are as subjective as cannabis. With a bewildering number of names alone including bangue, kinnub, arabians, majoon, bunga, sidhee, subjee to name a few as well as the more familiar marijuana and hemp. Simply defining to a mass-public what cannabis is can be problematic.
My own ‘age of discovery’ began aboard MV Denison, a 20 meter commercial prawn trawler in Australia's frontier North. Aboard I was with best friends trawling for prawns by night and surfing by day. We ate great food, were fit as humanly possible, worked hard and frequently smoked cannabis. We would anchor at remote perfect surf breaks, load up on fried calamari and surf the morning away before another night's fishing. It was after one such surf, relaxing in the comfortable galley of the boat, that I realised perfection is a melancholy business as we all knew life couldn't be this perfect forever becoming aware of cannabis as an effective treatment for my own inherent melancolia.
Moving to the UK in 1991 I stopped using cannabis due to the lack of a familiar supply in favour of traditional prescribed pharmaceuticals. With the advent of the internet it became possible to begin studying cannabis and its prohibition as a link to those those bygone halcyon days. Maybe I couldn’t give everyone access to perfect never ridden waves… but I could do something about baseless cannabis prohibition. I visited Amsterdam and the Dutch Cannabis Bureau in The Hague to research cannabis regulation. I learnt how UN sanctioned cannabis prohibition was adopted against advice, was counterproductive as foretold and where abolished harm reduced.
In 2012 I made a submission to the UK government concluding; “Being denied access to medicinal cannabis because of dogmatic UK laws is wrong from a humanitarian perspective as Cannabis is a remarkably benign substance with proven medicinal properties. For the UK to deny citizens access to cannabis is morally indefensible and counterproductive. However, this view is hardly new. After more than 100 years of anti cannabis rhetoric and dogma the debate is almost over. Please legalise cannabis that people may take advantage of its beneficial attributes without risk of criminalisation. Doing so will break the link between cannabis and crime and improve public health.” Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the Cycle - Written evidence submitted by Matthew Heenan Like all such evidence my submission was accepted most graciously and ignored.
I was perplexed. The government has clear evidence that cannabis prohibition was an error and perpetuating the policy is wrong by any available measure yet the establishment intuitively clings to it when they know better. What is it about cannabis that defies rationality?
I wanted to look deeper and find first information regarding cannabis in the West. Royal Society archives beckoned and the first scientific accounts of cannabis in Western Europe came into view. Capt Robert Knox was a 17th century pioneer of the East India company and passed his accounts of cannabis to Robert Hooke.
Taken from Royal Society minutes of 1689; “Mr Hook read a disclosure about a certain plant on the East Indies called by the Portuguese Bangue, the virtues of which had been experienced by Capt Knox to cause an appetite, and to intoxicate without any ill symptom following upon it and used commonly to ease the sense of hard labour.”
Later in the same minutes; “On reading the minutes and bangue being said to be a sort of Hemp, Mr Lodnick said Mr Martin the Jeweller having laid under his pillow a bundle of hemp found himself much [illegible] bed in his rest, dreaming and often waking, which upon removal of the hemp ceased.”
One account says cannabis great after a hard day's work while another as being deleterious indeed. However, both of these views carried equal weight due to lack of empirical evidence.
These minutes were written at the end of plague at the same time Hooke used an early microscope and drew a picture of a flea which debunked supernatural explanations for the spread of plague forever.
100 years later the UK House of Commons commissioned a far reaching and in-depth analysis of cannabis and it effects known as the Indian Hemp Drugs study regarding cannabis. The 1894 report concludes; "Total prohibition of the cultivation of the hemp plant for narcotics, and of the manufacture, sale, or use of the drugs derived from it, is neither necessary nor expedient in consideration of their ascertained effects, of the prevalence of the habit of using them, of the social and religious feeling on the subject, and of the possibility of it's driving the consumers to have recourse to other stimulants or narcotics which may be more deleterious. The policy advocated is one of control and restriction, aimed at suppressing the excessive use and restraining the moderate use within due limits."Hansard records the report being tabled in parliament and into obscurity as the British government prohibited cannabis in India.
Consecutive governments have proactively ignored evidence supporting the remarkable banality of cannabis with unscientific views given undue weight. Our governments have been constrained from effectively regulating cannabis regulation due to lack of the right kind of objective evidence from within the UK government establishment.