You might think of it as hemp, a source of rope. Or as marijuana, a source of dope.
But many see the cannabis plant as a source of hope.
Hope for terminally ill patients, for the economy, for environmental protection, and for world peace.
All that from legalized pot? Yes, say the plant’s widespread yet well-organized supporters who use the internet to give their public lobbying effort computerized efficiency and immediacy.
A month ago, Spokesman-Review readers were invited to share their thoughts about legalization of the substance. Responses flowed in - by letter, by phone, but mostly by e-mail. Overall, the comments heavily favored some form of legalization.
Opinions came across Washington state and from as far as Porterville, Calif., and Corpus Christi, Texas - thanks primarily to the Media Awareness Project.
Tom Hawkins, Washington regional manager, said MAP is an organization of internet users who alert one another to opportunities (such as this one) to submit their beliefs to the news media. Not only do MAP members use the internet to research their letters, they also provide an editing service and maintain their own web site, said Hawkins, who lives in Grand Coulee.
Hawkins, who contends marijuana is safer than many legal drugs such as Tylenol, said MAP “allowed me to expand my media contacts nationally, eliminating the cost of envelopes and postage.”
The responses presented on this page are not offered as a scientific reflection of public attitudes, but they attest to the energy and efficiency of the pro-marijuana community.
One MAP member, Allison Bigelow, runs an industrial hemp store in Burlington, Wash.
“Hemp can indeed restore the earth the way it was before man damaged it so,” said Bigelow who sells garments, twine and food products made from cannabis sativa.
Her wares - including an Adidas shoe called the Hemp - are produced from the stem and sterilized seeds - parts of the plant it is legal to possess.
But since it is illegal to grow the plant, Bigelow said, her suppliers must rely on costlier imported raw materials.
Bigelow stocks marijuana-education literature because she believes that is the area where political concerns prevent legislative changes that would lower the cost of her environmentally friendly goods.
Bigelow and others touted hemp as a hardy, prolific plant that flourishes without chemicals and boasts multiple uses that could take pressure off trees, fossil fuels and other natural resources.
As a fuel source, hemp would avert wars fought over petroleum supplies, advocates claim. As a fiber source, it would spare forests and thus protect wildlife habitats and watersheds. As a natural food it would improve nutrition and eliminate pollution attributed to farm chemicals. And if marijuana were legal, drug-related crooks would be out of business and jail and prison cells would be freed up for truly dangerous offenders.
So ran many of the arguments.
“Recent studies have indicated that hemp and flax cultivation can be used for textiles, paper, rope, particleboard and oils, and is not as dependent on pesticides or fertilizers as, say, cotton, thus rendering a more environmentally sound product.” said Dick Wandrocke of Coeur d’Alene. Wandrocke also thinks smoking marijuana should be legal for adults under legal restrictions like those that apply to tobacco.
Not surprisingly, several comments addressed marijuana’s medical applications.
“Smoke of any kind is not good for the lungs,” said Wells Longshore, Spokane. But Longshore said he favors legalizing “edible” marijuana for legitimate medical purposes.
“Bring on the brownies,” he said. “I’ve got MS and if marijuana will help, I’ll eat the brownies but not smoke the smoke.”
“If it were under a doctor’s prescription, I think it might be of help to some people in extreme pain,” said Phyllis Cranston, Spokane, whose sister has terminal cancer. “That’s the only situation under which I think it should be OK. Why not give them something that will make the last days a little more enjoyable?”
“There may be something to be said for the legalization of marijuana as long as it were prescribed by a physician for use in easing some terminal patient’s suffering,” said Don McCormick of Post Falls. “To simply put marijuana for sale at the local mini-mart would bring nothing but more serious drug problems to society in general. Mark my ballot a vehement NO!”
Even the medical use of marijuana is just a calculated step toward broader legalization, Peter C. Dolina of Veradale believes.
“It is the question of our capability to take a stand and declare that we still can tell wrong from right,” he said. “Marijuana usage is wrong. That’s why it should stay illegal.”
It’s neither wrong nor marginal, said Johanna Wools, Grand Coulee.
Marijuana users, she said, are “responsible citizens who work hard, raise families, contribute to their communities and want a safe, crime-free neighborhood in which to live. To spend federal time and money seeking out, arresting and jailing these individuals is a misapplication of the criminal sanction which undermines respect for the law and extends government into areas of our private life that are inappropriate.”
“What people put in their bodies is their own business,” said Jason Paull, Sandpoint. “Only abusers who harm others should be punished. Let’s end the prohibition of marijuana and put the prison profiters out of business. We will save our dwindling and hard-earned tax dollars for the battles we can really win.”
America’s drug policy isn’t rational, according to Spokane attorney Terrence V. Sawyer.
“Alcohol and nicotine are the two most deadly and addictive drugs in our pharmacopeia,” said Sawyer. “Under a rational policy, these products would be banned.”
Instead, he said, they enjoy direct and indirect federal subsidies while marijuana users and sellers are incarcerated.
“The real question,” according to Steve Thompson, Spokane, “is one of abuse. If an individual subjects another to any intoxicating substance unwillingly, then that person should be held accountable. Blowing pot smoke into a minor’s face, or smoking pot in the same confined area where minors or unwilling adults are present is where I would draw the line.”
It is the industrial interests whose markets hemp threatens that bankroll the political drive to keep it outlawed, supporters contend.
“Obviously we face an uphill battle for legalization,” said Michael Jay Powers of Rathdrum, Idaho. “Not only do we have to battle faulty statistics on all the ‘harmful effects’ of marijuana, brain-washed anti-marijuana crusaders and that monster ‘War on (some) Drugs,’ we will have to fight the paper, pharmaceutical and chemical industries.”
“Marijuana is the ultimate scapegoat,” agrees Randall Clifford of Spokane. “A taboo fed by 50 years dies hard.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Medical uses of…Marijuana