The first cannabis seeds arrived in Australia in 1788 on the First Fleet at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, who marked the cargo “For Commerce”.
Hemp is one of the world’s most useful plants. Its uses range from paper to fuel, and it could replace many environmentally destructive products.
For thousands of years hemp has been used as a food, to make clothing, as a medicine and as a drug. It can be turned into plastics and made into petroleum without producing sulphur, thus reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. Until the late 1880’s 75-90% of all paper in the world was made from hemp.
In 1938 the United States was the first country to introduce laws to destroy hemp plants, regardless of their intended use. That law was the result of political pressure exerted by the forestry industry and the Dupont corporation, which had just patented oil and coal based plastics production. Australia quickly followed the United States’ lead.
That which ensued was a campaign to destroy the industry in spite of the fact that marijuana had been prescribed by doctors for centuries. The American Medical Association at the time condemned the media beat-up as “tabloid sensationalism“. Headlines in Australia included: “Drug that maddens victims“, “Plant grows wild in Queensland” and “Warning from America“. Articles proclaimed that marijuana “distorts moral values and leads to degrading sexual excesses“.
Fast forward to today and the medical use of marijuana is permitted in 15 American states, meanwhile Australia doesn’t even allow the use of medical marijuana, despite its benefits. Where medical marijuana is allowed in the US, it is prescribed by a medical practitioner and the script “dispensed” by a designated cannabis shop or cooperative store. Cannabis can also legally be grown at home by an approved medical user.
Medically prescribed marijuana can alleviate chronic pain including rheumatoid arthritis. It can be used as therapy for neurologic symptoms associated with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, as well as treating muscle spasms among those with multiple sclerosis and Tourette’s Syndrome. Pain Management of America advises: “Medical marijuana as a chronic pain management tool can reduce patients’ pain and improve quality of life, without the same serious side effects associated with use of some pharmaceutical pain relievers.”.
The present state of play in Australia is that the law relating to the use of marijuana remains a flawed system, unlawful yet all the while denying people with serious health problems access to one drug which has been proven to be of the most assistance, and without the serious side effects of other prescription medicines. It is a sad commentary on the state of modern medicine and indeed politics in Australia that something that has been known for 5,000 years remains illegal even on prescription.