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Cannabis is not part of the war against drugs

Jeremy Crisp, The Norwich Evening News, 17th February 2006

During the Middle Ages, Norwich was one of the wealthiest provincial cities in England.

The money which flowed into the city at that time was primarily generated from farming in Norfolk. Around the time our fine Mediaeval Churches were under construction, both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had passed laws making it compulsory for all landowners farming a given acreage to devote a minimum percentage of their land to the growing of hemp.

"Hemp? But surely that's Cannabis?", I hear you say. Well not exactly; all cannabis is hemp, but not all hemp is cannabis - in that it's only certain strains of the many varieties of Hemp which contain the psychoactive elements that have been demonised these past 80 years or more. During mediaeval times, the Royal Navy in particular had a pressing need for materials, for which hemp was the accepted source.

Welcome to the 21st Century. Global Warming. Horrific conflicts waged over the ownership of crude oil reserves. Widespread poverty in Africa, South America. Crime and disorder in the streets of Britain fuelled largely by the routine over-indulgence in alcohol, and an epidemic of addiction to 'hard' drugs. The "war against Drugs". Such 'wars' are very easy to declare; they polarise every discussion into black and white, right and wrong.

So, when is a drug not a drug? Answer - when it's a herb!

Herb: defined as "A seed plant that does not develop permanent woody tissue, and dies down at the end of a growing season. A plant ( part ) valued for its medicinal, savoury or aromatic qualities"

The nearest Cannabis Sativa comes to genuinely being a "drug" is its potential to be habit-forming. It is now scientifically accepted that cannabis is not physically addictive in the true sense of the word, and I feel it should finally be taken out of the loop in terms of the war against drugs.

Consider these two facts. That almost everything we currently produce by extracting and refining crude oil could instead be gained through the reintroduction of hemp to farming in the large parts of the world where it would thrive. And secondly that, of the whole plant kingdom, hemp is apparently the most effective in absorbing carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen. We really could, in a few years' time, be driving our cars around Norwich using fuel grown and produced in the fields of Norfolk!

I congratulate Charles Clarke in his succession to Mr Blunkett as the new Home Secretary, but these days, as much as ever, there are none so blind as those that don't want to see.

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