Spain: In praise of cannabis

Ruth Toledano
International Herald Tribune

Monday 19 Sep 2005

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Source: El Pais, Spain

According to archaeologists, evidence exists proving that hemp has been
cultivated since about 8,000 BC: it was used for human consumption, and for
making fabrics. About 2700 BC we find the first written reference to the
use of cannabis in the work of Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine.

Almost a decade ago the first cannabis-derivatives fair was held in
Germany; since then many such fairs have emerged, based on cannabis in all
its uses, be they direct or derivative. In the last two years there have
been two Spannabis fairs in Barcelona, and a few days ago, for the first
time, the La Cubierta cultural center in the southern Madrid district of
Leganes hosted Expocannabis, a trade exhibition aimed at bringing the
public closer to the world of cannabis and alternative technologies.
Gathered in Leganes were almost 100 national and foreign exhibitors: from
cultivation-based product manufacturers, to firms that supply products
derived from the plant: food, clothing, footwear, cosmetics, furniture,
construction materials.

One aim of the fair is to become a forum for reflection about cannabis. A
group of noted cannabis activists and medical and legal experts debated
themes such as therapeutic uses, new home-growing methods and the present
legal situation regarding cannabis, in an attempt to encourage the
legalization of its social use, as well as more active participation in the
development of a prosperous industry exploiting all the possible uses of
the plant. Expocannabis enjoys the precedent of the two previous fairs held
in Barcelona, in the Palau Sant Jordi, which were attended by about 15,000
people - a success which suggests the social and economic potential of this
plant in the 21st century.

The medicinal and therapeutic properties of marijuana, which have been
employed for thousands of years, are now being rediscovered. In 10 US
states the law now permits its medicinal use for those in a "debilitated
clinical situation," which includes cases of cancer, glaucoma and AIDS. But
at the same time there has been an increase in the orchestration of
campaigns against the use of cannabis by the ill. In April 2005, Canada
became the first country to approve the use of Sativex, a cannabis extract,
which has been available there since June 20, under medical prescription,
for the treatment of neurological pain in adults with multiple sclerosis.
In Spain, the Health Department of the regional government of Catalonia,
with the approval of the Spanish Health Ministry, will be the first
official agency to try a pilot plan of treatment with cannabis, using a
spray containing extracts of the plant, made by GW Pharmaceuticals and
distributed by the firm Bayer.

Apart from the therapeutic uses of cannabis, a revolutionary plastic is now
being made of hemp and of recycled materials, as an alternative to
petroleum-based plastics - hemp based products tend to be stronger and
lighter, with a renewable annual harvest and a more sustainable future.
This plastic is already used, for example, to make biodegradable cases for
CDs and DVDs. Hemp oil, too, is used in diet and cosmetic products, in
energy drinks, wines and beers, and in food products such as pasta,
candies, cookies and chocolate. Hemp can be used to make paper, furniture,
cloth, shoes, bags, wallets, bracelets and other complements. That is, hemp
is an interesting and necessary alternative solution to a number of
ecological problems.

But we cannot ignore the fact that its use as a recreational substance is
extremely widespread and normal in society. The law should recognize this,
and cease to harass its cultivation and consumption. You can see how
widespread its use is in virtually any bar or at any meeting of people of
any class, or at any party. Princess Margaret, the sister of Elizabeth II,
who died in 2001, liked to smoke joints. The de-criminalization of its use
would merely lift the flimsy veil of a useless and outmoded hypocrisy