Pubdate: Thu, 8 May 2008
Source: Middlebury Campus, The (VT Edu)
Copyright: 2008 The Middlebury Campus


According to Vermont Grassroots Party leader Denny Lane, when alcohol 
prohibition came to an end in the 1930s, the individuals who had once 
enforced the measure were left with a woeful quantity of time on their hands.

"So they all got together to create this boogey-man marijuana, this 
evil demon weed that will make you go berserk and rape your 
grandmother," Lane said. "What they didn't realize is that it's the 
most versatile, premiere plant on the planet."

Driven by this sentiment, proponents of the legalization of marijuana 
convened in City Hall Park in downtown Burlington on May 3, for a 
cannabis prohibition protest. The event - part of the 239-city 
Worldwide Marijuana March - featured speeches by doctors, lawyers and 
legislators, the distribution of pro-hemp brochures, button and 
bumper sticker sales and a performance by the Johnson State College 
student band Oblio.

Extolling the virtues of the drug, rally attendee Michael Kelley 
claimed that it can provide relief from ailments as diverse as 
attention deficit disorder, chronic pain, insomnia and anorexia.

"We need to open up medical marijuana a little bit more than it is 
right now," Kelley said.

Many scientists are reluctant to concur with such assertions. 
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 
while cannabis may have some degree of merit in treating nausea, 
glaucoma, pain and multiple sclerosis, it does so at the risk of the 
same side-effects associated with recreational use, including 
impairment of thinking, problem-solving skills and memory, reduced 
balance and coordination, heightened likelihood of heart attack, 
chronic cough and respiratory infections and the potential for 
hallucinations and withdrawal symptoms. The federal government 
classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is one of 
"the most dangerous drugs that have no recognized medical use."

As a result, obtaining it is no easy task.

"In the state of Vermont, you have to be just about dead to get 
medical marijuana," Kelley said.

This does not, however, prove a universal impediment.

"I know an 84-year-old former commissioner of one of the state's 
departments who uses medical marijuana," Kelley said. "He's too old 
to grow it himself, but he smokes it every night before he goes to sleep."

Kelley recounted the experiences of friends who have navigated the 
final stages of terminal illnesses with a bottle of liquid morphine 
in one hand and a bag of marijuana in the other.

"My best friend in the world died from cancer, and at one point I 
said to him, 'Josh, what addresses the pain better?'" Kelley 
recalled. "And he said, believe it or not, that the marijuana did."

Many of those who champion cannabis, of course, do so from a 
decidedly non-medical standpoint.

"I would address spiritual maladies as well as physical ones, because 
there is a spiritual aspect to using this herb," Kelley said. "This 
is something that, for a lot of people, creates mirth, happiness, 
calmness. It's something that's shared. It's passed. That's spiritual 
in my book. It's a sacred act. It's a communal act."

Kelley also offered up the drug as a cure for writers' block.

"Every song on here was written under the influence of marijuana," 
Kelley said, producing a copy of a CD entitled Aliens in My Bathtub, 
whose jewel case features a blue-tinted photograph of a 
backwards-facing man in the process of stripping off a trench coat in 
an alley at night. "I would know, because I'm the one who wrote them."

"Some of the songs are a little eccentric," he warned of the album, 
which contains musings on Cleveland, virgins, Ramadan and Huckleberry 
Finn. "But every now and then, I hit the right note."

Moreover, Lane argues in favor of hemp's industrial applications, 
deeming it the world's leading source of biomass and suggesting that 
it could more fully utilized as a food, fuel and fiber.

"There's no need for oil anymore," he said. "[Government leaders] are 
all going, 'we need this oil.' More wars for oil, more blood for oil. 
We don't need oil. Let them keep it in the ground in the desert. We 
could save the family farm here in Vermont by growing cannabis for 
all of its different uses."

Alongside existing as the "cash crop of the future," Lane regards the 
fiber as a veritable fashion statement.

"When I campaigned for governor in '94 and '96 against Howard Dean, I 
wore a three-piece hemp suit to show people that it's not just for 
smoking," he said.

In a similarly political vein, Lane noted that a number of the 
nation's Founding Fathers would be incarcerated in the present day 
for the extent of their hemp cultivation. To emphasize this point, he 
distributed an illustration of a winking George Washington smoking a 
joint beside the caption, "everyone's grass will be greener when it's legal."

"'Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the 
face of all the earth!'" Lane exclaimed, thrusting his arms skyward. 
"Genesis 1:29. Check the Bible."

"It doesn't really do harm to anyone," said Willy Sheets, who helped 
sell "keep the CIA off marijuana" bumper stickers to garner community 
service hours for a participation-in-government class at Missisquoi 
Valley Union High School in Swanton, Vt. "If alcohol is legal, why not pot?"

Expressing a similar position, rally attendee Aaron Rowe reflected on 
the stigma he perceives to accompany his marijuana use.

"Up here, you can't really get construction jobs if you smoke pot," 
he said. "What I do on my time is my business. I've been with the 
same company for three years now. They know what I do. They know I 
don't bring it to the site. It's something to do to relax at night. I 
don't know. It's marijuana. It's something to do."

Rowe is inclined to disregard warnings about the drug's adverse effects.

"It's all about tolerance levels," Rowe said. "If you can drive on 
it, more power to you. If you can't, don't get behind the wheel. 
Everyone I've ever met can make that distinction."

Contrary to this claim, a 2005 study conducted by researchers at the 
University of Auckland in New Zealand found that habitual cannabis 
users were nine and a half times more likely to be involved in an 
automobile collision than those who do not use the drug.

Lane conceded that marijuana may not be for everyone.

"If somebody is mentally unbalanced or has some kind of psychosis to 
begin with, maybe it might not be that great of an idea for them to 
do it," Lane said. "Then again, maybe it would, because it would open 
their mind. But- "

"I'll tell you, it's better to be lightly stoned than dealing with 
lithium," interrupted Wolcott, Vt. resident Gregg Laikin, referring 
to a drug sometimes used to treat manic episodes. "I was on lithium 
for a while. Not good. I find for myself that I don't get stoned out. 
Not like I used to in the teenage years. Just enough."

Laikin took advantage of the gathering to distribute personalized 
business cards pointing to an "Internet wealth generation" Web site 
which promises users they can produce a six-figure salary within the 
span of a year by marketing "healthy chocolate." Laikin said he hoped 
to use his earnings from the site to get off Social Security's 
Supplemental Security Income and contribute financially to the 
"marijuana liberation" movement.

It is a movement whose leaders are desperate for any form of support feasible.

"We've been making some headway for the past 20 years, but they're 
baby steps," Lane said. "I want giant strides taken." 
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