For anyone who’s studied the history of marijuana prohibition in the United States, it’s pretty clear that financial greed was at the heart of taking a magnificently useful plant off the market to make way for the petrochemical industry, as well as the textile and paper industries. Prior to hemp’s becoming illegal, it was used throughout the world as a source of cloth, oil, food, rope, paint, medicine, and energy. But new technologies (in the 1930’s) viewed hemp as a threat, and as a result, those in powerful positions began a slanderous and erroneous campaign against the benign plant, resulting in its being outlawed.

Ignoring hundreds of years of contrary evidence and multiple governmental and scholarly studies that proved that hemp was not only extremely useful, but that it’s intoxicating flowers and leaves were about as dangerous as coffee, a cabal of industry and government officials engineered its eventual status as a “demon weed” and so began one of this country’s biggest mistakes. By focusing on the intoxicating part of hemp, and by instituting a concerted campaign of fear and disinformation, the bounty of the hemp plant has languished in darkness for decades, and those who use the plant for recreational relaxation have borne the brunt of this hapless government prohibition.

Yet still, hemp and marijuana have remained alive and well, providing some of the industrial products of days past and continuing to give people a buzz when they feel the urge. And in the last decade or so, over 10 states and several countries have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana despite a federal government that continues to attack.

The latest round of hemp and marijuana propaganda has recently sprung forth from Great Britain where recently published “studies” have warned that smoking pot will turn you psychotic. Shades of William Randolph Hearst’s “yellow journalism” scares and the cult movie Reefer Madness come to mind. But the truth is simply that these “new” reports are not new, and the headlines they engendered are far from truthful.

According to this post, the “new studies” first printed in England’s The Lancet (and subsequently picked up by all the other media hacks) are anything but new. And further, the reports themselves do not claim that smoking pot will make you psychotic. The truth is the “new report” was merely a compilation of seven old studies, all previously published, some decades ago. The truth is that these studies actually showed that the association between cannabis and mental illness is small, about the same as the link between head injuries and psychosis. Get that? Smoking pot or getting a bad head injury both have the same chance of causing some form of psychosis. Should we outlaw head injuries?

Just as in the 1930’s, the hype over these reports may have much more to do with political ambitions that about actual science. It seems that the new Prime Minister in Great Britain, Gordon Brown, has a thing about people who smoke pot. He wants to stiffen penalties against marijuana users, and by getting a supposedly credible medical journal like The Lancet to publish false reports is one way to get the public behind you- much like Hearst did when he began writing about pot-crazed killers back in the day.

But the reality is that investigators really reported that cannabis use was only associated with a slight increase in psychotic outcomes, but that the increase was not really a causal one. Instead, they found that use of intoxicants were higher among people with psychoses, whether that was marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco. In fact, studies have shown that people often turn to cannabis to relieve stress, or for other medical reasons, showing that rather than make people ill, already ill people were turning to pot for relief.

When dealing with shady situations, one of the first things investigators do is “follow the money.” This is no less true with hemp and marijuana. The continued prohibition of this plant, both for industrial and non-industrial uses, is a purely economic one. All the other moralistic and political rationale are simply BS.

(cross posted at Bring It On!)