Keep off the Grass

This excerpt from the book Keep Off The Grass gives an interesting background to current situation of the push to legalize cannabis – early last century the majority of delegates to the conventions were aware of both mental and physical harm produced by the drug; and in the international community, at least, there was no doubt of the dangers to health inherent in marijuana.

KEEP OFF THE GRASS   by Gabriel G. Nahas, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc.

Foreword by Jacques Yves Cousteau

PAUL S. ERIKSSON, PUBliSHER Middlebury, Vermont 05753

IV.              An International Problem (Pages 33-37)

Americans think that anti-marijuana laws were created in recent years just to thwart use of the drug by younger people.  Not true! They are actually the result of international agreements signed by the United States a half century ago in order to halt traffic in what was then considered to be a dangerous substance.

Aware of this fact, on my return to the United States in the autumn of 1970, I decided that the logical place for my own detailed research into that aspect of marijuana would be the Dag Hammarskjold Library for International Scholars at the United Nations in New York. If the nations of the world had seen fit to meet on several occasions in order to control the Distribution of cannabis derivatives, then they must have suspected or known of specific health hazards. The examination of these international documents might lead to some clues that would aid me in the direction of my own laboratory work.

My study soon revealed that at the turn of the century, with the development of intercontinental communications, it became apparent to the nations of the world that the control of substances dangerous to man’s health and to society-mainly opium at that time-had to be controlled on a global basis.  Representatives of sovereign nations held conferences to formulate regulations for the international control of opium and other dangerous drugs. The first such gathering was held in Shanghai in 1904 at the instigation of President Theodore Roosevelt. This preliminary meeting set the stage First Opium Conference at The Hague in 1912. The preamble to the text of this conference spells out its general goals:

“The Emperor of all Russias, the King of England’/ Emperor of India, the Kaiser of Germany , the President of the  French Republic, the President of the United States of America. . . desirous of advancing a step further on the road opened by the International Commission of Shanghai of 1909; determined to bring about the gradual suppression’ the abuse of opium, morphine and cocaine and also of the drugs prepared or derived from these substances which might give rise to similar abuses; taking into consideration the necessity and the mutual advantage of an international agreement on this point; convinced that in this humanitarian endeavor they will meet with the unanimous adherence of all States concerned: have decided to conclude a convention with this object.”

Almost as an afterthought, an “Indian Hemp Re801 was tacked on, calling for the “study [of] the question of Indian Hemp from the statistical and scientific point of with the object of regulating its abuses, should the necessity  be felt, by internal regulation or by international agreement.”

By the time of the Second Opium Conference, her Geneva in 1924, some scientists had agreed that the time for cannabis control was at hand. While opium was still major consideration, Egypt’s delegate, Dr. El Guindy, said, “There is, however, another product, which is at least as harmful as opium, if not more so, and which my government would be glad to see in the same category as the other narcotics already mentioned. I refer to hashish, the product of Cannabis sativa. This substance and its derivatives work such havoc that the Egyptian government has for a long time past prohibited their introduction into the country. I cannot emphasize sufficiently the importance of including this product in the list of narcotics, the use of which is to be regulated by this Conference.”

In answer to questions from other delegates, Dr. EI Guindy claimed that although the Egyptian government had banned the growing of cannabis, large amounts were still smuggled in from neighboring countries. “This illicit use of hashish,” he told the Conference, “is the principal cause of insanity in Egypt, varying from thirty to sixty percent of the total number of cases reported. Taken occasionally and in small doses, hashish perhaps does not offer much danger, but there is always the risk that once a person begins to take it, he will continue. He acquires the habit and becomes addicted to the drug and once this happens it is very difficult to escape.”

The greatest hazards of cannabis intoxication mentioned by Dr. EI Guindy were “acute hashishism,” marked by crises of delirium and insanity, and “chronic hashishism;” marked by visible mental and physical deterioration. Because of pressure from the Egyptian and Turkish delegates, who would not sign a ban on opium unless cannabis was also included, after some debate all the delegates voted in favor of controlling “Indian Hemp” as defined by the “dried flowering or fruiting tops of the pistillate plant Cannabis sativa from which the resin has not been extracted, under whatever name they may be designated in commerce.”  Thus, cannabis was put on the forbidden list, not because of medical reasons, but for social ones.

After World War II, the United Nations inherited the duty of enforcing the highly complex international agreements on control of dangerous drugs, including the above cannabis control resolution. When the World Health Organization came into being in 1948, this responsibility was shifted to them in the form of an: expert Committee on Drug Depen-dence that served as an advisory group to the United Nations Commission on Narcotics. The committee, made up of physicians and scientists, reviewed the cannabis situation and quickly came to the conclusion “that use of the drug was dangerous from every point of view, whether physical, mental or social. The ultimate result of this review was the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in which 500 delegates from seventy-four nations, including some of the best toxicologists and pharmacologists in the world, recommended that cannabis, in all its forms, be limited exclusively to medical and scientific purposes.” The primary reason for this strict regulation was that all the available expert advice from the World Health Organization indicated that cannabis did constitute a danger to health and a hazard to society although, admittedly, not well-documented.

While the United States was a signatory member of both the Second Opium Conference and the United Nations agreements, the signing was done with the attitude that the inclusion of cannabis in an international drug ban was “more important to them than to us.”  Marijuana was not’ problem in America, and there were only a farsighted few like the head of the American delegation, career diplomat, Harry Anslinger, who recognized its dangers.

The Single Convention was hailed by most countries as a landmark for the control of dangerous drugs throughout the world. It was also hailed as a model of the kind of international cooperation the United Nations can achieve.  The agreements reached by the Convention were unanimously ratified by the participating nations.

Ten years later, however, in the United States the climate of opinion had changed as the use of marijuana had become widespread. Now there were dissenters who objected to the inclusion of cannabis in the Single Convention. Thus, Harry Anslinger became the focal point of the attack of the new proponents of pot. One critic said, “The inclusion of cannabis into an international agreement mainly concerned with opiates and cocaine was due to the efforts of one determined man, Harry Anslinger.” But anyone who has read the documents would realize that the agreement was the result of a historical movement to control or eliminate dangerous psychotropic drugs, including cannabis-as are virtually all the United States federal and state anti marijuana laws.

In any event, the United Nations Single convention of 1961 was not the last one to be held on this subject.  A new conference in Vienna in 1971 produced an international agreement to control many of the newer psychotropic drugs such as hallucinogens, barbiturates, and stimulants.

‘While my research at the Dag Hammarskjold Library did not produce any major revelations, it did clarify certain points that I considered to be important to the evolution of my own work. Essentially, I became convinced that the present legal strictures against marijuana in the United States were not based on one man’s perversity but were the result of international agreements that went back to the beginning of this century; cannabis was included in these international agreements because the majority of delegates to the conventions were aware of both mental and physical harm produced by the drug; and in the international community, at least, there was no doubt of the dangers to health inherent in marijuana.

Source:  Book,  Keep Off The Grass by Gabriel Nahas

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