Weed of Wonder | Review

Weed of Wonder is a stylish coffee table book released earlier this year by The Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum of Amsterdam and Barcelona. It was mostly written by Jules Marshall (Ken Tarant wrote chapter 13), with photography by Floris Leeuwenberg and input from Ben Dronkers, the museum founder, and Gerbrand Korevaar, the museum curator, who served as the book’s Editor-in-Chief.

‘Why use up the forests, which were centuries in the making, and the mines, which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?’Henry Ford

The book kicks off with a foreword from Ben Dronkers, where he states that the role of his museum (which houses over 9,000 artifacts) is to safeguard the history of cannabis, and to be ‘a source of information, inspiration and wonder for generations to come.’ He summarises some of the changes that have come about since he opened the Amsterdam site in 1987, and how attitudes and knowledge about the plant have changed with the ebb and flow of time. One fascinating and likely surprising example of this is credited as being renowned activist Jack Herer‘s archival discovery; a 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, in which industrial hemp is touted to be the next big thing in America, beneath the headline: ‘New Billion Dollar Crop’. The second opening passage in Weed of Wonder comes courtesy of former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Dries Van Agt, who says: ‘The demonstrable danger [of cannabis] to society is much smaller than those of alcohol and tobacco, which cause much more human suffering.‘ He proudly recalls the 1976 amendment to The Netherlands’ Opium Act, causing their revised approach to cannabis sales to become internationally known as ‘the Dutch toleration policy’.

The book’s introduction laments the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘just as it seemed cannabis would be an equally useful crop in the era of internal combustion and petrochemicals, it was plunged quite deliberately into a veritable dark age.’ One remarkable discovery (among others) by Professor Raphael Michoulam and his team in Israel is highlighted by the book. Naturally occurring cannabinoids, and receptors for them, are produced inside the brains and bodies of all multicellular animals. Such receptors ‘boost or dampen processes that operate in nearly every part of the body’, regulating pain relief among other crucial functions. This is truly remarkable when you consider that cannabis itself is the only plant which produces cannabinoids. Because of this, cannabis is thought to be at least as old as the last common ancestor of all vertebrates and invertebrates, dating back over 500 million years ago. Aside from helping our bodies maintain homeostasis, the plant has countless industrial uses. Towards the end of the book, author Jules Marshall reminds us that hemp is ‘capable of producing paper, textiles, building materials, food, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, plastics, and fuel‘.

Formal discoveries and classifications of the Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis plant species are covered, alongside some general history and information in chapter one. The next chapter covers the early history of cannabis around the world, starting around 12,000 years ago with the first traces of domestication in what is now Mongolia and southern Siberia. This fascinating historical tour takes in Japan, Central Asia, India, Egypt, China, Greece and the Roman Empire. The Indian Sanskrit poem, Atharva Veda, lists cannabis as one of five sacred plants. A Hindu work called the Raja Valabba claims that the gods provided cannabis for the human race to ‘attain delight, lose all fear and have their sexual desires excited‘. China’s name for itself was once ‘the land of mulberry and hemp’. Cannabis and silk (produced in part by feeding silkworms mulberries) were both commonly traded on the famous Silk Road routes, stretching from China to the Mediterranean.

Exodus 30 of The Bible describes an anointing or sanctifying oil for people such as kings and priests, which includes the ingredient q’neh bosm. It’s believed this is probably derived from the word ‘cannabis’. The oil Jesus used to heal sick people is thought to have been based on the same mixture. Hashish was popular in the medieval Arab world, where the prophet Mohammed did not ban its use, despite alcohol being strictly forbidden. Arab Doctors of the time used cannabis (or kannab) as a medicine. Hemp fibre was vital for ship construction during The Age of Sail. Johannes Gutenberg‘s revolutionary printing press used hemp-based paper and ink. [If I keep listing early historical tidbits, you’ll start wondering whether this is a proper book review or an endless list of facts, so I’ll move on!]

Suffice it to say, the Western world took much longer to really begin understanding and embracing cannabis, which gained popularity thanks to the likes of visionary Limerick man, Doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. By the late 1800s, Western cities such as New York, Paris and London, began to see the plant as exotic, stylish, intellectual and enlightening. The book goes on to detail connections being formed in the imaginations of influential racist Americans in the early 1900s, who started to associate weed with brown and black people from various ethnic groups. It was therefore to be feared and shunned, according to authority figures of that period. The strong link between cannabis and cultural movements like jazz music, beatnik ‘brotherhoods’ and ‘flower children’ hippies is described in fascinating detail. Sadly, by chapter seven of the book, we’re moving on to growing global prohibition efforts. ‘The Forbidden Plant’ mentions the horrendous injustice of sentencing African-American Roger Davis to 40 years in prison for the possession and sale of eight ounces of cannabis, in 1974. It’s accompanied by a haunting High Times magazine cover of Davis peering at the camera through prison bars.

‘I have been involved with cannabis all my life, and the plant keeps surprising me. People deserve to be educated. There are so many misconceptions, misleading and inaccurate stories, as well as blatant lies, spread by the media. Terrible propaganda against a plant.’ – Ben Dronkers

Perhaps most importantly for modern historians and drug reform activists, this chapter covers all of the key conventions, treaties and laws which made a life with cannabis, including medicinal use and the growing of hemp, increasingly stigmatised and forbidden. The medicinal value cannabis was understood to have was suddenly struck off the international record by a UN ruling in 1951. Generally, such monumental decisions made by politicians of the era were made out of an irrational sense of racist paranoia and fear, based upon no real evidence. It is also thought that they were made with the vested interests of certain industries that competed with cannabis in mind. Figures like Harry J. Anslinger are highlighted as key prohibitionist influencers. Some of their attitudes appear to have remained ingrained in the minds of certain people to this day, including Irish Minister and human barricade to progressive drug reform, Frank Feighan. The book guides us through different areas of pop culture that cannabis left its mark on over the years, before examining Dutch tolerance and its policy changes over the decades in finer detail.

We’re presented with some of Rotterdam and Amsterdam’s finest coffeeshops. Prominent coffeeshop pioneers are profiled; Henk de Vries, the late Kees Hoekert, and ‘The Hash Queen‘, Mila Jansen. Following this, we delve more into cannabis as a part of modern Western healthcare, where at its peak it had ‘at least 2,000 products from over 280 manufacturers’. This would decline immensely in the twentieth century, with the rise of synthetic drug production and less corporate interest in variable plant-derived medications. Chapter 13, by Ken Tarant, is a biography of Ben Dronkers and his life’s work, as seen through three branches; the museum, Sensi Seed Bank, and hemp cultivation and processing company, Hempflax. It also profiles Ben’s family and his most notable museum collaborators who contributed over the years, and in many cases, still do.

‘The Sensi Seed Bank is the most comprehensive cannabis genetics bank in the world… It is a little like preserving the rainforest because we know there are potential medicines there which must not be destroyed.’

– the late Dr. Lester Grinspoon, of Harvard Medical School

Overall, including introductions and credits, Weed of Wonder amounts to 288 pages. It’s packed with information across areas too numerous to cover in this review. It is a high-quality labour of love, formatted in an approachable way that invites readers to dip in and out of reading. It’s full of gorgeous, eye-catching photography and illustrations, and can be bought in either a green or purple hardback cover, with metallic silver or gold title lettering, respectively. It’s unlikely to alienate those with a more casual interest in things, as it avoids overly lengthy or complicated passages. Although ordering the book to Ireland raises its price from €34.50 to a steep €48.75 with mandatory tracked shipping, it is a pleasure from cover to cover and can be thought of as an eye-catching high end investment. Personally, I consider this book a treasure, as well as a testament to the continued passions of Ben Dronkers, his friends and family, and cannabis advocates everywhere by extension.

* The Green Lens would like to thank Gerbrand Korevaar for providing us with a review copy of this book.

Laura & Laura Jayne at Cannabis: A New Green Deal by Uplift.ie | 20.04.2021

Laura Jayne Foley has a Masters in Agricultural Innovation from NUIG (the National University of Ireland, Galway). She is a co-founder of Canabaoil Ltd. and 1Wild Atlantic Hemp. She is also a board member of 2Hemp Co-Operative Ireland. Laura Curry Cloney is the founder of 3The Hemp Higher Project, which was a finalist in 4The Social Entrepreneurs of Ireland.

The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Emily Duffy (of 5Uplift): I’m going to get into some of (the viewers) questions, but the first one that I wanted to put to everybody was, what opportunities do you see for campaigning, specifically out of this 6report? Is there new information that we feel is a good lever of change? I think a lot of the health concerns that have been raised can be addressed through legalisation. If people can access strains that are more beneficial, that are less likely to cause certain things, then people will be healthier. Laura Jayne, would you like to come in? Laura Jayne: Hi! I suppose I just wanted to mention the farming point of view, ‘cause that’s where I come from. So, we grow hemp in West Clare and there’s 200 members of the Hemp Co-Operative growing it. It’s something that I think would benefit rural Ireland, to be able to develop this industry. It had the same kinds of restrictions put on it from a business point of view around the THC element, and I suppose, stigma.

I think this document really gives us an idea of where the prohibition came from. And it really gives us a good understanding about where we’re positioned and why it became illegal. It gives people the opportunity to see it for what it is. It is a plant that is so easy to grow. It has so many benefits and as Shae (Flanagan, of Uplift) mentioned, environmentally it has so many benefits. In an environment where we’re moving away from petroleum products, hemp is a big solution for a lot of those problems. Not only is it a food that’s hugely nutritious, but it’s also a solution to a lot of our environmental problems. It’s something I would very much like to see grow in Ireland in small farms. It has the opportunity to be a revitalisation for rural Ireland. Emily: Yeah, absolutely. And hemp is actually a carbon sink, isn’t it? It stores carbon. Laura Jayne: As Seán (McCabe, of TASC) said, it sequesters a huge amount of carbon, but it’s also phyto-remedial.

So what it does is, it draws glyphosates, heavy metals, chemicals out of the ground, so that it can actually put the soil back in a situation where it’s organic. You know, we’re taking those toxins out of the ground and we’re improving the soil. There really are so many positives for the environment, as well as from a nutritional and medical point of view. Emily: And I think as well, Ireland has one of the highest rates of glyphosate in our surface water in the EU. So, even more of a reason to get those toxins out of the ground. One member, Deborah, has asked a really important question here around community wealth. A lot of you touched on rural Ireland and how this could potentially revitalise it. Rather than talking about tax and economy and all of those kinds of things, how do we see the legalisation of cannabis putting life back into our communities? Creating changed communities that support each other and thrive and grow – pardon the pun! Is there anybody who would like to come in there? Laura Jayne, back to you.

Laura Jayne: When we were doing our Masters, we did a lot of research on farmers and farming in the West. ‘cause we see hemp as having a huge potential as a rotational crop but also as an alternative income. But one of the things we did notice was a lot of the farmers that we interviewed were under 35. Most of them had just inherited the land from their family and they didn’t want to go back to the old way of farming that had been done before. They felt that it wasn’t profitable. What they saw in hemp was that there were so many opportunities from the bio-economy, from CBD oil, from fibre… I would say hemp and cannabis are the same thing, but from the industrial hemp point of view, there’s opportunity there for farmers to increase the income on their land. And that has a knock-on effect in rural Ireland.

A lot of people are part-time farming. They might be working from home. They’d have a plot where they’d spend a few months during the summer, they might grow some hemp. So for me that’s one of the reasons why I think it has that power to revitalise rural Ireland. Also, small processors. We process CBD oil, we have a HSE (Health Service Executive) approval to process cannabinoids from cannabis sativa. And we’re a small operation. But there is an opportunity for processors like us and all around Ireland, developing their own product, developing a local product. And I suppose I think that is where there is some huge opportunity. Emily: Excellent! I just want to check in with Laura Curry Cloney, did you want to come in there?

Laura Curry Cloney: Hi everyone, thanks for having me on. Thanks for the amazing report, it looks really, really good. Just to pick up on something that Shae said, in terms of bogland and growing hemp that may not be of the best of quality.. It can potentially be used for something like hempcrete. It doesn’t necessarily have to be really good quality to do that. It can also be used as biofuel, even on very toxic soil, like for example, landfills. In Ireland alone, there’s over 300 landfills and these sites have been abandoned or are old abandoned mines. If we grew hemp there, you could then create a biofuel from the hemp that’s harvested and also heal the land. So, in those terms you can use it, even if it’s not the highest quality, for other industrial purposes. Emily: That’s great, brilliant.

This is a great question here from Maria, who is talking about chronic pain in particular. I think the medical conversation is really important, but I think, and some of you might touch on this, the means by which people can access cannabis has been highly regulated and restricted. “How much does the Irish government spend on pain management medications with incredibly serious side effects?” So she said that she’s “seen people in Ireland with Rheumatoid Arthritis, 7Ehlers Danlos, back issues, hip issues” going off very high strength prescribed medications, which have a lot of side effects, and that if people could access the right strain, that people would get much better outcomes and much better medical care. But I think the question there is, what is the form of legislation or how does the law need to be, to make sure that people can access the type of cannabis strains that they need? I’m gonna go to Laura Jayne and then I’m gonna go to Laura.

Laura Jayne: Hi. I suppose it’s not from a medical point of view, but it’s from the hemp side of things. When we started farming in 2018, what we wanted to do was make a full spectrum oil. And from 2018-2021 actually, it’s taken us a good long time to get through all the different loops. But from a Food Safety Authority point of view, they’ve allowed us to bring out a full spectrum oil. So our oil has .3% THC in it. Now we got that through on the basis that it’s food and it’s an acute reference dose for THC in foods that was set by the European Food Safety Authority. So we’ve a full spectrum oil. It’s CBD, but it’s also CBG and THC. So there is a soft spot there in the legislation. We’re coming under food law, it’s not under The Misuse of Drugs Act. So it’s a slight ability to get THC into a product, it’s only taken a few years. The licence to cultivate cannabis sativa, the hemp licence, is achievable for most farmers. The HSE have approved us for the processing of cannabinoids from cannabis sativa. Now it’s hemp, but it is cannabis sativa.

I suppose it’s the angle we’ve come at it from. We saw a legal opportunity to grow it, to see if it would grow in Ireland. It grows well, we grow it outdoors. We’re restricted on the type of seeds we can grow, so obviously we would love to see a better range of hemp seeds available that would have higher THC content. But it’s just a positive that there are products on the market that are full spectrum, that do have THC in them. And I suppose going forward, we want more, but that’s where we are at the moment. Emily: Great, thank you so much. And Laura.. other Laura! Emily Giggles Laura: Thanks. Just in relation to what Laura said there, I actually stock her CBD oil in our Hempire yoga studio. And it’s really, really good. It’s excellent quality and having that certificate from the Food Safety Authority, allowing (me) to sell it, makes it a legal product in Ireland. But unfortunately, where the divide is internationally, you can’t sell that through something like Shopify or Paypal.

Even though we have all of the paperwork and all of the documents that say this is a legal product, we are still in a position where we can’t sell it by those means. So you’re looking for different payment gateways to actually get your product out on the market. And the other side of the wellbeing sector is the spiritual aspects of cannabis and how spiritually healing it is, not only to be outdoors growing it. But also, when you see references that are 4,000 years old in The Vedas, referencing this plant as one of the five most revered herbs in the world. That’s ancient Hindu scriptures, where this plant is revered for its magical properties. So that element needs to be brought in. It’s also described as “a plant with an angel residing in its leaves”. And that’s translated from (the) Sanskrit language. So if these ancient Yogis understood this, us as a species can now catch up with that and reawaken that knowledge in us. And I really feel that that’s what this plant is here to do.

It’s to reawaken that understanding and that compassion and that compassionate heart, for everyone. Emily: Compassion is definitely something that we need more of in the world right now, for sure, Laura. And I think what’s really interesting as well, having watched your presentation Seán, was how this used to be a crop that was just readily grown here. That there was a decision made at some point in the past to demonise something that was before that very natural and was used as a tool to boost our economy and lots of other things as well. And it’s obviously not just about that as well, but people do use it as a spiritual aid and I think that’s a really important point as well. I have one final question. Actually, this is for you again Laura, but anybody can come in here if you wanna put your hand up, which is – what small step can we take as individuals right now to bring us closer to legislation?

Laura: Do your research, look into it. Send this information off, because your report looks amazing. So, well done Uplift, this is incredible. And if this is rolled out, we can contact TDs. There’s no denying what this plant can do. When you put together a report of that nature, there’s no argument against it. And people do need to take action, like Nicole (Lonergan, of Cork Cannabis Activist Network) said. It’s up to us to contact TDs, to contact all of these political parties and make some noise about it. And really start to get that roots kind of approach where we’re all standing together. We all want the same thing, whether it’s medical use, or environmental use, or whatever. We all want this plant legalised and that’s super important. It’s really important for the Earth, it’s really important for our children, for their children. We need somewhere to live. For me, that’s what drives me and that’s what I think is so important about cannabis, is where it can bring our planet. Emily: Great, thank you so much Laura. Now I’m gonna ask Laura Jayne…

Laura Jayne: From our point of view, I think we’re pushing an open door. Roderick (Campbell, of The Irish Medical Cannabis Council) said something earlier. He said how to monetise it is the government’s problem. That may be the issue they’re coming up against now, because it is going to be a massive industry. I know CBD, it has been a massive introduction to a much older population in Ireland. People who would never have thought of using cannabis before. And they’re finding the benefits for arthritis, and for different reasons they’re using it. I think now that that population issue you were discussing earlier isn’t there as much. I find that most people we speak to are hugely proactive about the legalisation of cannabis. And people are pushing an open door.

Emily: I love that metaphor of pushing an open door and understanding that it’s as much about how as when. How we’re going to legalise cannabis and how it should benefit our communities. How we should see the wealth created from it going straight back into rural Ireland, that is especially vulnerable now after Covid. There’s even more of a reason now to push it. As Roderick said, there’s 102 people on this call right now. There’s thousands of people who have donated, thousands of people have signed 8petitions. There is a big and growing community as part of this campaign. It’s one of the biggest engagements that we’ve seen in Uplift campaigns in a really long time, which is always a sign to me that we’re gonna win. 

I might pass over to you now Shae, to talk about next steps and where we go from here. Shae: Cool. Once again, thanks to all of our panelists. Thanks to Seán for a great report, and a great presentation on the report. It is being finalised as we speak. TASC and Uplift are putting together some key messages, some of those ones that might work for politicians. Once it’s published, it’ll be circulated for use as a resource for Uplift members, any activists or groups and organisations that could benefit and want to use it for campaigning work. The report is balanced, it’s evidence-based and clear. And I’m really keen for us to work out our next steps together as activists and farmers and as a community. Uplift is a broad church. We come from a lot of different places and I think our plan is best worked out together. Thank you to Nicole, Laura, Laura Jayne, Roderick, Seán and my beautiful co-host, Emily. And thanks all for coming and giving up a piece of your Tuesday night. Enjoy, go forth and be well!

References

1 Check out Wild Atlantic Hemp here – https://www.wildatlantichemp.com/pages/about-us

2 Find out about Hemp Co-Operative Ireland here – https://hempcooperativeireland.com/about/

3 Hemp Higher Yoga’s site is at this link – https://hemphigheryoga.ie/about-us/

4 For more info about The Social Entrepreneurs of Ireland, click this link –

https://socialentrepreneurs.ie/about/

5 The official Uplift website can be accessed here – https://www.uplift.ie/

6 Seán McCabe’s presentation about the upcoming TASC (Think Tank for Action on Social Change)

report on cannabis can be read here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/28/seanmccabe-new-green-deal-uplift/

7 For more on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, check out our recent interview with Evie Nevin

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/31/evie-nevin-26-05-21/

8 Uplift petition – https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/legalise-cannabis-in-ireland

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal,

can be seen here – https://bit.ly/3fMje97

Nicole & Roderick at Cannabis: A New Green Deal by Uplift.ie | 20.04.2021

Nicole Lonergan first became involved in speaking out about cannabis circa 2014. Through 1Cork Cannabis Activist Network, she raises awareness about the benefits of cannabis and the extensive harms of prohibition. Roderick Campbell is a member of Uplift, as well as 2The Irish Medical Cannabis Council. He is currently setting up The Irish Cannabis Co-Op. The following extract has been adapted from the live stream for the purposes of clarity and brevity.

Emily Duffy (of 3Uplift): I’m going to get into some of (the viewers) questions, but the first one that I wanted to put to everybody was, what opportunities do you see for campaigning, specifically out of this 4report? Is there new information that we feel is a good lever of change? I’d like to throw that out to you first. Nicole, you’re laughing, so I’m gonna hand over to you to start. Nicole: I knew I was setting myself up for something there. Emily Laughs Yeah, no problem! I think we need to be very clear first of all whether the report is actually asking for decriminalisation or legalisation, because those are two completely separate things. Legalisation is what will give us a legal industry, whereby people can legally buy cannabis that’s been tested from licenced vendors. I think the most important thing to push for going forward is public participation. I mean, in all the TDs that I’ve engaged with, the main issue they say to me is that enough people aren’t speaking up about this.

Many of them aren’t even aware that this is an issue that really needs to be addressed. I know it can be quite daunting to people to approach a TD or to put their name out there. But I can assure you, it will be treated confidentially. And it’s really important to speak up and to be an active part of your community and to let your TDs know what issues are really, really important and what needs to be addressed. So this is one of them and I encourage anyone listening to be brave and speak up and be vocal about your cannabis use. Because if it benefits you, I feel that other people should know. Emily: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Uplift is a community of over 360,000 people across Ireland. There’s people in every constituency in Ireland and we can provide the tools to start those conversations with politicians and to demystify and de-stigmatise something that is helping so many people stay well.

Would anyone else from the panel like to come in there? Laura Jayne Foley (of Wild Atlantic Hemp): I think Roderick put his hand up. Emily: I can’t see Roderick for some reason.. Roderick: I was hiding. Laughter Emily: “Where are you?” Roderick laughs Please come in, Roderick, thank you. Roderick: I think one of the things that stands out to me in terms of the narrative of the story that we’ve been telling is up until recently as cannabis campaigners, we’ve been telling the story that we think that cannabis is not necessarily bad for our communities. That it has either a positive effect or a neutral effect. And I think one of the stories that doesn’t get enough focus is that prohibition is really bad for our communities. It’s very unhealthy. It is killing people. Because we see that opiate use and opiate deaths particularly, drastically increase, when there’s prohibition. So we’ve got children’s use. Also, underage use increases during prohibition.

Criminality in the amount of money going to violent criminal organisations and cartels increases. So, what we see right now is thorough inaction. And I think this is a really critical, from my perspective, change in the story. It is the inaction and the cowardice and the pearl clutching and this “waiting for the brown paper envelopes” of our TDs. It is actively harming our communities, harming our children and killing people. And that switch of the narrative, I think, it changes the momentum of the campaign. Emily: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. And I think a lot of the health concerns that have been raised.. I think that actually a lot of it can be addressed through legalisation. If people can access strains that are more beneficial, that are less likely to cause certain things, then people will be healthier. And I think, also, that idea of bronchitis.. We know in California a lot of people don’t smoke it at all. It’s edible and things like that, so I think that’s an argument there as well that’s very strong.

Roderick: We’re launching the cannabis co-operative, which is starting in Kinsale. It’s about thirty people launching the thing, and (it’s) focused on the consumer development side of things, instead of growing. Dispensaries, e-commerce and delivery, that sort of thing. I’m actually in Washington right now where it’s legal, completely. So I’ve got legal cannabis in front of me. And I’m doing a little bit of research around products and particularly ethical businesses around it. I live in Kinsale, and there’s an island here in Washington that’s very similar in almost every way. A similar flow of traffic, people coming through tourism, a similar population. And there’s two shops on the island. And both of those shops, the dispensaries on the island, they’re paying a $20 minimum wage, before there was any increase in the minimum wage.

That’s more than double the normal minimum wage in Washington State. And in addition to that, full benefits. And in addition to all of that, the businesses that own these two shops are still pulling in between $50,000 and $100,000 per month in revenue, for the community. So, the revenue is just off the charts. And I think that the big race now that we’re going to see, and the reason they haven’t moved on legalisation, is because they don’t know how to monetise it and monopolise it yet. And the big battle here I think, is for us to get the legalisation over that line as soon as possible. And also to make sure that we can bolster co-operative, community-owned businesses and enterprises to dominate this thing. If we don’t, you know we’re gonna lose a lot of money out of our communities. Emily: Absolutely. And I think there’s a real opportunity for forming a new type of economy here, for doing things quite a bit differently and better.

I think that some of those models in the US are fascinating. And the thing as well is that politics in Ireland are quite local and people are very interested in revitalising their communities. There’s often even more of a chance of convincing politicians of that, so that’s an opportunity to get a little strategic campaign in there. I’m gonna go hand over to Nicole! Nicole: Yeah, just to expand on what Roderick said, because all his points are completely valid, it is a massive industry. It’s a multi-million dollar industry. I’m pretty sure the cannabis industry has created about 321,000 jobs in the States and there’s now more cannabis-employed people than dentists. So that’s insanely significant and that needs to be looked at here. I don’t think we can afford to turn our noses up at the revenue that can be generated from this industry.

It just makes sense. Apply this to alcohol – would people rather drink alcohol out of a shoe that was made in someone’s shed, or would they rather buy it from a legal premises where it was tested? I mean that’s a no-brainer, and the same applies to cannabis. While we’re relying on the illegal market, we don’t know what we’re getting. So, I personally would much rather go to a store and choose from a wide range of products. And that is just gonna create a massive amount of revenue, which in turn can be used to fund addiction services, or just generally we could put (it) back into our communities, and to fund our education. It’s so important and my mind is boggled as to why this hasn’t been implemented in Ireland yet. I’m just hoping it will be soon. 

Emily: Great. You touched a little bit there on another great question that came in from a member called Eno, which is, given Irish history and habits, wouldn’t it be effective to produce a proper academic comparative study? He doesn’t know of any studies that are out there, but basically, should we talk about the health and societal implications of alcohol and compare them to cannabis? Is there anybody that would like to answer that one? Yeah, Nicole, keep going! Nicole: I’ll keep going while I’m on a roll! Laughter It’s important to do that, but at the same time you have to acknowledge that cannabis is very different from alcohol. There are always conversations around cannabis, “recreational” versus medicinal, but cannabis itself is inherently medicinal. There’s no budging from that, it’s on the use of the person. Responsible use and personal responsibility are massive when it comes to this.

But yeah, absolutely, it would be worthwhile comparing hospital admissions, for example, between alcohol and cannabis. And the amount of money that’s actually spent on treating both. Because as we know, most people who go to hospital for cannabis… all of those symptoms will resolve themselves at home, with time and re-assurance and rest. There is usually no need for them to actually be in hospital in the first place. It is an important comparative point to make, but at the same time we have to recognise that these are two completely different substances. Emily: Perfect, yeah. I think that’s a great answer. This is a great question here from Maria, who is talking about chronic pain in particular. I think the medical conversation is really important, but I think, and some of you might touch on this, the means by which people can access cannabis has been highly regulated and restricted.

“How much does the Irish government spend on pain management medications with incredibly serious side effects?” She said that she’s “seen people in Ireland with Rheumatoid Arthritis, 5Ehlers Danlos, back issues, hip issues”, going off very high strength prescribed medications, which have a lot of side effects. And that if people could access the right strain, that people would get much better outcomes and much better medical care. But I think the question there is, how does the law need to be, to make sure that people can access the types of cannabis strains that they need? Nicole, you’re coming in there straight away! Nicole: Thanks. Yeah, I think it’s really important for people to recognise that what’s in place doesn’t work. There’s currently two systems in place, whereby people maybe can access medical cannabis products.

So, the first is the licensing system. That’s not fit for purpose as far as I’m concerned, because basically you have to apply via a Consultant. They will then be issued a licence to prescribe products containing THC. You have to choose from the products that you get from the Dutch pharmacy, and most patients are actually paying anywhere from €600 to €9,500 every three months for a prescription. That’s ludicrous, nobody should be paying that money for any type of healthcare. The Medical Cannabis Access Programme, that’s not even been active yet. Legislation that was signed in 2019, it’s still not active. It’s not due to be active until June 2021 and it’s only for three specific conditions and four cannabis-based medicines. And the part that’s actually quite upsetting and very wrong I think, for something that claims to be a compassionate access programme, is the fact that the conditions which it allows access for can only access these products as a last resort.

So that means for patients with MS, they are forced to endure high doses of botox, I think it’s a medication called Tizanidine, apologies if I’m butchering the pronunciation, before low-dose cannabis-based medicines will even be considered. That’s not compassionate, it’s not accessible, so it doesn’t work. I really feel that if we’re gonna be relying on headlines and just accepting what crumbs are thrown our way, we’ll never get what we need. And what we need is actual compassionate access for people who do need these products. People shouldn’t have to jump through hoops. I think it’s very wrong for people who are ill and who are already suffering to put them through so much financial stress to try and get access to a natural product.

So again, I just hope that people will actually push for this and not settle. Because we deserve so much better. Emily: Great answer and I couldn’t agree more. Roderick, would you like to come in? Roderick: Sure. A few small things. I’m biased, because I’m trying to push that 6petition. Laughter So the Uplift petition, there’s some really small things. There’s 102 people here. And there’s one thing that if you did this once a day, or once a week, or with any regularity, that petition would begin to explode. Go on Facebook and join some related Facebook groups, like permaculture, cannabis or drug-related groups, community groups, it doesn’t matter. And if you don’t want all your friends to see it all the time, that’s fine, go to a private one. And then consistently, every day ideally, or every week if you’re willing to, go in and share the petition and say something about cannabis.

A fact about legalisation, and share it and ask people to sign it. And if we can get that fucker to explode, I think that that will give us the organising ability that we need to add a bit of pressure on TDs. That and then one other thing. I think the other big thing is culture-making. Ireland is still in sort of a time capsule, in terms of the culture around cannabis and the expectations, even though fucking everybody smokes, or has at some point. Emily laughs So, that’s the sort of paradox. I think particularly, we’re running into this cultural phenomenon where older people don’t wanna encourage younger people to smoke, even though they smoked. So they want to pretend like they never smoked and it’s bad. Fuck that! The way that we overcome that is by forcing people into a corner, especially our family members, and forcing the conversation.. in a really friendly way.

Emily laughs And if we can do that en masse, we will change the culture. Just like what happened with marriage equality, just like it did with abortion. So, culture-making, and push the fuckin’ petition please! Emily: Absolutely, brilliant Roderick! I love that answer. Nicole, I’m gonna come to you. Nicole: No bother. Excellent points Roderick, love it. Just to expand on that again, just talk! Never shut up! I mean, I talk to the Tesco delivery man about cannabis. He knows what’s coming every week. When you bring the issue of cannabis to anyone in government, they’ll go: “Oh the harms, we have to protect people!” Let’s compare it with Penicillin. How many people are allergic to Penicillin? How many people will have a really, really severe reaction to Penicillin that might put them in hospital, might even kill them?

We factor that in, but we don’t overlook the overwhelming benefits that come with Penicillin. And this should be applied to cannabis, cannabis is no different. We cannot afford to overlook the benefits that cannabis can bring to so many sectors in our society. So again, talk, talk, talk. Share as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to speak up, because once you do you kind of… you never can shut up then really, you’re kind of (saying): “I want to share this information with people!” If your family and your friends are your support network, they will understand and they will listen to what you have to say about cannabis. So yeah, it’s just really important. Please talk, please speak up, don’t be afraid!

References

1 Cork Cannabis Activist Network’s central hub can be accessed here –

https://www.linktr.ee/CorkCAN/

2 For official updates from the Irish Medical Cannabis Council, see

https://www.medcan.ie/

3 The Uplift website can be found here – https://www.uplift.ie/

4 Seán McCabe’s presentation about an upcoming TASC (Think Tank for Action on Social Change)

report on cannabis can be read here –

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/28/seanmccabe-new-green-deal-uplift/

5 For more on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, check out our recent interview with Evie Nevin

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/05/31/evie-nevin-26-05-21/

6 Uplift petition – https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/legalise-cannabis-in-ireland

* The full recording of this Uplift panel discussion, Cannabis: A New Green Deal, can be seen here –

https://bit.ly/3fMje97

Caroline Barry | Nottingham, UK | 13.05.2021

Caroline Barry is an Irish journalist based in Nottingham, England. She writes for 1The Cannavist and 2Vapouround magazines on vaping, CBD and cannabis. With over 13 years of experience as a journalist, she has worked in radio and written for publications across the UK, Ireland and the US. She has written about LGBT+ rights, culture, politics and music. She is currently working on her first non-fiction novel about neurodiversity and relationships. 

Twitter:  @carolinedebarra /

Instagram: @penny_dreadful_x



When did you first become interested in make-up and fashion?

I started in fashion and beauty journalism in 2008 when I created my blog, 3Miss Penny Dreadful. At the time, there weren’t many Irish fashion bloggers out there, so it started to build up a lot of followers and attention from brands. I was also working as a make-up artist at the time in Dublin and Galway too, so I combined my skills as a creative writer and an MUA to make the blog interesting and fresh.

When you began your blog in 2009, did you have a strong sense of wanting to pursue a career in journalism or did it start as more of a hobby?

It started as a hobby! I was a broke art student in Limerick who couldn’t afford to buy all the lovely clothing I saw in shops and on the catwalk. I hadn’t thought about writing as a career but the more I wrote, the more people kept saying they enjoyed what I was writing. My work in art college started to become more text-based too, in the form of poetry and performance art. When I moved to Dublin in 2009, I didn’t know what to do with myself. The blog was getting insane attention from brands and PR companies with the readership figures in the thousands, then millions. I walked into an MA degree open day for journalism one day, on a whim. I realised that it was exactly what I had been looking for. I’ve never had anything career-wise suit me more than journalism. I love it.

What are some of your favourite fashion collections or events that you’ve covered?

Although I was so passionate about fashion and beauty, I actually ended up working in a lot of different types of journalism. I am currently working in vaping, CBD and cannabis journalism in the UK which is totally different. I’ve reported on sports events and general elections too. I think my favourite events that I have covered have been the ones where I’ve had a personal connection to them. I was invited to the Irish embassy in London to cover an Irish fashion event there in 2013/14. It felt so surreal to be there as an Irish person in the UK. I was so proud. I covered London Fashion Week too, which was wild. I’ve also interviewed some of my favourite bands and designers, such as Band of Skulls and Peter Pilotto.

Are there any cannabis-themed fashion collections or brands you’d recommend? (A very niche question, I know!)

Niche, but I can actually recommend one! I am passionate about water wastage and the environment. I started moving to ethical denim about two years ago, because our current denim obsession is out of control and dangerous. I came across 4Canvaloop jeans when researching a piece for The Cannavist magazine on hemp clothing. They are an Indiegogo campaign that actually raised a huge amount of startup funding to make jeans from hemp. They have some gorgeous styles. Also, there is 5DevoHome making faux fur from hemp, which is biodegradable as well. It’s unreal how adaptable hemp actually is. 

What was your favourite aspect of presenting The Indie Show on URN (University Radio Nottingham)?

I moved into presenting after a long period of working behind the scenes on radio stations in Ireland. I had been with Newstalk for a while, working on shows such as The Eamon Dunphy Breakfast Show among a few others. I had also appeared on Newstalk a few times to talk about LGBT+ rights. I loved working on The Indie Show because it gave me the freedom to play my music as I wanted to. Prior to this, I had a breakfast show with another station which I had to play chart music for, which destroyed me a bit! I am one of the chattiest people, so having my own show gave me the freedom to talk about music, play amazing records and chill out for a few hours. I do miss radio terribly. 

When did you first develop an interest in cannabis?

I started smoking cannabis recreationally, as we all do. I wasn’t into drinking as a teenager because I didn’t like how it interacted with me. I have ADHD, which cannabis helped. Although I didn’t realise that as a teen, I just thought I was being a rebel. I smoked on and off for years as an adult too, during my art college years. Although I didn’t start researching or being interested in it until I joined The Cannavist in 2020. I had been taking CBD oil for anxiety, but working on the magazine opened my eyes to how cannabis could potentially be helpful for ADHD and other conditions.

What’s your relationship with cannabis like and what are your preferences with it?

My relationship is fractured. While I recognise that it really does help me, I am less than thrilled about how I have to access it. Prohibition means that I cannot access it easily. I am forever worried about my safety when it comes to finding someone who can supply me. I worry that I’m going to get arrested, attacked or caught with it. I also worry about what I’m being given. I’ve recently moved to a new area, so I’m stressing about finding someone to help me. Which means, I only have CBD at the minute. While I love CBD for anxiety and keeping me calm, it doesn’t do what THC can do for my ADHD. I would love to be able to go to a nice shop, chat to a professional, choose my choice and have a relaxing experience where I know I have enough to last me. So while I love cannabis and CBD, I’m not thrilled that I’m forced into breaking the law to access it.

Do you use weed from a more recreational or therapeutic point of view?

I think we need to look at all cannabis as therapeutic. I use it to calm myself after a day where my ADHD is making it difficult for me to relax or sleep. We all have a certain level of stress either on the body or the mind, especially after the absolute hell that was 2020, so cannabis can help us to relax and heal. I’m working on changing my language around cannabis, in that I try to no longer refer to ‘medical cannabis’ or ‘cannabis’. I see why medical cannabis is trying to distance itself from the recreational side in terms of stigma, but really, we all have the same end goal. We want to see it legal, safe and accessible.

Do you see the current Irish government reforming Ireland’s cannabis laws?

I will say never say never. I once believed, as a gay person who can get pregnant in Ireland that I would never see gay marriage or abortion legal in this country. I campaigned HARD for both and I still occasionally cannot believe we got it. I can’t see Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael getting up to do it without the same level of noise, pressure and campaigning that went into the years leading up to those referendums. They have no interest in it because they don’t understand it, and why change it if they keep getting voted in? I think we have some huge problems in this country that are going to make it hard for FF/FG (and the Greens) come the next election. Cannabis will be one of them and the housing crisis is another. But I will say nothing will get done without people coming forward to say: “I use it and I want safe, legal access.” 

Do you know a lot of people who use cannabis?

I do. As part of my role as a journalist on The Cannavist, I interview a lot of people in the UK, Ireland and the US who use cannabis. This could be legally, illegally, THC or CBD for a lot of different conditions. The stories are heartbreaking each time and the pain is very real. I’ve spoken to people with 6endometriosis or 7fibromyalgia who cannot get out of bed, but cannabis has given them their lives back. The government needs to hear the same things we do and realise there are a lot of people in serious pain. I defy them to hear it and not realise we need to have a serious talk about legalisation.

Do you ever feel unsafe getting cannabis, due to its illegality?

Yes. Constantly. As a genderfluid LGBT+ person, I feel very worried about the places I may have to go to get access to it. I constantly worry if I’m approached about what I’m getting, or who is approaching me. I’ve had negative experiences in the past with accessing it. I live in a slightly rough area, so there are a lot of dealers locally, but I worry about accessing it in my area because it’s on my doorstep. 

What do you miss the most about home?

My family. I miss them so much. While technology is great now and I’ve got more access than I ever did, it doesn’t replace actually being there. On a more random level, I really miss home in terms of language and culture. I can get so tired explaining what ‘the press’ or ‘craic’ or ‘arrah go on away like’ means to English people. I’m very lucky in that both of my editors at The Cannavist and Vapouround are Irish, so that helps with the homesickness!

What do you NOT miss about being back home?

The housing crisis. I emigrated in 2012, when I realised that there was no future for me in Ireland because of the recession. It was the highest year for emigration that year. I really want to return in the future, but I can’t see myself being able to do it. I bought a house in the UK and have a career in journalism here. I could never do that back home. I would need to be near a city to do my job, which means renting, because I could never afford to buy. Irish media is impossible to get into full time, which is part of the reason I left. I hate that I have a house here instead of back home, where I could be near my family. Especially this past year, where it’s impossible to travel.

How do you see UK-based cannabis activism faring in the near future?

I would like to see campaigning for easier access here. I think we know it has to happen but so far, it’s slow. I would love to see the UK relax and embrace cannabis the same way that the US has done. I don’t think that it is going to be easy, but I think the UK is ahead of Ireland in some respects. I think it’s going to take grass roots activism here too, to get the dispensaries and safe access we want. I think with recession, recovery and post-lockdown funds needing to be generated, we could be close to it. If the UK looks to the US in terms of tax generated and an entire industry created, then we could be close. I’d love to see the UK get organised to draw attention to it.

Thanks so much for your time, Caroline!

References:

1 The Cannavist magazine – https://www.cannavistmag.com/

2 Vapouround magazine https://www.vapouround.co.uk/

3 Caroline’s old blog, Miss Penny Dreadfulhttps://misspennydreadful.blogspot.com/ 

4 Canvaloophttps://www.canvaloop.com/ 

5 DevoHome – https://www.devohome.com/en/store/

6 Interview with endometriosis patient and activist, Aimee Brown

https://greenlensblog.com/2020/12/30/aimee-brown-20-12-2020/

7 Interview with fibromyalgia patient and activist, Adrienne Lynch

https://greenlensblog.com/2021/01/15/adrienne-lynch-3pm-09-01-2021/