An Ancient Plant Adds Modern Ecosystem Restoration to List of Proven Medicinal Effects

Well, I’m just back from a year of research on the front lines of the War on Drugs. And I guess that this law-abiding, tax-paying father of two has returned as one of those “cannabis can save the world” people.  My professional opinion is that it’s time to declare a Drug Peace.

As a sustainability author, full-time solar-powered goat rancher and would be rugged individualist, I just witnessed, every day in the fields an courtrooms of North America (following research on other continents), the effects of this (for humans) longest-utilized of plants. Not on people’s musical tastes or predilection for Pop Tarts, but on the nation’s sustainable economy and the world’s ecosystems.

In an early section of my forthcoming book Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution, I recall vividly a realization I had while covering the ostensibly fully human tragedy of Rwanda for the Washington Post and Wildlife Conservation Magazine in 1995:  “What I came away with was that the most underreported contributor to the recent ethnic horror there was the fact that it is the most densely populated country in a densely populated continent. I watched folks find fertile sides of rocks. Not a molecule went uncultivated. Soil health is a major issue in everyday lives.”

The reason I was dwelling, in 2011, on research I had done a decade and a half ago is that I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around how useful cannabis can be to the American economy and the world’s soil. I was trained during Just Say No that to even think about cannabis, industrially, medicinally, spiritually, or in any other way, was to risk ending up like Otto Man, Bart Simpson’s bus driver. And now I was considering spending a year examining why a trillion of our tax dollars have been devoted largely to (a futile attempt at) eliminating the plant, over the course of a 40 year failed War on Drugs.

Now, as I point out in the same chapter of Too High to Fail, “…no one plant is going to singlehandedly end resource scarcity in sub-Saharan Africa or anywhere else. But as a fellow who likes to think his work is at least trying to nudge the cosmos in a positive direction, I had to ask myself: Was it worth spending a year of my working life, which after my family is the major component of my waking day, to “researching weed”? How does that help the seventh child of a Rwandan family in need of protein?”

And you know what? After preliminary research, the topic passed rather easily and with flying colors. For one thing, conservative economic estimates put the benefit to the United States economy of ending cannabis prohibition at $60 billion annually. I think it’ll be higher. A USDA biologist told me that when it comes to cannabis as a biofuel source, “It’s magnitudes more productive than corn- or soy-based ethanol. But it’s not even on our blackboard because it’s a federal crime.” Thus were the farmers I followed practicing a kind of patriotic civil disobedience. One day they'll be teaching university courses to students dubious that their crop was ever really illegal. And when it comes to agricultural sustainability, industrial cannabis helps in topsoil restoration thanks to foot-long taproots that grow in a month.

Without even delving into the plant’s broad and undeniably documented medical effects and its Millennia-long spiritual use, in two decades of journalism on five continents, I’d never stumbled upon such a win-win situation. End the War of Cannabis and you improve the health care system in the U.S., help free climate-change-ravaged villages in, say, Mbazi, Rwanda, from resource wars, not to mention put small Nebraskan farmers back to work in a vertical, domestic, multibillion-dollar industry.

There are only a few institutions such a national imperative will hurt: two are cartels and incarceration corporations. Should’ve known I was on to something when, mid-research, I found out that both George Shultz and Pat Robertson agree with me. Does your congressperson and do your senators?


Doug is the bestselling author of Farewell, My Subaru. His follow-up, Too High to Fail, is available for pre-order everywhere, and comes out in August. A Web site of his carbon-neutral misadventures from five continents is at: