Going to pot

January 10th, 2014 Sections: Plants, Society
Wild Cannabis

Wild Cannabis

The news that Colorado had legalized the sale of cannabis as from the 1st January this year came as a bit of a surprise … although the states residents had voted in a referendum approving the measure as long ago as back in November 2012.

Colorado was already one of the nineteen US states that allowed people with medical conditions to use the drug as part of their treatment, but the new measure allows allows people to buy, sell, posses and use it for “recreational” purposes … albeit with considerable limitations; it’s not a completely “free-for-all” liberalization.

One of the complications is that, although the Colorado law has been amended, possession is still prohibited under Federal law … which raises a lot of interesting questions.  In a way it is a bit like the situation in Amsterdam in Holland where possession is technically illegal, but tolerated under certain conditions – and the law is not only still on the statute book, it is enforced when those conditions are not adhered to.

In Colorado, the conditions include provisions like having to be an adult – over 21 – and a limit on buying and/or possessing just an ounce of the herb … in one form or another … at any one time, (for residents of the state, that is …. visitors from “out of state” are apparently limited to just a quarter of an ounce).  It is only available for sale in specially licensed outlets – although something like 350 licenses have been issued – which are only allowed to open between 08:00 and midnight … and you have to pay in cash – American law prohibits the use of credit cards for the purchase of drugs.

Although possession and use of Cannabis for “recreational use” has been legalized, it is still illegal under other provisions of Colorado law to smoke it “openly and publicly” – which seems to mean in public places like restaurants, on the street or even in your car.  It might depend on the wording and the attitude taken by the courts, but I suspect that this might lead to a few difficulties … back in Britain, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 legalized homosexual acts between consenting adults in private, which was taken to mean in the privacy of your own home – but the door had to be locked so no-one could walk in; a menage a trois was no longer in private – there was a third person present; and hotel rooms were considered a public place.  In Colorado, they seem to got round this last point by apparently stipulating that hotels can allocate up to a quarter of their rooms as “cannabis” zones …  Hmmmm I see a legal nightmare looming on the horizon.

Cannabis is a type of annual flowering plant that is indigenous to Central and Southern Asia … In fact, the word may be Scythian in origin.  Oh, yes, that’s right – Kyrgyzstan is in Central Asia.  Cannabis is indigenous to Kyrgyzstan.

It grows wild here … and it is said to be “among the most potent in the world” – rivaling the potency of that produced in Afghanistan.  Every year there are stories in the press about how the authorities discover and destroy large quantities of the plant … in the first eight months of last year, the authorities claim to have destroyed something like 154 tons just in the Issyk Kul region.

  • Chinghiz Aitmatov incorporated the story of a journalist researching the trade in the drug, as an element into one of his novels.
  • Tiziano Terzani, the journalist and author of Goodnight Mister Lenin, tells how he was researching a book about the break up of the Soviet Union and traveled through several of the Soviet Republics to see what people made of the events,  Whilst in Bishkek, waiting to meet his interpreter under the statue of Lenin in the main Ala Too square, he looked around to see it growing naturally – and nobody seeming to take any notice.
  • On one occasion, I was walking with some clients through the city center and their eight year old son stopped and pointed at a plant growing out of the pavement at t he side of the road … he wanted to pick it and take it home and it took a great deal of effort to persuade him that it was NOT a good idea … possession is illegal here and attracts heavy penalties – that’s if it gets to court … I am told that payments in order to lose the paperwork and “forget” a case  provides a favoured method for policemen to supplement their income.
  • Once I even found a bush growing in the yard outside the office.  We have a lot of weeds including herbs such as Lemon Balm which seed themselves and make for pleasant surrounding – but this was not a welcome interloper and I ripped it out of the ground and threw it into the rubbish bin.

There are large areas where it can be found growing wild in Norther Kyrgyzstan – in the Chui and Issyk Kul oblasts – and according to one source it is suggested that about 2/3 of the families here are involved in harvesting the drug … although I am not sure how they arrive at that figure … it seems excessive to me.


It’s leaf makes it almost instantly recognizable: a sort of palm shape with an odd number of serrated leaflets, which can have about thirteen leaflets per leaf, (although usually only seven or nine), depending on variety and growing conditions.  The plants are self seeding, the seeds carried by the wind – hence its tendency to turn up in the most unexpected places like around a statue in a city’s central square, by the roadside or in a back yard of an apartment block.

The plants produce a something like 500 chemical substances or compounds including a unique family of compounds which produce the “high” one experiences from consuming marijuana, which comes from the dried flower buds – one of the forms it usually comes in as a psychoactive drug.  The others are as a resin (hashish), or various extracts or oils.

In the early 20th century, it became illegal in most of the world to cultivate or possess Cannabis for sale or personal use.

As it happens  the House of Representatives and Senate in Uruguay have passed a bill designed to fight drug related crimes and various health issues by legalizing and regulating the production and sale of the drug which will go into effect in April, 2014.

Oddly enough, it seems that there is one country in the world where Cannabis is legal:  North Korea.  At least, there are reports that say that Cannabis is not treated as an illegal drug by the North Korean government.  The situation is unclear.  Although the use, sale, and cultivation of Cannabis appears to be widespread and conducted openly without prosecution, no-one seems to know for certain if it is actually legal in North Korea, or if any law that does exist on the statute book is simply ignored – as it often is in Amsterdam, in several countries around the world … and now (in terms of Federal Law) in Colorado.

The plant has many other uses apart from as a narcotic …

  • it has long been harvested for its fibers – for making hemp – a durable soft fiber made from the stems;
  • as a medicinal therapy to treat disease or alleviate symptoms, (such as to reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy and people with AIDS, and to treat pain and muscle spasticity) – indeed the plant has a long history of use as a medicine dating back thousands of years;
  • in religious practices – for example in shamanism where it was presumably used to induce a trance, it has connections with the Norse goddess of love, is referred to in the Hindu Vedas, was used by the Sufis and the Sikhs … and, of course, the Rastafarians have embraced it as a sacrament.


Earlier this week came a surprising call from Jenisbek Nazarbaev, a Kyrgyz narcologist who has established his own treatment center here in Bishkek in 1993 – the country’s first … and a former Presidential candidate, for Kyrgyzstan to do something similar.  He says that this will help to reduce the number of addicts, fight organized crime and increase tax revenues.

In fact, this isn’t the first time that something similar has been suggested .. back in the 1990’s there was a suggestion to establish state run “cannabis farms” to cultivate and harvest the drug.  Indeed, during the Soviet period there was a similar scheme for growing and cultivating poppies … Kyrgyzstan was the only republic in the Soviet Union where this was allowed.

Needless to say, the authorities responsible for drug control do not agree … pointing out that most of the drug is actually “exported” – both the locally produced and that which passes through Kyrgyzstan and that which is simply in transit from Afghanistan.




There is one comment. to “Going to pot”

  1. ian
    January 14th, 2014 at 06:57

    I see that idea has caught on:

    Kazakh First Daughter Proposes Exploitation of Wild Marijuana Crop


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