“The tricky thing is getting people to take you seriously,” says Cormac Sheehan, founder of pro-cannabis movement, Green Planet. “Otherwise I’m just this 30-something Irish guy with tatts telling you to smoke more weed.”
Cormac has a point. As an advocate for marijuana legalisation, he’s intelligent and articulate and calm, but he does look like the archetypal roadie: long dark hair, black vest, sleeve tattoos, big loping gait. He’s Del Preston meets Chris O’Dowd. When parents worry about tall, dark strangers selling spliffs to their kids, they’re probably picturing someone like Cormac. Which, in a strange way, proves his point.
“People who haven’t tried marijuana have very prejudiced ideas about what it’s like,” he says. “but I want to bring this story: cannabis is safe and it’s for everyone.”
I’m chatting to Cormac after his sell-out keynote speech at Pause Fest, the world’s biggest futurist tech festival. Cormac is Australia’s leading cannabis advocate and entrepreneur—he founded the wildly successful Cannabis Company in 2017, along with Melbourne researcher Dr. David Stapleton. He was invited to Pause because (like it or not) the future is looking green.
According to the latest research, 42% Australians are now in favour of legalising medical marijuana. And the ACT just passed historic pro-cannabis legislation that makes cultivation and possession ‘legal’ (although it’s worth pointing out the new state laws directly contradict existing federal laws, which means Canberrans can still technically be charged for smoking weed, making the whole situation legally messy and kind of pointless).
“According to the biggest global drugs survey, Australia is actually one of the highest cannabis consumers per capita in the world,” says Cormac. He’s referring to UN figures published in The Lancet, which indicate 15 per cent of all the world’s pot smokers come from Oceania (well played, guys).
No matter how you slice the figures, the fragrant winds of change do seem to be blowing one direction. Marijuana (in some form or other) is legal for adults in 11 US states, not to mention Canada, South Africa, Uruguay and Peru. More than 67 per cent of Americans now favour legalisation. Weed is technically ‘illegal but not punishable’ in the Netherlands, which is another way of saying, “Go for your life.” Every year the number of detractors shrinks, the number of advocates swells, and the marijuana industry becomes more and more lucrative. America’s weed market alone is expected to cap $25 billion in the next five years.
The funny thing is, while conservatives want to cling to some honey-coloured yesterday (you know, the days when kids could ride bikes, play hopscotch, and get natural highs from watching sunsets), criminalisation of marijuana is a surprisingly recent thing. For most of the last 300 years, using cannabis was no more controversial than drinking a beer.
“The stigma actually comes from the early 20th century,” Cormac says, “from these big American industrialists who had interests in paper and cotton. Industries that were threatened by the hemp trade. They were the ones who called it ‘Demon Weed’ and convinced America that it was corrupting their kids. Before that, hemp was used all over the world as an industrial material, medicine and food. It was totally normal.”
Now might be the time for hemp to make a comeback. It requires little water (compared to cotton) and is resistant to pests—both big ticks for regenerative agriculture. Growing hemp improves overall soil quality. It can be used to make bio-plastics (although some critics have questioned the feasibility of hemp farming on a large scale). And one acre of hemp, grown in 20 weeks, can make the same amount of paper as 20 acres of trees grown over 20 years.
Cormac says this is the stuff that makes marijuana and hemp adoption almost inevitable. It’s not so much about changing hearts and minds anymore—although that’s still an ongoing battle—it’s the sheer amount of money waiting to be unlocked. “What speaks to change is business and economy,” he says. “It’s the only thing people really listen to. So part of the challenge moving forward is making sure marijuana doesn’t go the way of other commodities. We need people with kind hearts and strong minds to get involved.”
For more information about marijuana and its current legal status, check out Green Planet.
Image credit: Rick Proctor