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Apr-12-2011 15:39printcomments

Birds, Bees, and Pot -Laced with Paraquat

Another chapter in the illustrious history of Monsanto's 'pay after you're sprayed' (with your life) program.

Paraquat marijuana scare
Historic cover from 'Village Voice'

(SALEM, Ore.) - 'Paraquat' was a scary word for young Californians back in the 70's. It is a chemical the Mexican government sprayed on the country's pot fields. The marijuana was harvested after being sprayed and sold, covered with paraquat. People smoked it and some became very sick.

Paraquat actually being sprayed on pot

While no deaths are specifically attributed to smoking paraquat-laced pot, permanent lung damage was reported, particularly among heavy smokers. Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano was quoted in a 1978 Time Magazine saying:

"If an individual smokes three to five heavily contaminated marijuana cigarettes each day for several months, irreversible lung damage will result." He added that there is also a "risk of lung damage for individuals who use marijuana less often or in smaller amounts." [1]

This caused a public uproar in the United States, where marijuana smokers normally existed silently by the million, much as they do today. This event caused many people to speak out and many were not users.

California was particularly affected, as were parts of the Midwest where Mexican pot was very common at this time.

The percentage of pot crossing the U.S. border contaminated by paraquat was alarming, as were the samples tested by laboratories overloaded with requests to test pot.

Because of the fierce determination of the U.S. government to control the amount of marijuana on the streets of this country, expensive programs were funded in Mexico to help eradicate the plant that provides a stable economy for many peasants in different Mexican states.

Bell 206 helicopter, one of two models sent by
the US State Dept. to Mexico in '75 for spraying
Paraquat; killing Mexican growers - anarchopedia

As the Time article explains, Mexican soldiers used to go to a lot of effort to actually climb into the Sierra Madre and eradicate marijuana fields by hand, with machetes, after which they would burn the crops.

But the U.S. government didn't want to see those guys sweat. With the Vietnam War ending as it was in 1975, Uncle Sam saw fit to provide the Mexicans with a fleet of blue and white Bell helicopters that cost taxpayers at the time, about $21 million.

According to Time:

"...some of the helicopters were used to spray herbicides from a few feet above the ground. Others served as gun ships, hovering above to shoot it out with the peasants who took up arms to defend their crop. The program was a great success. In 1977 about 22,000 acres of poppies and 9,500 acres of marijuana plants were destroyed by the spraying in Mexico."

As farmers know, these birds spraying poison onto crops were doing something else; killing all of the bees and hives wherever they flew. Mankind is so slow; apparently even the simplicity of how bees are required for the spread of pollination and without them, crops fail to become fertilized, was out of the reach of the mental capacities of those calling the shots. Spraying poisons across areas at large simply kills everything and stunts the natural process otherwise taking place. Of course it had become almost a national pastime also with Vietnam- with Agent Orange.

War in Vietnam, war on drugs, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; I have to wonder if people understand how large of a toll these military 'campaigns' (yes the drug war too) take on the earth and our food supply, water supply, etc. Honestly that is just the beginning... The paraquat years are dark history like so much of the rest.

'Paraquat' Kelley


LA used to have a lot of great radio station that are now gone, but the one most of us followed without question was KMET, the 'Mighty Met', a little bit of heaven, 94.7. This was the employer of the coolest newsman in California, Pat 'Paraquat' Kelley, who is the son of one of the Southland's most famous announcer voices; the late Bob Kelley, 'the Voice of the Rams', who was regarded as one of the finest football announcers in the history of radio and television[2].

Paraquat Kelley recognized the danger of paraquat to the Southern Californian and along with the help of Jim Ladd and the other great KMET air staff, he set up a program where anyone in the area could mail a sample of their pot to KMET and the station would have it tested. If I recall, you had to make up a unique five digit code and then you used that when following up to determine if the pot was safe to use.

The dangers of pot are true when the government reaches its paw way deep into your world they way it did in the mid-70's. Paraquat Kelley knew that and he did what it took to make people safe.

On his blog, fellow former KMET listener Peter Handleman writes:

"Paraquat was before his time, an early day Jon Stewart. And he had a great voice. I believe I wrote him in '79, and he kindly returned KMET stickers, a Styx sticker (sadly misplaced at this time) and an autographed 4 x 6 headshot, calling me 'Peterquat'."

That is so cool, very much in keeping with the personality I recall. Today Pat Kelley sells Southern California real estate and he is also a screenwriter[3].

Ugly Reality of Paraquat

Wikipedia explains that Paraquat is the trade name for N,N′-dimethyl-4,4′-bipyridinium dichloride. It is described by the online encyclopedia one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.

"Paraquat, a viologen, is quick-acting and non-selective, killing green plant tissue on contact. It is also toxic to human beings and animals, and is linked to the development of Parkinson's disease". [4]

The paraquat days are a sad chapter in the story behind the government's futile efforts to control a natural plant that has never killed anyone.

I know this article is nothing new to many who remember this period, but a good friend of mine who grew up in Salem said the conclusion here was that paraquat wasn't a very big deal, and that it never killed anyone. Well, this chemical that really is quite deadly to a mammal if they ingest it, is made by Monsanto, the most dangerous and despised company in the United States.

Monsanto not only was behind Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used to thin out Vietnam's jungles that has led to countless hundreds of thousands of deaths and generational deformities and autism and you name it; it is also the same that today is hijacking your food supply with genetically modified foods (GMO) and that is a real nightmare well chronicled on by reporter April Scott, Chuck Palazzo and others and always there for you to read. Follow the tags at the bottom of the page; either Monsanto or Agent Orange. There is some overlap but a specificity in each respective tag.

Dreaded Dioxins

Both RoundUp and Paraquat contain a class of chemicals called Dioxins. As a recently published article by Not My Tribe suggests, the problems they stand to inflict are deadly serious:

"Their harmful nature ranges from damn that’s freakin’ scary to OhMyGod we’ve kicked open the doors of Hell and those are esoteric chemical-talk terms. If you don’t recognise them then you’re not a chemist."

Few people alive today know more about dioxins and their effects than our writer, Dr. Phil Leveque, a retired Osteopathic Physician who is both a Professor of Pharmacology and a Forensic Toxicologist. He explains that the possibilities with dioxins and health problems are very wide ranging and can lead to many different types of cancer.

Certain words always tend to come up when we broach this subject; they include 'Dow', 'DuPont', 'Monsanto', 'death' and 'government irresponsibility to Americans'. It isn't fair that unsafe business practice is such an identifier to American culture.

It opens another door in this discussion; that is the health of the Mexican troops sent to fight the evil marijuana plants and their growers with a fleet of U.S. supplied helicopters with machine guns.

Not all were involved in the spraying of paraquat and machine gun bullets, others were charged with raking up the dead plants and burning them. As the Not My Tribe article relates, most of the soldiers assigned this work were on punishment detail.

Breathing burning dioxins, as U.S. Vietnam Veterans can attest, is a looming death sentence.

DEA to the Rescue, wait... what?

What military? DEA today- go Blackwater!

And there is another interesting connection in this story that one might not expect; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as it turns out, apparently used to devote resources to serious drug trafficking, not raiding elderly patients and Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries as they have come to be known for. In the mid-1970's, the DEA had a strong connection to the military, and there was an ideological rendezvous between the DEA, and the health problems connected to service in Vietnam.

As the Not My Tribe article relates:

"Monsanto didn’t out themselves, nor did the Army. The DEA did instead, by publishing a warning that they had been spraying Paraquat JUST LIKE AGENT ORANGE and J.L.A.O, if you inhaled the burning product it could cause you to die and cited an Army Agent Orange study. The one the Army and Monsanto and Dow and Dupont were denying ever existed. So, the Army stopped using Agent Orange. Big deal, they still use the other chemicals that have that same nasty little add-on, the part they can’t get rid of without destroying the goodies, the Dioxins." [5]

Well, maybe not to the rescue, but at least there was an injection of a degree of honesty.

While discussing the ugly side of toxic chemicals produced and sold in abundance in the U.S., Dr. Leveque explains that marijuana on the other hand, has been used as a health treatment for at least 4,000 years. It is true that a movie titled 'Reefer Madness' instilled a degree of terror in an otherwise ignorant American public back in the 1930's, but there are no excuses left today for demonizing the cannabis plant from what I can see.

The paraquat years are for me, a tool in the realization that we were always right in thinking about how the government was... wrong. Methamphetamines, heroin, alcohol, and perfectly legal pain meds prescribed by doctors like Oxycontin which our writer Marianne Skolek covers regularly, kill people every single day. Even aspirin; and things like anesthetics, misdiagnosis... Heck, more than 100 American male children die every year from being circumcised, I'm sure you get the point[6].

These terrible things are taking place right under our nose; they snatch life from our grip, yet politicians and their stooges; ignorant police and DEA agents, still have their sites set on cannabis and people who for the most part, are not and never would be a threat to anyone in this society. Yet for their association with a natural plant, hundreds of thousands sit behind bars in the U.S. today. All that, from a government that once facilitated the poisoning of pot with paraquat.

Here is a video featuring the Mexican anti-drug helicopters performing stunts and spraying paraquat:

[1] Time Magazine - May 01, 1978 - Nation: Panic over Paraquat

[2] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - Paraquat

[3] Not My Tribe - April 11 2011 - Recent rally against Monsanto and a little not-so-very-recent

[4] Where AreThey Now?

[5] Pete Handleman Pete's Autograph Page

[6] - Oct-17-2010 Circumcision is a Real Killer in America


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Anonymous April 12, 2011 3:27 pm (Pacific time)

"Like" Buy American Cannabis First --

Anonymous April 12, 2011 11:20 am (Pacific time)

lol April...I agree :-) Northern california is booming. Buy one April

April 12, 2011 9:00 am (Pacific time)

Buy American First is my motto. Keep the hippies happy and the Mexican druglords sad....

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