A Brief History of Cannabis and Hemp Prohibition

By Sean J. Casey

(Waking Times)

We live in troubled times; wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, wars on terrorism and drugs, and religious and sectarian violence happening in all quarters of the planet. Add to that the threatened pandemics, anthropogenic global warming and terminal pollution, the Wall Street crash and growing unemployment of the kind not witnessed since the crash of 1929, and it doesn’t look good. With no end to our worries in sight, what are we to do? We live in the golden age of science; surely we should be able to figure out how to solve our problems no matter how complex they may be.

How did things get so bad in such a relatively short period in our known history?

A lot of our problems, if not all of them, can be attributed to personal greed, particularly the Wall Street land pirates and bankers world-wide. Personal greed, which has always been a problem, e.g. historical figures like Julius Caesar, who wrote his own history but omitted the bits where he robbed whole nations blind, is always popping up. A major part of Hitler’s war effort seemed to be about looting and pillaging. It was certainly a preoccupation for the German war-time leaders who smashed and grabbed their way across the continent of Europe and made frequent trips to, conveniently neutral, Switzerland to make large deposits.

Looting and pillaging aside, one significant aspect at the root of our global problem is, believe it or not, the outlawing of cannabis. The consequence of making cannabis an illegal substance has played an enormous part in the downfall of our modern society, and continues to do so when one adds up the cost of the war on drugs, which encompasses far more than meets the eye and, one can argue, began back in 1937 when Nancy Reagan was still a Hollywood starlet and yet to meet the future President of the United states. When they eventually met back in 1949, he was already the President, albeit of the Screen Actors Guild of America. Little did he or she know that 30 years after they met and married he would become president of the USA and she would be First lady at the vanguard of a new campaign to wage war on the evil weed, along with all the other recreational drugs in their ‘Just-Say-No’ campaign that heralded the modern war on drugs, which is still being waged.

It was on April 14th 1937, that the Marijuana Tax Law was brought to the House’s Ways and Means Committee. That committee was the only one that could introduce a bill to the House floor without it being debated by other committees. The Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Ways and Means Committee at that time was Robert Doughton.

It was argued that Marijuana was the most violence-causing drug known to man. Harry Anslinger, head of the Drug Commission for 31 years, promoted the idea that Marijuana users acted extremely violently. By September that same year, just three short months after it was introduced, the bill was passed and Marijuana became an illegal substance and sadly the world, still largely ignorant of that particular manipulation of the facts, lost the use of one of the most versatile plants known to man.

The passing of the law had been preceded by a media blitz demonizing ‘Marijuana’, a slang word from Mexico used by cannabis smokers and hijacked by the newspaper Baron, William Randolph Hearst, in his campaign against the perceived evils of the drug. Prior to that, nobody had ever heard, outside of Mexico, the term ‘Marijuana’. Hearst’s newspapers ran stories emphasizing the horrors of marijuana. Readers of Hearst publications learned for the first time that it was responsible for everything from car accidents to loose morality.

Films like Reefer Madness (1936), Marijuana: Assassin of Youth (1935) and Marijuana: The Devil’s Weed (1936) was financed by Hearst and his industrialist partners, who pumped out the kind of propaganda designed to show how evil the use of marijuana was. Their purpose was to gain public support so that an anti-marijuana law could be passed and their hidden agenda could be realized. It worked a treat.

The fact that nobody had a clue as to what marijuana actually was, apart from the wetbacks, made the whole process of passing a bill to outlaw it a relatively easy process. What the public didn’t know was that marijuana was a common or garden plant called ‘hemp’ which was used in a variety of industries, including the medical field.

The new law was to prove a disaster for the many thriving businesses that used hemp in their manufacturing processes or produced materials and goods for the consumer market. They were still reeling from the effects of the depression and needed the outlawing of their raw material like a hole in the head. The medical industry was caught on the hop when they discovered that marijuana was in fact what they called ‘cannabis’.

Dr. James Woodward, a physician and attorney, testified, albeit too late, on behalf of the American Medical Association. The AMA understood cannabis to be a useful medicine used in numerous healing products, and had been for at least one hundred years. He told the committee “had they known that marijuana was what they called cannabis or hemp they would have denounced the Marijuana Tax Law for the misleading con that it was”. However, like the rest of the business community dependent on hemp production, it was all too late. The law had been passed.

The fact is that hemp grown for fiber, whether by George Washington in 1790, or by Kentucky growers in 1935, never contained enough psychoactive qualities to get any one ‘high’. Industrial hemp of the kind farmers grew across America generally contained less than one percent of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and would have required smoking a vast amount before one felt the effects, if any. A plant cultivated for recreational marijuana would typically contain 3 to 15 percent or more THC and require stringent, labor intensive cultivation in plant husbandry.

Few people, at the time, realized that the deadly menace they had been reading about on Hearst’s front pages was in fact simple industrial hemp. The public, along with many otherwise healthy businesses that were dependant on hemp, had been duped.

Given that hemp had once been indispensable to the economy and world commerce in general, and had served us well, it came as a terrible blow to many farmers who were forced to destroy their crop. They took the new law badly but were helpless to oppose it. Its use as a psychoactive drug represented a tiny percentage of its actual use but was all-encompassing to the law makers, and in one fell swoop production ceased.

The country had been built, quite literally, on the back of hemp. New World colonists and traders were able to cross the Atlantic Ocean because the hemp ropes and the sails of their ships, unlike other natural fibers, resisted salt damage. Not that long ago, it was inconceivable for an economy to function without hemp. The 1913 Yearbook of the U.S. Department of Agriculture called hemp “the oldest cultivated fiber plant,” and praised how the crop improved the land, saying that it yielded “one of the strongest and most durable fibers of commerce.”

Until that time paper had been made very efficiently from hemp but that didn’t suit Hearst, who not only used millions of tons of paper in his newspaper enterprises but who also owned vast tracts of forest and had invested in a much less efficient, but for him more profitable, process of paper making, using wood pulp. The only thing that stood in his way was the cheap and cheerful hemp materials.

Hemp was also very good for making biodegradable plastics but that certainly didn’t suit Hearst’s partners in crime, particularly DuPont who wanted to dominate the oil based plastics industry.

Robert Doughton, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, who introduced and insured that the bill would pass Congress, was, by a strange coincidence, a DuPont man.

It certainly was no coincidence that in that same year, 1937, when hemp growing became illegal, DuPont patented the processes to make plastics from oil and coal. DuPont’s Annual Report urged stockholders to invest in its new petrochemical division. Synthetics such as plastics, cellophane, celluloid, methanol, nylon, rayon, Dacron, etc., could now be made from oil. Had Hearst and DuPont allowed natural hemp industrialization to continue, it would have eaten into over 80% of DuPont’s business.

Even men as powerful as Henry Ford, with all his millions, could do nothing to prevent the new bill becoming law, despite being a champion of hemp and a major grower himself. Ford was photographed in the 30’s standing proudly among his hemp fields.

His first Model-T was built to run on hemp gasoline with the car itself constructed from hemp! The car, ‘grown from the soil,’ had hemp plastic panels whose impact strength was 10 times stronger than steel. With that kind of strength brought to bear in car body building, think of the lives that could have been saved. Add to that the green production process that would not have created a carbon footprint along with the sulphur free gas and oil that would power the engine, the world would have been a much cleaner and healthier place than it is today. Ford was building cars to last a lifetime but DuPont had other ideas. The concept of planned obsolescence was what he and his fellow industrialists and bankers wanted to introduce, in order to create the perfect consumer society.

Made to break was the order of the day. They wanted cars that rusted and parts that failed after 3 or four years of use, so that a spare parts industry could flourish and consumers could replace their vehicles and major appliances in ever shorter time spans. That was the plan of the few greedy men that would control it all. A non rusting car, or anything else for that matter, made from hemp, was no use to them at all. Hearst had the wood, Rockefeller had the oil and DuPont had the plastic. With hemp out of the way, there was nothing to stop them.

Ford, although standing alone, didn’t give up and tried to introduce his later model hemp plastic paneled car in 1941 demonstrating its durability by hitting it with a sledge hammer and showing its resistance to denting but to no avail. The business cartel of Hearst, DuPont and Rockefeller were all too powerful and blocked all his efforts. They owned the government and there was nothing Ford could do about it. Hemp could not be allowed back into the fold and the lie that it was the devils weed was reinforced in an ongoing campaign that has lasted more than 70 years.

The fact that only certain varieties of hemp produced the psychoactive effect, and was hardly a major problem at that time, was not made common knowledge, as the object of the exercise was to remove potential or actual competition, such as Henry Ford, right out of harms way so that DuPont and Hearst and the other industrialists of the day, and in particular Rockefeller, could control industry across the board, which of course they did, and still do to this day.

In 1950 at the outbreak of the Korean War one of the generals who had been subject to the indoctrinating propaganda of the mid thirties campaign against marijuana had a bright idea. He, like everybody else, believed the lie that the evil weed induced terrible violence in its users and suggested to his superiors that they give it to the troops before going into battle to ensure that they were suitably angry and violent. He had no idea that rather than kill their enemy after use, his men were more likely to invite them over for a puff and a cookie. Informed by his superiors of its real effects he quickly withdrew his proposal. Despite certain knowledge of its true nature by the armed forces and the government of the day the lie was maintained.

Hearst got his way, as did DuPont and Rockefeller, and now we are reaping the toxic harvest of their personal greed. Our forests are being denuded daily at the expense of our atmosphere, with toxic fumes filling the air and toxic waste, permeating the land and water ways.

Had Henry Ford got his way, our oceans and waterways would not be filling up with vast islands of plastic non-degradable waste, as they are today, or landfills leeching poisons into our soil and water tables, because plastics derived from hemp degrade perfectly well.

The irony is that refusing to grow hemp in America during the 17th and 18th centuries was against the law! In the state of Virginia from 1763 to 1769 one could be jailed for refusing to grow hemp. It is clearly a very robust plant and very good for the environment and health of the soil as this snippet from Popular Mechanics, February 1938: would indicate.

“It has a short growing season… It can be grown in any state… The long roots penetrate and break the soil to leave it in perfect condition for the next year’s crop. The dense shock of leaves, 8 to 12 feet above the ground, chokes out weeds.”

Hemp, incidentally, is one of the fastest growing biomasses known to man, producing up to 25 tonnes per hectare per year, requiring little in the way of pesticides and no herbicides, making it a very environmentally friendly crop indeed.

A fully mature hemp plant may contain half of its dry-weight in seed. Hemp seed oil is second only to whale oils in its quality and has the same burning qualities and viscosity as 2 grade heating oil without any of the sulphur based pollutants. Once hemp seed oil has been extracted, the remaining seed cake it is second only to soya bean for protein content and an excellent source of nutrition for either farm animals or humans. Hemp seed has an oil content of 34 %, more than any other seed.

An acre of hemp will produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees. On top of that, the hemp paper-making process requires no dioxin-producing chlorine bleach and uses 75% to 85% less sulphur-based acid. Hemp paper is also highly suitable for recycling and can be recycled up to 7 or 8 times, compared with 3 times for wood pulp paper.

By utilizing hemp pulp for paper, we could stop the deforestation of our planet and produce stronger more environmentally sound paper for less than a third of the price of wood pulp paper. The paper mills now in place would need almost no conversion in order to switch from wood to hemp pulp.

The Hearst’s, DuPont’s and Rockefellers of this world have a lot to answer for.

You’ll be pleased to know that hemp is making a comeback and new hemp based products, including medicines will be back on the shelves, in the not too distant future, with more than 30 industrialized nations commercially growing hemp once again, including England and Canada. The European Union subsidises farmers to grow the crop, which is legally recognized as a commercial crop by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Nevertheless, US law forbids farmers from growing hemp without a federal license, and has discouraged all commercial hemp production since the 1950s.

Hemp groups are working to allow American farmers to once again have legal access to this agricultural commodity, but if I were an American farmer, I wouldn’t hold my breath as the Rockefellers and DuPont might still have something to say about it.

Since first writing this article back in 2009 the worm has turned as many states in America have legalized the use of recreational cannabis although, it remains illegal under Federal law.

Oregon was the first state to decriminalize cannabis as far back as 1973 with many other states following suit until the 90’s. Alaska didn’t decriminalize until 1982 but recriminalized in 1990 due to voter pressure.

In 1996 it was legalized in California for medicinal use quickly adopted in several other states.

By 2012 Washington State along with Colorado were the first to legalize the recreational use of cannabis and has at time of writing, 2017, along with many other States following suit, contributed handsomely to the state economy and have no doubt will continue to do so.

The re-introduction of Hemp products has a way to go but at least we can grow the stuff once more, albeit within the protective confines of the enlightened States and out of reach of the Fed’s.

It will be justice indeed to re-ignite the dream of Henry Ford and build Hemp plastic products that can last a lifetime are bio-degradable, totally green and eco-friendly. It is an amazing renewable source and meets the modern world’s requirement to protect our environment and lessen the chance that beautiful sea creatures, like Whales, ingesting our plastic garbage, will not be killed by massive islands of non-degradable plastics floating on our oceans and destroying wild life in its wake.

A few historical facts about hemp.

1) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers grew hemp.

2) Benjamin Franklin owned one of the first paper mills in America, and it processed hemp. Also, the War of 1812 was fought over hemp.

3) For thousands of years, 90% of all ships’ sails and rope were made from hemp. The word ‘canvas’ is Dutch for cannabis. (Webster’s New World Dictionary.)

4) 80% of all textiles, fabrics, clothes, linen, drapes, bed sheets, etc., were made from hemp until the 1820s, at which time the cotton gin was introduced.

5) The first Bibles, maps, charts, Betsy Ross flags, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were made from hemp. (U.S. Government Archives.)

6) The first crop grown in many states was hemp. 1850 was a peak year for Kentucky, producing 40,000 tons. Hemp was the largest cash crop until the 20th century. (State Archives.)

7) The oldest known records of hemp farming go back 5000 years in China, although hemp industrialization probably goes back to ancient Egypt.

8) Rembrandt’s, Van Gogh’s, Gainsborough’s, as well as most early canvas paintings, were principally painted on hemp linen.

9) In 1916, the U.S. Government predicted that by the 1940s all paper would come from hemp and that no more trees would need to be cut down. Government studies reported that 1 acre of hemp equaled 4.1 acres of trees. Plans were in the works to implement such programs. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Archives.)

10) Quality paints and varnishes were made from hemp seed oil until 1937. 58,000 tons of hemp seed were used in America for paint products in 1935. (Sherman Williams Paint Co. testimony before the U.S. Congress against the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.)

11) In 1938, hemp was called ‘Billion Dollar Crop.’ It was the first time a cash crop had a business potential to exceed a billion dollars. ( Popular Mechanics, Feb.1938.)

12) Mechanical Engineering Magazine (Feb. 1938) published an article entitled ‘The Most Profitable and Desirable Crop that Can be Grown.’ It stated that if hemp was cultivated using 20th century technology, it would be the single largest agricultural crop in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

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