Booze & Drugs
By Dune Hartsell
For thousands of years, Hemp (Cannabis Sativa) has been one
of the most useful plants known to man. It's strong, stringy fibers make
durable rope and can be woven into anything from sails to shirts; it's pithy
centers, or "Hurds," make excellent paper; it's seeds, high in protein and oil,
have been pressed into lighting or lubricating oils and pulped into animal
feed; and extracts of its leaves have provided a wide range of medicines and
Hemp also has a notable place in American history:
Washington and Jefferson grew it.
Our first flags were
likely made of hemp cloth.
The first and second drafts of the Declaration
of Independence were written on paper made from Dutch Hemp.
pioneers went west, their wagons were covered with hemp canvas (the word
"canvas" comes from canabacius, hemp cloth).
The first "Levis" sold to
prospectors were sturdy hemp coveralls.
Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd,
came from the richest hemp growing family in Kentucky.
After the Civil War, however, hemp production in the States
declined steeply. Without slave labor, hemp became too expensive to process.
Besides, cotton ginned by machines was cheaper. Still, hemp fabric remained the
second most common cloth in America.
The plant's by-products remained popular well into this
century. Maple sugar combined with Hashish (a resin from hemp leaves) was sold
over the counter and in Sears Roebuck catalogs as a harmless candy. Hemp rope
was a mainstay of the Navy. Two thousand tons of hemp seed were sold annually
as bird feed. The pharmaceutical industry used hemp extracts in hundreds of
potions and vigorously fought attempts to restrict hemp production. And
virtually all good paints and varnishes were made from hemp-seed oil and/or
In the 1920s and '30s the American public became
increasingly concerned about drug addiction - especially to Morphine and a
"miracle drug" that had been introduced by the Bayer Company in 1898 under the
brand name "Heroin." By the mid-1920s there were 20,000 heroin addicts in the
Most Americans were unaware that smoking hemp was
intoxicating; however, until William Randolph Hearst launched a campaign of
sensational stories that linked "the killer weed" to everything from Jazz to
"crazed minorities," and even unspeakable crimes. Hearst's paper featured
MARIJUANA MAKES FIENDS OF BOYS IN 30 DAYS
HASHISH GOADS USERS TO BLOOD LUST
NEW DOPE LURE,
MARIJUANA, HAS MANY VICTIMS
In 1930 Hearst was joined in his crusade against hemp by
Harry J. Anslinger, commissioner of the newly organized Federal Bureau of
Narcotics (FBN). Hearst often quoted Anslinger in his newspaper stories,
printing sensational comments like: "If the hideous monster Frankenstein came
face to face with the monster marijuana he would drop dead of fright."
Not everyone shared their opinion. In 1930, the US
government formed the Siler Commission to study marijuana smoking by off-duty
servicemen in Panama. The Commission found no lasting effects and recommended
that no criminal penalties apply to its use. Nonetheless, Hearst's and
Anslinger's anti-hemp campaign had results. By 1931, twenty-nine states had
prohibited marijuana use for non-medical purposes. In 1937, after two years of
secret hearings and based largely on Anslinger's testimony, Congress passed the
Marijuana Tax Act, which essentially outlawed marijuana in America.
Because Congress was not sure it was constitutional to ban
hemp outright, it taxed the plant prohibitively instead. Hemp growers had to
register with the government; sellers and buyers had to fill out cumbersome
paperwork; and, of course, it was a federal crime not to comply.
For selling an once or less of marijuana to an unregistered
person, the federal tax was 100 dollars. (To give some sense on how prohibitive
the tax was, "legitimate" marijuana was selling for $2 a pound at the time. In
1994 dollars, the federal tax would be roughly 2000 dollars an ounce.)
The Marijuana Tax Act effectively destroyed all legitimate
commercial cultivation of hemp. Limited medical use was permitted, but as hemp
derivatives became prohibitively expensive for doctors and pharmacists, they
turned to chemically derived drugs instead. All other non-medical uses, from
rope to industrial lubricants, were taxed out of existence.
With most of their markets gone, farmers stopped growing
hemp, and the legitimate industry disappeared. Ironically, though, hemp
continued to grow wild all over the country, and its "illegitimate" use was
little affected by Congress.
Was a viable hemp industry forced out of existence because
it was a threat to people's health or because it was a threat to a few large
businesses that would profit from banning it?
Here are some facts. Hemp was outlawed just as a new
technology would have made hemp paper far cheaper than wood pulp paper.
Traditionally, hemp fiber had to be separated from the stalk
by hand, and the cost of labor made this method uncompetitive. But in 1937, the
year that hemp was outlawed, the decoricator machine was invented; it could
process as much as three tons of hemp in an hour and produced higher quality
fibers with less loss of fiber than wood-based pulp. According to some
scientists, hemp would have been able to undercut competing products overnight.
Enthusiastic about the new technology, Popular Mechanics predicted that hemp
would become America's first "billion dollar crop." The magazine pointed out
that "10,000 acres devoted to hemp will produce as much paper as 40,000 acres
of average [forest] pulp land."
According to Jack Herer, an expert on the "hemp conspiracy,"
Hearst, the DuPonts and other "industrial barons and financiers knew that
machinery to cut, bale, decoricate (separate fiber from the stalk) and process
hemp into paper was becoming available in the mid 1930's." (The Emperor Wears
Hearst, one of the promoters of the anti-hemp hysteria, had
a vested interest in protecting the pulp industry. Hearst owned enormous timber
acreage; competition from hemp paper might have driven the Hearst
paper-manufacturing division out of business and cause the value of his acreage
to plummet. (ibid)
Herer says that Hearst was even responsible for popularizing
the term "marijuana" in American culture. In fact, he suggests, popularizing
the word was a key strategy of Hearst's efforts: "The first step in creating
hysteria was to introduce the element of fear of the unknown by using a word
that no one had ever heard of before
The DuPont Company also had an interest in the pulp
industry. At this time, it was in the process of patenting a new sulfuric acid
process for producing wood-pulp paper. According to the company's own records,
wood-pulp products ultimately accounted for more than 80% of all of DuPont's
railroad car loadings for the next 50 years. (ibid)
But DuPont had even more reasons to be concerned about hemp.
In the 1930's, the company was making drastic changes in its business strategy.
Traditionally a manufacturer of military explosives, DuPont realized after the
end of World War I that developing peace-time uses for artificial fibers and
plastics would be more profitable in the long run. So it began pouring millions
of dollars into research, which resulted in the development of such synthetic
fibers as rayon and nylon.
Two years before the prohibitive hemp tax, DuPont developed
a new synthetic fiber, nylon, which was an ideal substitute for hemp rope.
The year after the hemp tax, DuPont was able to bring another "miracle"
synthetic fabric onto the market, rayon. Rayon, which became widely used for
clothing, was a direct competitor to hemp cloth.
"Congress and the Treasury
Department were assured, though secret testimony given by DuPont, that
Hemp-seed oil could be replaced with synthetic petrochemical oils made
principally by DuPont." These oils were used in paints and other products.
The millions spent on these products, as well as the
hundreds of millions in expected profits from them, could have been wiped out
if the newly affordable hemp products were allowed on the market. So, according
to Herer, DuPont worked with Hearst to eliminate hemp.
DuPont's point man was none other than Harry Anslinger, the
commissioner of the FBN. Anslinger was appointed to the FBN by Treasury
Secretary Andrew Mellon, who was also chairman of the Mellon Bank, DuPont's
chief financial backer. But Anslinger's relationship to Mellon wasn't just
political; he was also married to Mellon's niece.
Anslinger apparently used his political clout to sway
congressional opinion on the hemp tax. According to Herer, the American Medical
Association (AMA) tried to argue for the medical benefits of hemp. But after
the AMA officials testified to Congress, "they were quickly denounced by
Anslinger and the entire congressional committee, and curtly excused."
Five years after the hemp tax was imposed, when Japanese
seizure of Philippine hemp caused a wartime shortage of rope, the government
reversed itself. Overnight, the U.S. government urged hemp cultivation once
again and created a stirring movie called "Hemp for Victory" then, just as
quickly, it recriminalized hemp after the shortage had passed.
While U.S. hemp was temporarily legal, however, it saved the
life of a young pilot named George Bush, who was forced to bail out of his
burning airplane after a battle over the Pacific. At the time he didn't know
Parts of his aircraft engine were lubricated with hemp-seed
100% of his life-saving parachute webbing was made from U.S. grown
Virtually all of the rigging and lines of the ship that rescued him
were made of hemp.
The flight suit on his back was a rubberized hemp cloth.
The fire hoses on the ship were woven from hemp.
Ironically, President Bush consistently opposed
decriminalizing hemp grown in the United States.
Does the hemp conspiracy continue? In March 1992, Robert
Bonner, the chief of the Drug Enforcement Agency, effectively rejected a
petition to permit doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients as medication
for chronic pain. Bonner said: "Beyond doubt the claims that marijuana is
medicine is false, dangerous and cruel." But, according to a federal
administrative law judge, Francis Young, "The record clearly shows that
marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great
numbers of very ill people and doing so with safety under medical supervision."
(The New York Times)