Now wait, just hold on. You expect me to believe that they wouldn't have thought to pass a better law, one that banned marijuana and allowed commercial hemp, instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water?
There's more. `Chemical pulping' paper was invented at about this time by Dupont Chemicals, as part of a multi-million dollar deal with a timber holding company and newspaper chain owned by William Randolph Hearst. This deal would provide the Hearst with a source of very cheap paper, and he would go on to be known as the tycoon of `yellow journalism' (so named because the new paper would turn yellow very quickly as it got older.) Hearst knew that he could drive other papers out of competition with this new advantage. Hemp paper threatened to ruin this whole plan. It had to be stopped, and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was the way they did it. As a drug law, the Tax Act really was not a very big step -- it did not really accomplish much at all and many historians have caught themselves wondering why the bill was even written. Big business interests took advantage of the political climate of racism and anti-drug rhetoric to close the free market to hemp products, and that, my friend, is how hemp became illegal.
Actually, there is more to this story. See http://www.alternet.org/drugreporter/77339/?page=1. The myths surrounding the banning of marijuana do not, in themselves, warrant totally discarding the fact that big business
interests (including alcohol and tobacco) do not want the public to have access to or grow this
plant. [end of addition]
For the 1930's, this business venture was one very large transaction; it included other timber companies and a few railroads. Dupont's entire deal was backed by a banker named Andrew Mellon. Don't look up! That's the same Andrew Mellon who appointed his nephew-in-law Harry Anslinger to head up the FBNDD in 1931. The Marijuana Tax Act was passed in a very unorthodox way, and nobody who would have objected was informed about the bill. The American Medical Association found out about the bill only two days before the hearings, and sent a representative to object to the banning of cannabis medicines. A hemp bird seed salesman also showed up and complained. However, the bill was passed, partially due to the testimony of Harry J. Anslinger.
Not that Americans would have protested against this bill, even if they had known it existed most Americans did not know that cannabis hemp and marijuana is the same thing. The separate word `marijuana' was one of the reasons for this. Nobody would associate the evil weed from Mexico with the stuff they tied their shoes with. Also, this was the time when synthetic fabrics were the latest fad -- nobody was interested in natural fibers any more. To top this all off the word `hemp' was often wrongly used to refer to other natural fabrics, specifically jute.
The ignorance of hemp continues today, but it is even more scary. During the 1970's (Reefer Madness II) all mention of the word `hemp' was removed from high school text books here in the United States. So much for free speech! When Jack Herer, the world's most beloved hemp activist, asked a curator at the Smithsonian Museum why this word had been removed from all their exhibits, the answer he got was astounding: ``Children do not need to know about hemp anymore. It confuses them.'' Jack Herer went on to uncover a film made by the United States government, a film which the government did not want to admit existed. The film ``Hemp For Victory'' details how the United States government bypassed the Tax Act during World War II, when they needed hemp for the War Effort, and ran a large hemp-growing project in Kentucky and California. (Bravo, Jack!)
Is there a lesson to be learned from all this?
Several. The first is that hate does not pay. It is ironic that the racism of the American people would end up hurting them this way -- a sort of divine justice if you will. Because Americans were blinded by fear, hatred, and intolerance of other races, they allowed a prosperous future to slip between their fingers. Another thing this whole history tells us is that Americans need to take Democracy more seriously. If they had devoted more of their time to informing themselves about the world around them, they would have known what the real issues were. Instead they read the tabloids -- look where that has gotten us. Finally, now that we have put marijuana prohibition into historical context, we can see clearly that it had nothing to do with public safety, or national security, or what have you. By all rights, marijuana should not have been made illegal in the first place. If today prohibition still has no rational basis to stand on, then let us repeal it.
One point which bears emphasizing is this: the laws which are passed in this country may not mean what they say on paper. Historically the United States has a long record of passing laws with ulterior motives. Even when there is no ulterior motive, though, passing laws which are not specific enough leads to abuse. Most of our tough drug laws are like this -- enacted to fight drug kingpins, but enforced against casual drug users and small-time drug dealers. In fact, most of these laws never even get used against a real drug kingpin, and the first people prosecuted under the statutes are not what the legislators had in mind. If this upsets you, you should pay more attention to what goes on in your legislature.