There’s an idea floating around – not exactly a conspiracy theory, but not exactly not a conspiracy theory – that the actual target behind Henry J. Anslinger’s “Reefer Madness” campaign and the prohibition of cannabis by way of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was not, in fact, marijuana and its smokeable buds. Rather, the enemy was in fact the tall, stalky hemp plant, Mary Jane’s non-psychoactive industrial sibling. This idea maintains that the suppression of the herb that has been used as both an intoxicant and as medicine for most of the span of known human history was collateral damage in a financial battle against one of the most versatile plants ever known to our species.
Food, fuel, fabric, oil, rope, building materials, beauty products, paper, paints, plastic: these categories highlight the thousands of “non-drug” uses of cannabis sativa, yet these applications were tossed aside, like the baby and its proverbial bathwater, on the tide of a campaign bolstered by sensational yellow journalism financed and supported by tycoon William Randolph Hearst and the Dupont family, creators and patent holders of Nylon fabric, in conjunction with their financial backer, former Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon.
Marijuana and hemp are the same plant, known for taxonomical purposes as Cannabis sativa L, but as Chihuahuas and St. Bernards each fall under the general category of “dogs,” the human engineering of this particular plant has created cultivars with such varied uses as to create, through thousands of years of selective breeding, strains comparable to one another in the same fashion as our canine creations. A kush plant (indica) and a haze plant (sativa) are grown for the same basic purpose within the overall flow chart of cannabis uses, but the former is a thick, stocky bush with dimensions in the range of 4 square feet and the former is a willowy bamboo-like tree that can grow to be nearly 20 feet tall in the wild.
Hemp, another variety of this “same but different” group of plants, grows to approximately 15 feet and contains next to no THC, the chemical responsible for the high created when marijuana is smoked or eaten. The strains available at the weed store today are usually in the 20 percent THC range while industrial hemp registers at approximately 0.2 percent and would potentially get you high in the same fashion that drinking O’Douls on a hot summer afternoon would get you drunk.
This leads us back to the question at hand: Why was this plant outlawed in the 1930s? Industrial hemp, cultivated by humans for at least 12 millennia, grown by such early American luminaries as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, is said to have found itself in direct economic competition with some of the most powerful and influential men in America.
The Dupont Company created the first version of nylon fabric in 1935, an era during which hemp products dominated the market that nylon-based products have since come to fill: clothing, canvas-type fabrics, and rope. They used their political influence, directed in large part by Mellon, known at the time as “The Richest Man In America” to draft laws built around a campaign of propaganda printed in newspapers owned by Hearst, who opposed the cultivation of hemp for paper because wood-based paper was a more profitable product for his personal interests, that would lead to the 1937 prohibition of a plant (a prohibition that was, in fact, exempted during the crisis of World War II when hemp’s usefulness outweighed political chicanery), an absurd situation that is only now being slowly resolved. Put that in your pipe and smoke it this week, DGO.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]