Who Is Secretly Working to Keep Pot Illegal?
Hemp Under Attack
Hemp is a British word for a number of varieties of the cannabis plant that contain very low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive chemical, as opposed to marijuana—a variety of cannabis with high THC content. It was a respected part of agriculture in America until the dawn of the 20th century. That’s when everything changed—thanks primarily to xenophobia magnified by economic pressures.
Between 1900 and 1930, more than a million Mexican laborers poured over the border into the Southwest. Unfortunately, with jobs in short supply, especially during the depression years, Americans began looking for someone to blame for their economic woes.
Mexicans became a favorite target. And since the stereotype of the time was that these same Mexicans liked to smoke marijuana—in 1919 the Chicago Tribune called it “a weed from the Mexican desert”—it became guilt by association. From 1906 through 1927, California, Wyoming, Texas, Iowa, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Arkansas and Nebraska all passed legislation outlawing the pot-smoking habits of their immigrant populations. Some argue this effort was entirely motivated by economic factors, others feel it was plain old racial discrimination. In the mid-1920s, as CBS News recently reported, one senator told the Texas legislature: “All Mexicans are crazy, and this stuff (pot) is what makes them crazy.”
Criminalization Moves East
Anti-pot laws spread to the eastern states after 1930, but this time the target user demographic expanded to include African-Americans—specifically those involved in the jazz scene. In 1937, the first director of the newly established Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, told Congress: "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, results from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."
Anslinger’s racist tirades often showed up in newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst. Since Hearst owned considerable timber interests as well, many have claimed his devotion to the anti-pot cause was really a fear of hemp-based paper out-competing pulp paper for newspaper contracts. But Hearst had help.
In his 1985 book, The Emperor Has No Clothes, author Jack Herer concluded that the DuPont corporation had plenty to do with the criminalization of cannabis. DuPont owned the patent for creating plastics from coal and oil, and another for creating paper from wood pulp—two processes that would have been seriously threatened by hemp. Shoring up this claim is the fact that Andrew Mellon was both DuPont’s biggest backer and the Secretary of Treasury under Hoover, and it was Mellon who appointed Harry Anslinger to office.
Anslinger’s War on Drugs
Anslinger’s ambition and lack of scruples were legendary. Whether he was on the DuPont take (or just under orders from Mellon) really didn’t matter. He wanted power and fast—and saw old fears about marijuana as the ticket to ride. According to the authoritative Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties: “William Randolph Hearst, whose papers led the fight, offered Anslinger space in his papers and magazines, and Anslinger gladly availed himself of the opportunity. He filled article after article with scare stories that not only warned against alleged dangers of hemp, but also were overtly racist: ‘Two Negros took a fourteen-year-old girl and kept her for two days under the influence of marijuana. Upon recovery she was found to be suffering from syphilis.’”
Because of Anslinger, the Marihuana [sic] Tax Act of 1937 was passed, making the possession or transfer of cannabis illegal throughout the U.S. This law was declared unconstitutional in the 1969 Supreme Court case Leary v. United States (that’s Leary, as in Harvard professor turned LSD advocate, Timothy Leary), so Congress repealed the Tax Act and replaced it with the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, which kept pot illegal. And, excluding the use of medicinal cannabis, that’s about where we stand today.
Recent surveys have found that 41 percent of Americans have tried marijuana. While California’s Proposition 19, which would have decriminalized the drug’s recreational use, was defeated, it still garnered the support of 44 percent of the voters. Should legalization ever become the law, some experts feel we might not even notice the difference.
“We already know,” says Keith Stroup, head legal counsel for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), “that very few people are going to get up and not go to work tomorrow because marijuana is legalized. The gears of society will not grind to a halt. The biggest differences will be that the nearly 900,000 people who are arrested for pot each year will be spared a tremendous amount of pain. I also think driving accidents will go down. Surveys show that a lot of people won’t drink if they can smoke and, while cannabis impairs driving, studies also show that the accidents resulting from booze are significantly worse than those resulting from marijuana—drunk people speed up, stoned ones slow down.”