Everyone knows at least one version of the shady origins of cannabis prohibition in the United States. The most popular myth (and a true one) is that marijuana prohibition stemmed from racism in the U.S. government, as authorities used drug laws to control and incarcerate ethnic minorities.
In the 1930’s, while gearing up for marijuana prohibition, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics issued anti-pot propaganda that was overtly racist in its demonizing of the plant. “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers,” one statement from the agency read, as reproduced by the Foundation for Economic Education. “Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.” Yikes!
But there were other forces at work behind the prohibition of cannabis, ones almost as evil as the racist ones outlined above. In particular, Big Business. It all goes back to the early 20th century, when hemp was involved in industrial America. Back then, hemp was used as a raw material to create products including plastics and fuel. The original Ford Model T had hemp ethanol in the gas tank, the drivers sat on hemp upholstery, and the body had a hemp acrylic skin.
A recent piece in the Huffington Post went so far as to posit that the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 had a profound effect on the future of business in America and our country’s international policies. “Were it not for the Marijuana Tax Act we almost certainly would have Ford cars running on ethanol, the demand for oil would be less and we would not have been mired in the second longest war in American history,” the article claimed.
In the way-back-when of pre-cannabis prohibition America, hemp fiber was considered an alternative to petroleum in the making of cellophane-like wrapping material. The DuPont Company had patented cellophane and very much wanted to limit competition from substitute packaging materials. DuPont, in fact, later came under scrutiny later for essentially owning a monopoly on cellophane, since no other company made it and no substitute product existed. Part of the reason there was no competing product was that hemp had been essentially outlawed under the Marijuana Tax Act. The bill was carried in the house by Rep. Robert Naughton (D-NC), a lawmaker the Huffington Post termed “a frequent DuPont errand boy.”
DuPont was not the only Big Business force with a vested interest in keeping cannabis outlawed. The infamous media mogul William Randolph Hearst ran wood pulp paper mills and feared hemp paper as an alternative to his product. Meanwhile Standard Oil did not care so much for the alternative fuel source that hemp provided.
That’s how the Huff Post article posits that, had cannabis never been banned in America, we would not have been so dependent on foreign oil that we would have to engage in armed conflicts such as the war in of Afghanistan. Maybe it would have curbed climate change too. That’s right. Legal weed could have maybe saved the world.
Photo via Flickr user Sarah Nichols