There are two main conspiracy theories attempting to explain why marijuana is and continues to be illegal in most countries around the world as well as all but 4 states:
- The Cartel: Business owners are threatened by the industrial potential of hemp and what it could do to their profits.
- Racism: Marijuana was banned in order to target Blacks and Hispanics.
Cannabis Conspiracy Theory #1: The Cartel
Newspaper magnate William Hearst, Petrochemical brothers du Pont, US Secretary of the Treasury/banker/oil man Andrew Mellon and his nephew-in-law, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotic, Harry Anslinger conspire to eliminate hemp as a competitor in the United States.
This is the most popular version of the Cannabis Conspiracy, or Marijuana Conspiracy and has been floating around pot culture for decades. The legend was finally written into words in 1985 in Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
Newspaper magnate and father of yellow journalism William Hearst stood comfortably atop his vast empire when a new invention, the decorticator, who could turn hemp into a high-quality, more environment friendly paper, could seriously affect his lavish lifestyle. Popular Mechanics soon heralded hemp as the “New Billion Dollar Crop”. This greatly angered Hearst, who was heavily invested in the manufacturing of paper and owned large tracts of timber land.
Fellow elite at the DuPont corporation, owners of a highly polluting wood pulp paper production process patent and developers of synthetic fibers such as the soon-to-be-released Nylon realized they had much in common with Hearst. A possible threat to corporate profits, and a general hate of anything environment-friendly caused the men to conspire together in crushing their competitor.
US Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, owner of the nation’s 6th largest bank and largest shareholder in Gulf Oil also realized that hemp might jeopardize the emerging and profitable petrochemical industry built around toxic byproducts of the oil industry. Mr. Secretary, according to Herer, was also the du Pont’s banker, giving him further motive to oppose cannabis. (Note: The du Ponts actually did the majority of their banking with their friend and fellow war profiteer JP Morgan.)
Nevertheless, Mellon appointed his nephew-in-law, Harry Anslinger as commissioner of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Enemies of Weed
Anslinger viciously attacked marijuana, often reading quotes verbatim from the disinformation in Hearst-owned papers. The newspapers returned the favor by printing Anslinger’s comments: “If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster of marijuana he would drop dead of fright.”
The evils of weed was epitomized in the infamous 1936 film, Reefer Madness, in which normal high school students are turned into psychotic killers after a few tokes of weed. Even the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster eventually joined the fray and exaggerated the effect of marijuana to younger audiences. “Marihuana The drug that causes the smoker to lose all moral restraint – then this comes under federal jurisdiction!”
The gambit worked.
Congress effectively outlawed marijuana with the passage of the Marihuana (sic) Tax Act of 1937 which imposed a $100 tariff on each ounce of marijuana. The act was opposed by hemp farmers and the American Medical Association.
Hemp farmers were forced out of business because the law did not differentiate between hemp and cannabis. While both originate from the same Cannabis Sativa L plant, the difference between the two is in its usage.
A high THC level is not necessary for production of industrial hemp products, while it’s a must for recreational users of cannabis. For this reason, hemp producers grow hemp with a low THC content. (Canada and a few European nations have legalized the growing of hemp with a THC content under 0.3 percent.)
However, critics have pointed out a few problems with the corporate agenda behind the Cannabis Conspiracy. Specifically, Jack Herer’s claims that William Hearst, Andrew Mellon and the Duponts conspired to outlaw the cultivation of marijuana.
Hearst was a buyer of paper, not a seller. According to his biographer, Hearst was forced to sell some of his art collection due in part, to his indebtedness to Canadian paper manufacturers. He would have gladly welcomed an alternative to wood pulp.
Also, marijuana was already illegal in 30 states by the time Anslinger started his rant. It had been outlawed in South Africa, Canada, Britain, and New Zealand decades earlier.
Cannabis Conspiracy Theory #2: Racism
The first prohibition laws in the United States were opium bans aimed at Chinese immigrants. The laws prohibiting marijuana seemingly targeted Blacks and Hispanics.
Herer might have seriously underplayed the role of racism behind the criminalization of cannabis. Moral righteousness can often have a large influence on history and the shaping of society. (eg. Are you non-Jewish and circumcised? You can thank John Harvey Kellogg.)
The aforementioned Harry Anslinger was openly racist in his public remarks:
“Colored students at the University of Minnesota partying with white female students, smoking and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution.
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”
Anslinger also kept a special file on Jazz musicians. This might have been racial profiling, maybe not. One this is for sure, there weren’t too many white jazz musicians in those days.
Whatever theory your adhere to, or whether you believe it was a mix of corporate influence and good old fashioned racism, hemp as an industry is nearly extinct…
The Final Results:
- Mass deforestation and clearcuts across North and South America.
- The petrochemical industry continues its growth. Duponts, Melons, and Rockefellers get richer.
- Women go wild for Nylons. Du Ponts get richer.
- Hearst Corporation purchases Popular Mechanics in 1956. More flying cars – less billion dollar crops.
- Big Pharma continues to sell overpriced medicine for simple ailments.
- Widespread tar sands, fracking, deep-sea drilling and other dirty/unsafe oil extraction process.
- Growth in the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC): Around 1% of Americans are incarcerated, the highest rate in the world.
The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was a legal Catch-22. In order to purchase marijuana/hemp you had to have a stamp. In order to get a stamp, you had to be in possession of marijuana/hemp. Possession was illegal without a stamp…The law itself was eventually overturned by the United States Supreme Court in Leary v. United States.
However, cannabis was criminalized in the same act which repealed the 1937 act.
Nevertheless, the act crippled an entire industry that could have led to unimaginable innovations. In an age of global climate change and an increasingly difficult access to fossil fuels, hemp’s potential as a viable biofuel cannot be ignored.
It can also be a source of plastic and building material. As a fabric, hemp fibers are longer, stronger, more absorbent and more mildew-resistant than cotton. A Stockholm Environment Institute study determined that hemp appeared to be slightly easier on the environment than cotton.
It can be used as a source of nutrition. It is popular with vegans, as a source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
Hemp and Marijuana: Myths & Realities by David P. West, Ph.D.
1916 USDA study on Hemp Hurds as a Paper-Making Material
Determined that hemp paper had 4 times the yield as wood pulp-paper.
The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer
Hemp cultivation at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw
Jack Herer – Emperor Of Hemp
Running Time: ~58 minutes