United States: The Roots of Hemp Prohibition in America

By Ms. Sylence Dogood, Hemp News Staff

A distinct variety of the plant species Cannabis sativa L., the hemp plant is harvested for its fibers, seed, seed meal and seed oil. Marijuana is a group of flowering plants that includes three species of Cannabis, all indigenous to Central Asia and surrounding regions, but both Hemp and Cannabis can be readily grown in many regions throughout the world.

There have been over eight million Cannabis arrests in the United States since 1993, including 786,545 arrests in 2005, and Cannabis users have been arrested at the rate of 1 every 40 seconds. Statistics show that about 88% of all marijuana arrests are for simple possession, not manufacture or distribution, according to FBI Uniform Crimes Report. Large-scale marijuana growing operations are frequently targeted by police in raids to attack the supply side and discourage the spread and marketing of the drug, though the great majority of those who are in prison for cannabis are either there for simple possession or small scale dealing.

The effects of marijuana prohibition in the United States today are similar to the effects of alcohol prohibition in the United States from 1920 to 1933. Prohibition sought to achieve forced abstinence from alcohol through legal means and constitutionally banned its manufacture, sale and transport throughout the United States.

A number of social problems resulted from the Prohibition era. A profitable and violent black market for alcohol flourished. Powerful gangs corrupted law enforcement agencies, and stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. Enforcing prohibition had an enormous price tag, and the absence of almost $500 million annual nationwide tax revenues on alcohol affected the government's financial resources. When repeal of prohibition occurred in 1933, organized crime lost nearly all of its black market alcohol profits in most states because of competition with low-priced alcohol sales at legal liquor stores.

At the end of prohibition some of the initial supporters openly admitted its failure. A quote from a letter, written in 1932 by wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., states:

“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”

However, when it came to marijuana and hemp prohibition, Rockefeller took a different stance. He was a known supporter of hemp prohibition along with Harry J. Anslinger, the United States First "drug czar" and William Randolph Hearst, well known media mogul. As to be expected, Hearst sympathized with the drug czar in his war against marijuana. Hearst's paper empire, which included hundreds of acres of timber forests, was threatened by the renewable resource of hemp that could be re-grown yearly, unlike Hearst's timber. In his newspapers, Hearst published many of Anslinger’s fabricated stories, aiding the anti-marijuana movement that eventually led to its prohibition in the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Rockefeller had his interests in oil, and after founding Standard Oil in 1870, soared to become the first U.S. dollar billionaire, and Standard Oil was even convicted of monopolistic practices and broken up in 1911. There seems no way that hemp could have had a chance when the media, the government, and the oil industry were swiftly making little room for hemp to survive.

Hemp is not only in direct competition with timber and petroleum, but also with many other industries throughout the world. Hemp offers wholesome and nutritious foodstuffs such as edible oil from the seeds, which are also used for making chocolate bars and other foods; renewable fiber for clothing and building. The original Levi jeans were made from hemp but lasted too long to be commercially viable; high grade papers, such as those used for bank notes, tissues, hand towels, and tea bags, where strength when wet is critical, and so much more. Cannabis is a medicine that was created by nature, producing powerful documented results without the side effects of the manufactured chemicals that the drug companies peddle during every television commercial break. Cannabis can even be a nice after work treat in the same way that a glass of beer or wine is enjoyed after a long day at the office.

When it comes to the cost that our nation pays when it comes to hemp and cannabis prohibition, it is clear that we must re-legalize this diverse and useful plant. There are so many benefits to be gained from this potential source of income for our state and country. This needless "war on marijuana" must end. We must restore the right to realize the benefits of an income source from a renewable source through agriculture, energy, paper, clothing, nutrition, medicine, and responsible adult recreation. By restoring Hemp and Cannabis in Oregon we will not only keep Oregon free and green, but we will strive toward making Oregon even GREENER!



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