New Prohibition

No one seems able to determine the exact date that hemp/cannabis/marijuana appeared on the scene. This document will trace hemp back as far as history will allow, from 8500 BC in China to present day, noting the important role this much maligned weed has played in numerous civilizations down through the ages.

The oldest human ever found was wearing a hemp blouse with a silk like quality. In 2700 BC Chinese written history tells us that hemp was used for fiber, oil, and as medicine. By 450 BC hemp was being cultivated in the mid east for the same purpose. Hemp was first introduced into Europe around 1000 AD, and by the sixteenth century it was known to be the most widely cultivated crop in the world producing rope, sails, cloth, fuel, paper, paint, food and medicine.

Of course hemp was an important product to the new world. In 1762 Virginia rewarded farmers with bounties for hemp culture and manufacture, and imposed penalties upon those who did not produce it. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper, and Betsy Ross chose hemp as the material for this country’s first flag. George Washington grew hemp for fiber and recreational use, and Thomas Jefferson acquired the first American patent for his hemp break, a devise used to separate the hemp stalk into usable hurds and fiber with greater speed than the retting of past.

Without hemp America could not have successfully waged the revolution, and for the next one hundred and fifty years hemp enjoyed the position as America’s top cash crop. Why then, in 1937, was the Marijuana Tax Act imposed to effectively make hemp non competitive in the commercial arena?

William Randolph Hearst had accumulated a chain of newspapers that made him the most influential man in America. He also owned vast timber holdings which fed the paper industry. Lammont Du Pont was his friend and supplied toxic chemicals which were needed for making paper. He was also the spearhead for a fledgling petrochemical industry. Both men stood to loose large if hemp turned the industrial revolution corner, which it looked like it was about to do with the invention of the “decorticator”, a far superior machine to Jefferson’s hemp break. With this new invention, it appeared that hemp could now be processed quickly enough to be used for paper and plywood instead of trees, and the petrochemical industry was an embarrassment considering you can make the same five hundred biodegradable products from hemp. This was not good news for Mr. Hearst or Mr. Dupont. Henry Ford had already made and fueled a car almost entirely from hemp, and it actually looked as if hemp had the capacity to affect Hearst and DuPont’s bottom line.

Hearst ordered all his editors to write scathing stories about marijuana to which they replied, “What’s that?” Hearst made the word up because he knew no one would believe scathing stories about hemp. The articles all denigrated Mexicans, African Americans, Jazz Musicians, and the city of New Orleans, suggesting that marijuana use would certainly lead to crime, insanity, and early violent death. After a few years of this bombardment, the country was primed for the marijuana tax act of 1937.

The marijuana tax act was sent through the good old boys network with help from Hearst and Dupont allies until it was signed into law by President Roosevelt on August 2, 1937. A slam dunk for the corporate giants, and a great lose for America. The bill actually charged a one hundred dollar an ounce tax on any commercial hemp transaction, which made American hemp noncompetitive. All hemp used by America had to be imported, that is until 1942 when our supply was cut off by the war, and the Government started it’s “Hemp for Victory” campaign.


The plan called for the planting of three hundred thousand acres of hemp, and for building seventy-one processing plants… a strange position for our government to be in only four years after taxing it to death. As the end of the war drew near, the government’s position on hemp flip-flopped yet again. Over night this war time wonder plant had once again become the demon weed from hell…

On November 2, 1951, Congress passed the Boggs act, increasing the penalties for all narcotics violations. They also included marijuana on the list of narcotics which was the beginning of a whole other problem. All of a sudden our jails were filling up with middle class kids caught smoking pot. Now there was a whole counter culture revolving around smoking pot, and by the mid seventies everyone was thinking it would only be a few more years till the government came to it’s senses and repealed the marijuana prohibition. They must have been pipe dreaming.

Every study done on marijuana since the 1944 Laguardia report suggests that legalization is the only way out. In 1996 there were six hundred thousand Americans arrested on drug charges, of these, eighty six percent were for simple possession. Of the one million six hundred thousand people in federal and state prison, twenty-five percent are there for drug violations. This immense expenditure, capturing, prosecuting, and incarcerating, not to mention funding “the drug war”, and the loss of revenue through billions of untaxed drug dollars is not a sane situation by any standards.

In the last decade Hemp’s popularity has become even more prevalent; both as a recreational drug and as a raw material. Not only has smoking increased drastically, but there are now over three hundred companies in the United States that deal exclusively in hemp products. California and Arizona have passed the medical marijuana initiative, while other states block attempts to legalize industrial hemp. In the meantime, once again, hemp has become America’s largest cash crop beating second place corn by a mere twenty billion dollars.

There have been many little parts of the hemp/cannabis/marijuana story told, but no one has ever done a comprehensive history. We shouldn’t let Misters Hearst and Dupont dictate the way we view the hemp plant today. We intend to present the truth, and, as the old saying goes, “truth is always stranger than fiction.”

-Jonathan Stuart