For thousands of years industrial hemp was a common staple. It fed us, clothed us, housed us, sailed our ships with hemp rope and sails, it was part of our livelihood.
Then, in the early 1900s, it was banned and pushed aside.
Why? Why did this wonderful, useful plant get labeled with a criminal stamp?
Around the turn of the 20th century companies like DuPont created chemicals that were used in processing of paper; DuPont also created chemicals used for pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which were used extensively by the cotton industry (cotton is MUCH more chemical and water intensive compared to hemp). While this was going on, William Randolph Hearst invested in timber and mills to produce the paper for his newspaper, which was the largest chain in the U.S. at the time. His investments in the timber industry were backed by Mellon Bank.
The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury at that time was Andrew Mellon, who happened to own Mellon Bank (and was one of the backers for DuPont as well). Mellon’s niece was married to Harry Anslinger who, incidentally, was connected to the alcohol prohibition campaign. He was out of a job (as were everyone else in that sector of the federal government) after the alcohol prohibition ended. To keep his family employed, Mellon created a new division of the federal government, the Bureau of Narcotics, and made Harry Anslinger the new head of that program.
Also during this time machinery was being developed to make hemp processing easier and more efficient. This was a threat to the paper, chemical, timber, and petroleum industries. Pharmaceutical companies were creating new medicines and drugs and were also threatened by the natural healing properties of the plant we know as hemp.
Harry Anslinger began looking into rumors of the Mexican population smoking the flowers of the hemp plant. Because racism was quite rampant at that time, Anslinger played on that and used the Mexican slang, marijuana, in place of the word ‘hemp’. He spread lies and rumors about blacks and Mexicans becoming violent while smoking it and also labeled it as a narcotic.