Legalization of hemp production and sales in the USA earned five billion dollars of revenue in 2015. A century before, a restless war was being waged against cannabis all over the country. But how could such a cash crop be left unharvested for more than ten years on American soil?
Bill was a well-bred young man who began smoking weed in spite of himself and grew to like it a bit too much. He began keeping bad company and his grades started dropping fast as he spent most of his time at the apartment of a grass dealer woman where music and weed infused orgies took place. Bill’s life fell apart when he was accused of murdering his girlfriend after finding her, about to get raped by a crazed stoner. Morality: smoking the devil’s weed systematically drives users to commit all sorts of heinous crimes. Anyway that’s what the movie “Reefer Madness” set out to prove by portraying the moral ruin of young whites meeting up to smoke cannabis after school. A well-known offender to any self-respecting weed activist, “Reefer Madness” was the very first anti-cannabis propaganda film. How can a drug, now deemed mostly harmless, be made out to be the most dangerous of them all, before heroin, cocaine and opium in interwar America ? Well, this is how...
The Great Depression in America meant constant financial breakdown and a staggering rise in unemployment. Rumour was that hemp was about to become a billion dollar cash crop, making it a crucial issue for certain leaders of industry with a penchant for racism, who had built their fortune on oil and paper. One such man was William Randolph Hearst, son of a billionaire senator, press mogul and an admirer of Nazism. With a sphere of influence comparable to today’s Kanye West, Hearst could not bear to let hemp supplant the paper industry in which he had important stakes. His friends held similar views, like the aristocratic Du Pont family who built an empire making rubber, nylon and paint derived from petroleum, and refused to share their piece of the cake. For these magnates on which consumerist society relied, hemp constituted a serious threat. Along with providing a better yield rate than deforestation for paper production, hemp is a formidably versatile product: its natural fibre is used for textile and as part of car bodies, oil can be produced from its seeds and used as fuel or paint-thinner. How could they get rid of such a threat in a country nearly four million square miles large ?
Resort to Propaganda
Every problem has a solution. Hearst, who owned the media, needed a political ally. He found it in Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. treasury department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics who happened to be looking for a new battle, after the prohibition of alcohol had been lifted. In the repression against cannabis he saw a chance to write his name in history and set out on a crusade throughout the United States. Anti-cannabis propaganda spread all over the country through movie theatres and the newspapers owned by the Hearst Corporation. Systematically associated with crime, immigration and depicted as the devil’s drug, marijuana became the focus of a cultural, financial and political war. After years of restless slandering, Anslinger obtained the creation of a federal law in 1937, known as the Marijuana Tax Act. Production and importing of hemp and its derivatives were taxed up to thirty percent, and its recreational use was criminalised. Anslinger was successful and the production of hemp became economically unfeasible. Why and how was this propaganda campaign so efficient ?
Following the financial crisis of 1929, America was plunged into what is now known as The Great Depression. Time is ripe for a national enemy to be found. In a still profoundly racist society, Mexican immigrants are finger-pointed as recreational users and importers of marijuana, a word deliberately picked for its Hispanic origin. Demonising cannabis was only a smoke screen hiding the true stake in hemp production: its exceptional economical potential. Anslinger’s contention that weed users “develop a delirious rage after its administration during which they are temporarily, at least, irresponsible and prone to commit violent crimes” finally took hold after being endlessly repeated in the media. The attempted rapes, the psychotic and homicidal episodes threatening the W.A.S.P. youth featured in “Reefer Madness” and many other films aimed at rallying parents around the fear of cannabis. By seeking support among the conservative, puritan and moralist part of the American society; the Hearst-Du Pont-Anslinger trio maintained their status among the nation’s elite. The Hearst family fortune is worth 32 billion dollars and is the sixth richest American family. The Du Pont family ranks fourteenth and is worth 14 billion. Harry Anslinger holds the record for one of the longest careers in the federal bureau of narcotics with a whopping thirty-two years.
This story, known as the hemp conspiracy, came to popular awareness thanks to the restless work of the famous Jack Herer, known as a leader of the American cannabis legalization mo- vement. In his essay “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”, Herer was largely responsible for shining a light on this dark episode of mass manipulation through political propaganda. With the support of H.E.M.P., Hans Hauf from Germany, and Sensi Seeds / The hemp museum of Amsterdam among others, Herer promises a hundred thousand dollars to anyone able refute the allegations in his book. One would have to disprove the following statement : “If all fossil fuels and their derivatives, as well as trees for paper and construction were banned in order to save the planet, reverse the Greenhouse Effect and stop deforestation; then there is only one known annually renewable natural resource that is capable of providing the overall majority of the world’s paper and textiles; meet all of the world’s transportation, industrial and home energy needs, while simultaneously reducing pollution, rebuilding the soil, and cleaning the atmos- phere all at the same time... and that substance is - the same one that did it all before - Cannabis Hemp... Marijuana!”.