"History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes." ~ Anonymous
Once upon a time..
Early people and their animals followed the moving and migrating herds northeast through Africa. They settled into the hills and valleys of the fertile north in what is now central Asia. The people began farming for food and sustenance, they learned new ways of life. They had time together in one place to create culture (from the Latin colere; to tend, cultivate).
Generations passed, and in a low smokey tent on the steppes a tribal woman spun Cannabis fibers; twisting them into cordage, weaving them into coverings for her feet, making rope to hold animals.
Hemp was grown with the very earliest cultivated crops. The 10,000-year-old remnants she left behind establish the oldest known physical link to tending and working with Cannabis.
In the very spots where culture bloomed, there were cattle and crops. And there was cannabis. True story. Pretty sure there's a connection there.
Oh, and the Vikings used hemp.
As did Betsy Ross, most of the "founding fathers", Abraham Lincoln, and Henry Ford.
Your Great Great Grandmother Used Cannabis
Since the Jamestown Settlement in the early 1600’s, hemp crops and a wide variety of hemp seed and fiber products had been staples of American society, agriculture, and commerce.
By the mid 19th century, use of cannabis as a medicine was on the rise.
Then beginning around 1907 and for the next thirty years, US laws were enacted to restrict the availability and use of all 'narcotics', including cannabis (which isn't one!).
By the 1930’s, cannabis/hemp was still quite fashionable and functional, utilized for everything from fine table linens, to canvas, ropes and sailcloth.
Its popularity also extended to the prescription extracts made by the likes of Eli Lilly and Parke Davis. By this time, pharmacies became the only ones allowed to sell cannabis extracts, tinctures, or "other narcotic preparations”, and they required a doctor's prescription.
In the US, for nearly 100 years cannabis tinctures were routinely used to help treat -
The popular medicines were always prescribed and labeled simply using the name of the plant from which the extract was derived, Cannabis.
Reefer Madness, Racism and The Captains of Industry
In a word, what drove Congress to a frenzy in the 1930’s when Reefer Madness swept through the land, was the spread of a new slang term for hemp and cannabis; marihuana (sic).
The exact origin of the word is still hazy, but it arrived in America as the Mexican Revolution was boiling over.
During the 1920's, tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants per year crossed our border to escape violence and poverty in their country, and seek new opportunity in the United States.
By the mid 1930s, anti-immigration sentiment was in full swing. This new term “marihuana” (eventually giving way to its modern spelling, marijuana), gave the punch to prohibition, and became the word du jour of the mainstream press for any story relating to cannabis.
Adopting this unusual and scary sounding word, the prohibitionists created an effective smoke screen (or bomb), and the demonization of Cannabis sativa was complete. All that was needed now was a new prohibition law.
The notorious drug warrior, Harry J. Anslinger was history’s choice to lead the nations' drug eradication effort by introducing the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937.
Commissioner Anslinger, a master of politics and opposition marketing, provided the fuel that was needed to drive the Marihuana Tax Act home.
During the House hearing on the Act and the national marijuana prohibition, Anslinger testified vehemently. He pinned the “marijuana menace" on people of color, “deviants, and foreigners”. And the elected white men just nodded their heads.
They hastily pushed the Marihuana Tax Act through the sparsely attended committee hearings. The press finished Anslinger’s public relations efforts for him without complaint.
Enabled by a complicit Congress - It was social intolerance, racial aggression and the war on drugs that led the culture to turn against cannabis.
It's often been assumed that the DuPonts, Mellons, the Hearsts, and other industrialists feared hemp as a competitor, and created the law(s) or colluded with Congress to drive hemp out of business.
The Captains of Industry certainly did their part in supporting the national prohibition campaign, but the record doesn't support a well-coordinated conspiracy by the fiber and petrochemical tycoons.
In large part, the economics of hemp production in the 20th century, as well as its inherent properties as a natural fiber, made it a weak competitor against the new petro-based fibers and fuels.
Nonetheless, we can be sure the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act met with the industrialists’ approval, secured their dominion, and helped perpetuate the status quo.
Hemp Industry's Last Stand. The American Medical Association Fights Back!
The US hemp industry players (mostly seed producers) were blindsided when the Marihuana Tax Act was introduced. Their representatives, rightfully alarmed, sped to Washington to testify against the bill, or request exemptions (they succeeded only in keeping sterilized hemp bird seed from the definition of marijuana).
Ironically, the largest organized opposition to the Tax Act was not from the hemp producers of the day, it was presented by the American Medical Association (AMA).
The American Medical Association lobbied against the Marihuana Tax Act on behalf of their business members:
The Chief Counsel to the AMA testified before the House committee hearing on the national marijuana prohibition saying, "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug."
Regardless, the hearings ended swiftly on May 4, 1937. The Marihuana Tax Act was passed in August, and signed into law by President Roosevelt. It went into effect on October 1, 1937.
The Act alone did not make medical cannabis or hemp products illegal. But the events of eighty-one years ago set up hemp to become a national casualty of the 1st World War on Drugs.
All growers and handlers of medical cannabis and hemp products were now subject to large fees, new licensing requirements, extensive paperwork, and fines or possible imprisonment if not paid.
Prior to the Tax Act, hemp producers were already challenged with tight operating margins.
Thus, it was the added economic and administrative weight of the Tax Act - and the availability of new, cheap synthetic fibers - that squeezed the oxygen out of hemp production in this country.
Except for a brief period during World War II, when the Department of Agriculture recruited American farmers to "Grow Hemp for Victory!" - the federal government has upheld the prohibition on hemp.
Then in 1970, passage of the Controlled Substances Act took whatever hemp or cannabis had left, and put them in a coma.
Tak's References and credits-12.26.18
11/29/2019 11:04:01 pm
This was a very informative article and intriguing historical facts. I will be completing the rest of the blog that led me to this one. Would never had guessed that Cannabis had been around that long or that it was actually labeled as such. Thank you for the interesting history.
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I'm Netaka, friends call me Tak ("tock"). I write from Vermont and curate Tak About Hemp.