Things I Hear in the vital hemp store: Part 11: Why is hemp illegal?
Another question people often pose while trying on their hemp clothing: "If hemp is so good, why is it illegal?" The answer to this question requires a bit of a history lesson, best explained in Jack Herer's The Emperor Wears No Clothes; but here's the short version in case you're curious:
Hemp was grown throughout the world for centuries and widely-used for a huge range of real-world applications, such as hemp rope, hemp sails, painter's canvas (the word "canvas" comes from the word "cannibas"), hemp paper, hemp oil, hemp ale, hemp clothing (sailor's gear and the original linen), etc....
In the mid-30's, Dupont bought the German patent for Nylon. They wanted to get all the lucrative government contracts for such things as the stitching of soldiers' shoes, parachute lines, sails, ropes, etc..., so used their influence in Congress to pass a prohibitive tax (of $500/plant) against the cultivation of industrial hemp--essentially making it illegal.
When we entered WWII, the generals and admirals of that war appealed to congress, saying they could not successfully wage the war without hemp. Congress reversed itself; the government made pro-hemp documentaries, such as Hemp for Victory, encouraging cultivation of the industrial hemp crop, and even prosecuted farmers who refused to grow it.
After the war, William Randolph Hearst, who owned the largest newspaper chain in the USA and a vertical monopoly to support it, felt threatened by industrial hemp. Up to this point, he had been supplying all his newspapers with wood-based paper, made from old growth trees in the timber stands in the Pacific Northwest. When some inventors came up with a machine that made low-cost, high-quality newsprint from industrial hemp, Hearst thought that could give others the chance to compete with him, threatening his monopoly.
So he decided to demonize hemp, calling it the evil
"Mexican marijuana", the first time the word "marijuana" was used in the common parlance. Notice how he conflates hemp/marijuana and Mexican, using fear to drive public policy against the interests of our citizens. Sound familiar? This was the beginning of our domestic reefer madness. Hearst published articles about how the evil Mexican marijuana was driving people crazy, causing all sorts of outrageous behavior, such as our virginal white women sleeping with black men!
Unfortunately, our Congressmen entered these propagandistic articles into the Congressional record in hearings against marijuana; the predecessor to the DEA was born, headed by a monomaniacal crusader named Henry Anslinger, who decided that the best way to deal with hemp was to burn all the crops. So much for the indispensibility of hemp.
Dupont got their way with nylon; Hearst continued to sell tree-based newspapers, and the American public got deprived of our nation's plant inheritance, deprived of our natural right to grow a supremely useful plant, a plant that was serving life on the planet long before Dupont or Hearst, and will probably outlive the last Dupont and last Hearst.
So how is it that we're now not able to grow the very plant that comprised the paper upon which all drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written? How is it that we can buy food made from Canadian hemp, such as hemp milk, hempseed bars, hemp oil, etc…in Whole Foods, but not grow the crop here?
Many states want to grow hemp. According to votehemp.org, to date, thirty-one states have introduced hemp legislation and seventeen have passed legislation; nine (Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia) have removed barriers to its production or research.
Hemp is now legally grown in over thirty countries with the largest producer being China, that grows the bulk of hemp for textiles. Other countries that legally grow hemp for industrial use are: Australia, Austria, Canada (where they grow it for food; and it is by far the most profitable crop/acre), Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, North Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.
If all these countries are smart enough to avail themselves of a useful and profitable crop, why aren't we? At this point, there's no good reason. There are a couple of sham excuses offered by the DEA…but that's a topic for another blog....