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The Three Horsemen of the A-POT-calypse

Posted on January 10 2018

Two key moments in U.S. history helped shape America’s hard push against marijuana: one by powerful corporate lobbies in the 1930s and one by a vengeful political machine in the 1970s.  The result?  An absolute vilification of a prehistoric plant that has been around an estimated 39 million years, and whose medicinal/material use by humans dates back centuries.

By most accounts, industrial hemp (a distinct strain of cannabis sativa that barely has trace amounts of the psychoactive THC ingredient) was indigenous to Americas since the 18th Century.  Pilgrims actually grew it for fabric and paper-making properties. Our Founding Fathers, including Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, had hemp farms!

Yale University’s Dr. David Musto spent years studying U.S. drug policies and their roots.  According to him, by the early 1920s, Mexican immigrants were using Cannabis in the U.S. and there was fear that its use caused them to “make mayhem.”  In fact, he says that in the 1930s there was no evidence to reassure anyone about the safe use of cannabis.  However, by the mid-60s, while he was head of the National Institute of Mental Health, most research concluded there was nothing wrong with cannabis!

Enter Harry J. Anslinger, head of the then Federal Bureau of Narcotics [FBN].  His interest was in stamping out heroin, cocaine and opium (dangers that came from abroad).  Since Cannabis was grown domestically (and grew wild), it was harder to control.

With no additional resources he sought to fight the cannabis battle in the media.  He found allies among:

  • Big Pharma – fearing that THC and CBD might find legitimate medical uses supplanting the need for their drugs. Current projections show pharma losing $4 billion to Cannabis.
  • Big Alcohol – replacing it as the de-facto way to get a “high”
  • Big Cotton – hemp is a superior fiber with more uses. Cotton growers were alarmed at how speedily their crops could be replaced.
  • And publishing empire founder William Randolph Hearst (already betting on paper made from pulp vs hemp).

Each of these was its own powerful Washington, DC lobby and pushed/financed what amounts to a smear campaign against “marijuana.”

The results?  Articles, medical journal entries and even a motion picture (Refer Madness) essentially terrifying a nation about Cannabis.  It worked.  For a while.

Next period: the counter culture of the 60s and 70s.  Hippies, Civil Rights campaigners and bra-burning equal rights protesters pressured lawmakers for social change.  To some degree their efforts paid off.  But Republican President Richard Nixon identified Hippies as the “liberals” he’d been sent to office to wipe out. Similarly, African Americans, Mexicans and Hispanic minorities generally voted Democrat and were associated with Cannabis use.  His administration is credited with criminalizing Cannabis and vilifying the hippies and minorities using it.  The thought goes that Nixon’s singled-minded focus (Hippies and Minorities = Liberals = Democrats) meant that he could “win” against them by making their liberal ways a criminal act.  It was during this period that “marijuana” became heavily used by the government in place of “cannabis” because it sounded more Mexican, more foreign, and played into their attempts to make “marijuana” a pejorative term.

The great irony in all this is that his own, all-consuming paranoia ultimately led to Watergate and his ouster. 

These two periods in U.S. history authored almost every argument against Cannabis manufacture, use or even research.  Meanwhile, other nations (like Canada, the Netherlands) have peaceably created tax revenue, vilified no one and are often held as examples of what CAN happen.

There you have it – the hatred against Cannabis was bought and paid for by organizations who needed you to be against it.

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