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Unravelling An American Dilemma: The Demonization of Marihuana



The Aftermath of the Prohibition of Marihuana


   Following the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the prohibition of marihuana became a cultural reality.  The aftermath of this prohibition is replete with the same irony which pervaded the original demonization of marihuana during the 1930s.  Throughout this thesis, the main argument has centered on the hypothesis that the Bureau responded to events occurring in the hemp industry rather than to a real problem.  Coincidentally, the preponderance of evidence suggests that there was not a problem with marihuana.  Instead, the Bureau seems to have demonized marihuana in order to protect government and private investment in the Southern wood pulp industry.Since the passage of the Tax Act in 1937, the Bureau has been forced to continuously defend its economically inspired propositions and promote further dubious rhetoric to ensure that marihuana remained illegal.Throughout this era of persecution and prohibition, commercial concerns have continued to express a desire to utilize hemp as a source of raw cellulose for the production of paper.

Within a year after the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, Fiorello La Guardia, the mayor of New York City, commissioned a team of distinguished scientist to study the effects of the usage of marihuana.  His concern stemmed from the abundance of sensationalistic newspaper accounts that New York’s youth was “teetering on the brink of an orgy of marihuana-induced crime and sex.”[307]  To the great dismay of Commissioner Anslinger, the findings of the La Guardia Commission contradicted the arguments which the Bureau had presented during its final assault against marihuana.  Specifically, the report stated that:

Marihuana is used extensively in the Borough of Manhanttan but the problem is not as acute as it is reported to be in other sections of the United States.

The distribution and use of marihuana is centered in Harlem.

The majority of marihuana smokers are Negroes and Latin Americans.

The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.

The sale and distribution of marihuana is not under the control of any single organized group.

The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction and no effort is made to create a market for these narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana smoking.

Marihuana is not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes.

Marihuana smoking is not widespread among school children.

Juvenile delinquency is not associated with the practice of smoking marihuana.

The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded.[308]


Not surprisingly, Commissioner Anslinger attacked the conclusions of the La Guardia Commission, claiming that they were not credible.[309]  In addition, he produced another biased foreign study, which described the use of cannabis drugs in India.[310]  But above and beyond any of its previous acts, the Bureau blackmailed the American Medical Association into conducting research to support its position against marihuana.[311]  In order to coerce the AMA, the Bureau prosecuted doctors for unwarranted prescriptions.[312]  The Commissioner’s scathing denunciations, the prejudiced findings of the foreign study, and the AMA’s bogus study helped to offset the impact of the La Guardia Report.

   During this same period of time, further activity occurred in the hemp industry.It began in 1942, after the United States had entered the Second World War.  One of the first results of the war was that the United States Navy’s source of fiber for rope had been lost when the Japanese overran the Philippines and the Indian Ocean.This development effectively stopped the importation of Manila hemp and jute into the United States.Over time, Manila hemp and jute had gradually replaced native grown hemp in the production of Naval and Army ropes because of their cheaper cost.  At the outset of America’s involvement in the Second World War both of these raw material sources were lost due to the Japanese offensive.  As a result the government initiated a campaign to raise hemp in America for the military.[313]

   Toward this purpose, the United States government set up the War Hemp Industries Board as a branch of the Commodity Credit Corporation.  This new board was authorized to promote and oversee the cultivation of hemp, as well as the production of fiber.  During 1942, the Department of Agriculture purchased and distributed 3000 bushels of hemp seed for the purpose of cultivating 350,000 acres of hemp.In addition, the Department of Agriculture created a film titled, Hemp for Victory, which they instructed farmers to watch and they also distributed an agricultural manual in January, 1943, titled, Hemp, Farmers’ Bulletin No. 1935.These promotional tactics were combined with the expenditure of $25,000,000 on harvesting and decorticating machinery, all of which was placed under the supervision of the War Hemp Industries Board, which oversaw the contracting of growers, the distribution of seed, and the production of fiber.[314]

   With the advent of governmental control, the private hemp industry seems to have disappeared except for a few scattered business operations.  During its brief period of activity, the government raised 168,000 acres in 1943, and then diminished its cultivation to 60,000 acres in 1944.By 1945, there was no longer a need to continue with operations because of the war’s end, so the government exited as quickly as they had entered into the business.  However, with the end of governmental control of hemp production, several private commercial concerns attempted to continue with projects of their own.  Ironically, these new companies appear to have been interested in the possibility of producing paper.

   One of the commercial concerns was located in Washington, Iowa.Deputy Commissioner Will Wood became aware of this private project in August of 1944, at which time he wrote to District Supervisor Allyn B. Crisler of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and requested that the Supervisor should proceed with an investigation of the matter.Toward this end, District Supervisor Crisler sent Narcotic Inspector Paul G. Brigham to Washington, Iowa, to gather information about the hemp project.  In a report submitted on August 11, 1944, Inspector Brigham discovered that the decorticating facility, in Washington, Iowa, was owned by Walter T. Ostjen.Next, the Inspector revealed that Ostjen was legally represented by Elmer Johnson, who had been involved with the Illinois Hemp Corporation.  Furthermore, the Inspector learned that the Governor of Iowa, Bourke B. Kiskenlooper, had been instrumental in establishing the decorticating facility at Washington.[315]  One other point Ostjen mentioned was that the company intended to try to market both the fiber and the hurd.[316]  The history of the hemp project in Washington, Iowa ends after this report.

   Another case arose in Minnesota, when the Northwest Flax Industries, Inc., contacted the Bureau in December, 1944.  This company asked whether it would be possible for them to purchase stocks of unused hemp held by the War Hemp Industries, Inc., of Minnesota.  According to their letter, they were interested in using this hemp for the production of paper.With the intent to begin operations, the Northwest Flax Industries, Inc., requested information regarding the licensing and regulations that would apply to their proposed business.[317]  After this letter the correspondence ends.

   Curiously, a War Hemp Industries’ mill located in St. Paul, Minnesota, was taken private by several entrepreneurs.  During the early 1950s, the Bureau effectively used the stipulations of the transfer tax to bring the mill’s operation to a standstill for over a year forcing the company into insolvency.[318]  Based on the sequence of interest and action, it seems plausible to suggest that the Northwest Flax Industries, Inc., may have been associated with the privately operated War Hemp Industries mill.If the two hemp concerns were associated, then the Bureau would have exhibited its peculiar bias for utilizing the stipulations of the transfer tax to smother yet another industrial enterprise interested in developing hemp for paper.

    By the end of the 1950s, hemp was no longer commercially cultivated in the United States.[319] Not only was it too difficult to comply with the onerous regulations of the Marihuana Tax Act, but other prohibitive measures had also been enacted which hindered the growth of the nascent hemp industry.  First, the Bureau had supported the movement to have marihuana classified as a noxious weed.[320]  Needless to say, this negative association caused irreparable damage to the agricultural status of hemp.  Secondly, during the final assault, the Bureau had continued to press for the adoption of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act.  By 1940, almost every state had enacted this legislation including the marihuana clause.And finally, as a result of the Bureau’s intense demonization of marihuana, most states had passed laws by 1940, which totally prohibited the cultivation of marihuana for whatever purpose.[321]

   Meanwhile, during the years following the Second World War, the Bureau continued to lobby for stricter laws against marihuana on the federal level.Their main argument remained focused on the unsubstantiated claim that marihuana posed a grave danger to the youth of America.Specifically, the Bureau argued that the use of marihuana was a stepping stone to the use of heroin.In 1951, Commissioner Anslinger stated that: “Over 50 percent of those young addicts started on marihuana smoking.They started there and graduated to heroin; they took the needle when the thrill of marihuana was gone.”[322]  On the basis of the stepping stone theory, the Bureau was able to impress Congress enough to pass two new anti-narcotic bills, the Boggs Act of 1951 and the Narcotic Control Act of 1956.  Both pieces of legislation included marihuana within their purview.  Furthermore, these laws made the possession of marihuana a felony.[323]

   During the 1950s and early 1960s, marihuana legislation had very little impact on the vast majority of the American public, who continued to be ignorant of any drug related problem.  However, by the mid-1960s, the use of marihuana became a widespread phenomenon on college campuses throughout the nation.  No longer was the use of marihuana confined to minority groups such as the African-Americans and Mexicans.  Instead, white middle- and upper-class American youths were indulging in the drug.Commenting on the new marihuana craze, a writer from the New York Times stated:

“Nobody cared when it was a ghetto problem.Marihuana - well, it was used by jazz musicians in the lower class, so you didn’t care if they got 2- to 20 years.But when a nice, middle-class girl or boy in college gets busted for the same thing, then the whole country sits up and takes notice.”[324]  


As a result of this new concern the marihuana laws were reexamined. 

   Starting in 1962, before the marihuana phenomenon fully emerged, Presidential commissions began to question the validity of the Bureau’s position on marihuana.[325]  The findings of these commissions basically reaffirmed the truth about marihuana: that it was not addictive; that it did not cause crime; and that it was not a stepping stone to the use of heroin.By the early 1970s, independent scholars began to examine the historical and scientific basis for anti-marihuana legislation.[326]  This academic inquiry gradually revealed that the federal prohibition of marihuana had not occurred because of a true problem with the drug.  Instead, these scholars discovered that, during the first quarter of the twentieth century, marihuana had been classified as a narcotic by overzealous Progressives, who had reacted out of xenophobic fear rather than rational scientific observation.  These scholars also found that, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was created in 1930, the new agency had merely adopted the xenophobic attitudes of the Progressives.  In addition, they further noted that the Bureau had failed to produce any evidence of a true problem with marihuana.  The research of these scholars and the advice of Presidential commissions helped to justify the movement to decriminalize marihuana during the 1970s.

   Another interesting development occurred during this same period of time.In 1974, Jack Frazier published an article titled Hemp Paper Reconsidered.[327]  This study effectively reawakened Americans to the economic potential of hemp.  In particular, Frazier reintroduced the public to the 1916 Department of Agriculture Bulletin No. 404, Hemp Hurds As Paper-Making Material.  This publication had stated that hemp was ideal for the production of paper.  Furthermore, Frazier rediscovered the 1938 Popular Mechanics article “The New Billion Dollar Crop,” which specifically focused on the industrial potential of manufacturing paper from hemp.Since the publication of Frazier’s article many movements have evolved with the single purpose in mind of developing hemp for the production of paper.  Recently, the June, 1991, edition of Pulp & Paper, a technical trade journal, featured an article titled “It’s Time to Reconsider Hemp.”   In the article it was stated that hemp still presented an ideal solution “... to meet pending shortages of fiber, energy, and environmental quality.”[328]  Less than two year ago, in the July, 1993, edition of Pulp & Paper, another significant article was printed, which described government sponsored research regarding the production of paper from hemp in the Netherlands.The author noted that, “As a relatively low-input crop that can be grown at a wide range of latitudes, hemp seems very suitable for mass production of nonwood cellulose.”[329]Finally, within the last few years the hemp industry has begun to re-emerge in America.A company from Portland, Oregon, is presently manufacturing paper from hemp.  However, because strict regulations governing the cultivation of marihuana are still enforced in America this company has been forced to import its hemp from China.[330]

   Ironically, during the period of time between the decriminalization movement of the early 1970s and the present, the Presidential Administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush initiated what society commonly refers to as the war on drugs, and, of course, marihuana was a prime target.The battle plan entailed the proliferation of bureaucratically-self-serving scientific studies and politically-inspired moralistic admonitions.

   For instance, during the mid-1970s, at Tulane University, government sanctioned researchers claimed that the use of marihuana caused the death of brain cells.Their conclusion was based on the analysis of the brain cells of Rhesus monkeys which had been subjected to marihuana smoke and then compared to the brain cells of a control group of monkeys which were drug free.  The findings of the Tulane project have been one of the main weapons of the Drug Enforcement Agency in its post-decriminalization propaganda campaigns against marihuana.[331]  Needless to say, the general public found this information extremely troubling.

   Following the disturbing revelations from Tulane, the National Organization for the Reform of Marihuana Laws (NORML) and Playboy requested an accurate accounting of the research procedures.Initially, the requesters were denied but after six years of suing the government for this information they final received the material.What they discovered was one of the most horrendous examples of scientific deception ever concocted:

“...  Rhesus monkeys had been strapped into a chair and pumped the equivalent of 63 Colombian strength joints in ‘five minutes through gas masks,’ losing no smoke

The monkeys were suffocating! Three to five minutes of oxygen deprivation causes brain damage - ‘dead brain cells.’

The Heath Monkey study was actually a study in animal asphyxiation and carbon monoxide poisoning.”[332]


Similarly flawed research projects, like Dr. Gabriel Nahas’s studies, which tried to link the use of marihuana with chromosonal damage, have consistently received the support of the government.[333]  Through the 1970s and 1980s, and now into the 1990s, the government has continued to expend billions of tax-payers’ dollars to basically misinform the public about the effects of marihuana in order to ensure that the drug remains illegal.

   All the while, reputable scientists have presented credible evidence to the contrary.[334]  The most recent research shows that the “...active ingredients of cannabis are used-up in the first or second pass through the liver.  The leftover THC metabolites then attach themselves, in a very normal way, to fatty deposits, for the body to dispose of later, which is a safe and perfectly natural process.”[335]Furthermore, researchers have shown that the psychoactive chemicals in marihuana have natural receptors in the human brain.[336]  How did such an evolutionary development occur without some unique symbiotic relationship having been shared between humanity and hemp?Considering the truth, the current attempts to overwhelm the public with misinformation about marihuana is quite deplorable.

   Until the marihuana laws are repealed, the economic potential of hemp will not be realized in the United States.  The tragedy of this situation seems to rest on the untimely demonization of marihuana by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics between 1935 and 1937.If the Bureau had not proceeded with this action, then there was a very good chance that the hemp industry of the 1930s would have established itself and prospered.  In light of this tragedy, the following question was posed: Why was marihuana demonized during the 1930s? Throughout this thesis reasonable doubt has been raised regarding the Bureau’s true motives for demonizing marihuana.  Specifically, the main contention of this thesis has remained true to the hypothesis that the Federal Bureau of Narcotics demonized marihuana during the 1930s in order to protect the wood pulp industry.

   On the basis of the present research, the guiding impetus for the demonization of marihuana rested on the economic control of a vital raw material—cellulose.At the time, when the new hemp industry was emerging, the production of cellulose was monopolized by the wood pulp industry.  Responsibility for the demise of the hemp industry during the 1930s would seem to reside with the upper echelon of management in the several dominant banks and corporations, as well as with officials in the federal government, all of whom were associated with the wood pulp industry.  Prior to and during the 1930s, the wood pulp industry demonstrated hostile behavior whenever its fiscal domain was threatened by economic changes.If hemp became established as an alternate source for the manufacture of paper and other cellulose based products, such as building materials, textiles, and plastics, these business managers, bankers, and government officials faced the stark reality of significant financial losses.

   Two factors, in particular, made the wood pulp industry vulnerable during the 1930s.Within the established wood-pulp industry decentralization was occurring, while outwardly the industry and government promoted the utilization of the Southern Pine as a new source of wood-pulp. Both of these processes required a tremendous outlay of capital, which came from both private and public sectors. Sharing a similar purpose, business and government worked in unison to ensure the safety of their investment.

   The government clearly possessed a dubious record with regard to its support of the wood-pulp industry and opposition to the development of alternative sources other-than-wood for the production of cellulose.  A similar historical distinction emerges, in 1935, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics launched its final assault against marihuana at approximately the same time that the new hemp industry was mustering the necessary resources to establish itself.  During the span of the next two years, the Bureau destroyed all hope of establishing an industry based on cellulose produced from hemp.This feat was accomplished through the demonization of marihuana and the subsequent passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

   If there had been a real reason for the final assault against marihuana, then maybe what happened to the hemp industry would be acceptable, but there is not.Instead, it was shown how hemp was considered to be one of the most promising alternative sources, and that private investors tried to create an industry based on the plant’s economic potential.Consequently, while analyzing the history of the hemp industry during the 1930s, a web of problematic economic influences was discovered which begs for further analysis.

   The present situation with regard to the prohibition of marihuana has created a unique dilemma.American agriculture and industry have been prohibited from developing markets for a plant which offers a variety economic opportunities.  Other countries around the globe have already taken the initiative to develop hemp-based industries and are presently demonstrating the value of such endeavors.The most prominent of these countries is China, where hemp is recognized as the most valuable nonwood alternative source for the production of cellulose pulp.  Paper in China commonly contains five percent to twenty-five percent hemp pulp, which is usually combined with recycled material to add strength.  One-hundred percent hemp pulp is also used for the production of finer grades of paper.In addition, the Chinese utilize the entire plant, pulping both the bast fibers and hurds.[337]  Considering such progress, why does America proceed to drain the natural resources of our own country, as well as those of willing foreign countries, when another more practical option exists?  Given the circumstances described in this thesis, it would seem appropriate to suggest further examination of the history of the prohibition of marihuana, in addition to new research into the economic potential of hemp.

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