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Unravelling An American Dilemma: The Demonization of Marihuana



Hidden Motives


Since the dawn of civilization, people have cultivated the plant known scientifically as cannabis and agriculturally as hemp for its fiber, seed, and pharmaceutical properties.Throughout the world, the records of archaeology and history reveal that humanity universally recognized the benefits of this unique plant.Such recognition ended abruptly in 1930, when the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics began to educate the American public about marihuana, as hemp had been known colloquially in the Sonoran region of Mexico.[1] †Between 1930 and 1934, the Bureau compiled a body of misinformation which suggested that the use of marihuana was directly linked to crime, induced violent behavior, and caused insanity.† Then, suddenly, in 1935, the Bureau flooded the nation with educational propaganda against marihuana use.† During this act of demonization, the Bureau continuously cited its own accumulated body of misinformation as a precedent for legislation on the federal level.Through this studied deception, the Bureau effectively lobbied for the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which considerably restricted the usage, distribution, and production of marihuana.Significantly, restrictions on marihuana automatically implied restrictions on the cultivation of hemp.[2]

Several highly suspicious circumstances surround the Federal Bureau of Narcoticsí demonization of marihuana in the 1930s.First, there never was a marihuana problem; this manufactured malady was a great media spoof.Secondly, the misinformation, which was disseminated to the public by the Bureau, was based on conjecture and hearsay; the objective truth and the scientific method were summarily discarded.Furthermore, the Bureau even suppressed and ignored information which was unbiased, objective, and contradicted its own special brand of demonization.† The whole scenario of the Bureauís ďmarihuana educationĒ program is an amazing example of how easily the American public could be deceived by a slick propaganda campaign.In retrospect, this trail of deceitful acts raises the possibility that the Bureauís decision to demonize marihuana may have been prompted by hidden motives. [3]

By strange coincidence the final assault of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics on marihuana occurred simultaneously with its own awareness of the emergence of a new hemp industry in America in 1935.This new hemp industry was based on the commercial practicability of producing raw cellulose pulp from hemp for the manufacture of paper.† The Bureau seems to have demonized marihuana for motives that went far beyond its mandate to legally regulate the production and distribution of the drug.† Specifically, the Bureau provided the perfect vehicle for vested interests who wanted to terminate the movement to develop a hemp-based paper industry.Marihuana was demonized by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930s because of the hemp plantís promising economic future.[4]

This hypothesis, that the demonization of marihuana was a result of the hemp plantís economic potential, is not entirely original.In large part it is based on the observations of previous researchers.† Their insights into why the Federal Bureau of Narcotics demonized marihuana in the 1930s are particularly relevant to this hypothesis.Because of this relevancy, it is necessary to briefly introduce the basic arguments of these previous researchers.The arguments may be easily separated into two sets of explanations.

The first explanation was provided by the decriminalization movement, which started in the late 1960s.[5]† According to decriminalization scholars, the prohibition of marihuana should be understood as an unfortunate result of the ideological climate of the day.† Typically, modern historians use the term Progressive to describe the ideological climate of the early twentieth century.† This period of time was characterized by strong convictions favoring the ideals of Calvinistic Protestantism, Scientific Materialism, and Uninhibited Capitalism.Aspects of these three philosophies were blended in America and became manifest in Progressivism, the ideology of the predominantly WASP upper- and middle-classes.[6]

For the everyday person caught in the grind of everyday life Progressivism translated into an endless quantification of oneís value toward society.† Value was measured by the job or work being performed by the person.Jobs or work were graded on the basis of the wealth they generated.† This situation created a hierarchy in which the wealthy elite formed an plutocracy.In order to justify its existence this plutocracy actively promoted Progressivism.† The essential tenet of this philosophy was based on the strategy of promoting the virtues of work and chastising the vices of idleness.To entice the masses to follow this ethic, the ideology was imbued with the assumption that hard work was the secret to material wealth and earthly paradise.† From this syllogism, it was only natural that the acquisition of material wealth was portrayed as the ideal pursuit for people.This formula for success was the source of the modern American work ethic.[7]

The Progressive mentality infected the predominantly WASP upper- and middle-classes of America.This socio-economic and cultural cross-section of American society was deeply affected by a latent xenophobia.This innate nativism definitely prejudiced the Progressive policy toward drugs during the first quarter of the twentieth century.† Ideologically, the Progressives followed the notion that certain social customs were vices which impeded people from focusing on their work and generating more wealth.On the basis of this reasoning, the federal government was pressured to impose moral imperatives on the American populace by removing perceived vices through prohibitive legislation.The most well-known historical example of this type of Progressive social experimentation was the Eighteenth Amendment, the prohibition of alcohol.† Ironically, Western cultures had always considered alcohol to be an acceptable vice.† The failure of prohibition during the 1920s is attributed to the previous consideration, since drinking was the customary accompaniment for most leisure activities in America.[8]

Marihuana, unlike alcohol, was generally unknown to the American people until the 1960s.† The drug was first discovered during the first decade of the twentieth century among Mexican immigrant communities in the Southwest, where marihuana was used both recreationally and medicinally.Shortly after the initial discovery of this customary practice, local officials succumbed to the influence of xenophobic prejudices and seized on marihuana use as a medium to suppress unwanted Mexican immigrants.† To gain support for legislation suppressing marihuana, these local officials verified and spread rumors that the use of marihuana caused crime and violence.In time, marihuana began to appear in the cities.The same biased rumors inspired authorities in the cities to meld marihuana into the evolving Progressive policy toward narcotic drugs.† Prohibition was the cornerstone of this policy.† Thus, during the first quarter of the twentieth century, state and local laws were easily passed against the non-medicinal use of marihuana.However, after examining these early efforts to prohibit the drug, decriminalization scholars were quick to note the troubling absence of any scientific or historical evidence to suggest the existence of a true problem with marihuana.† Instead, they traced the rationale for the isolated incidences of legislation on the state and local levels to xenophobia and the emerging Progressive policy with regard to narcotic drugs.[9]

In 1930, the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics adopted marihuana as a federal issue.[10]† According to decriminalization scholars, the Bureau proceeded on the basis of the previously given rationale for state and local legislation, freely citing the unfounded rumors of xenophobic officials and the prevaricated data of overzealous Progressives as a precedent for its action.The Bureau believed that this body of information was credible.Of course, this explanation implies that the people in the Bureau were totally ignorant of unbiased and objective data gathering techniques, otherwise known as the scientific method.By the 1930s, the scientific method was the standard applied to all questions needing objective answers, but for some reason this practice was ignored within the Bureau.[11]

Despite the Bureauís puzzling disregard for objectivity, decriminalization scholars maintained that the Bureauís decision to demonize marihuana in the 1930s, and especially from 1935 on, was an unfortunate result of the ideological climate of the day, Progressivism tempered by the latent xenophobia of the middle- and upper-class WASP majority.The previous explanation tends to lose the historical truth by feeding the interpreter into the convenience of its logic, since it leads one to believe that the Bureau was merely acting as an extension of the general will of the people.† To the contrary, the simplicity of such an explanation fails to take into account the fact that the Bureau created the prevalent public opinion through the final act of demonization.† This act was definitely premeditated and the Bureau was primarily responsible.

Until recently, the decriminalization thesis was the only academic explanation for the prohibition of marihuana.However, during the past decade a second generation of legalization literature has surfaced.[12]† This new movement presented a conspiracy thesis to explain why the Federal Bureau of Narcotics demonized marihuana in the 1930s.At first glance the conspiracy thesis seems like quite a stretch of the imagination from the decriminalization movementís attempt to describe a docile Bureau, which acted on the publicís outcry against the evils of marihuana.† Instead, the conspiracy thesis suggested that hemp was destined to become one of the largest cash crop ever grown because of its industrial value as a source of raw cellulose.† According to Jack Herer, the leading proponent of this second generation of legalization literature, the Bureau was a tool of vested interests who sought to protect their business investments because they feared the loss of profits if hemp made a comeback as an industrial commodity.[13]

The company which was cited as having the most to lose was E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Company, hereafter referred to as Du Pont.† During the companyís one hundred year plus history it had transacted business with only two banks.One of these banks was the Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh.† This bank was owned by the Secretary of Treasury, Andrew Mellon.† On the basis of this banking connection, Herer assumed that Mellonís interests were in tune with Du Pontís interests in the most intimate manner financially.† As the Secretary of Treasury, Mellon appointed his future nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. †The new Commissioner and his Bureau successfully lobbied for the prohibition of marihuana just as the new hemp industry began to emerge as a potential threat to Du Pontís business.[14]

As further confirmation of Du Pontís intentions, Herer cited a Du Pont Annual Report from 1937.On the pages of this report, investment in the company was recommended by Du Pontís chairman, who somehow foresaw that ďradical changes from the revenue raising power of government would be converted into instruments for forcing acceptance of sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganization.Ē[15]† Herer acknowledged the previous statement as a signal from Du Pontís chairman that the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was created to protect company interests.† Apparently, Du Pont had patented processes and was developing others to make plastics from oil and coal, as well as paper pulp from wood.† In all, these lucrative chemical patents accounted for eighty percent of Du Pontís business during the following fifty-year period.This meant that Du Pont had billions at stake, which were invested in processes to derive cellulose from raw materials other than hemp.† If hemp had remained legal, Du Pont would not have had the market cornered on cellulose-based industries.† With these thoughts in mind, Herer suggested that Du Pont conspired with Mellon to eliminate the competition.[16]

In addition to Du Pont and Mellon, Herer also noted the significant role played by the nationís largest publisher, the Hearst syndicate, in helping to create the fundamental story line about the new narcotic menace, marihuana.† When the Bureau was created in 1930, it adopted views similar to those of Hearst, gave them the authority of the federal government, and paraded them before the public as the truth.† According to Herer, Hearstís brand of anti-marihuana journalism was initially influenced by his extreme prejudice toward Mexicans, African-Americans, and the jazz movement. However, later during the 1930s, Hearst recycled his old stories and used them as cover to protect his substantial financial interest in the paper industry.[17]

The second generation conspiracy thesis sheds new insight on the central question of this thesis: Why was marihuana demonized during the 1930s?Specifically, the idea of a conspiracy is intriguing.And new original research reveals virgin information which supports the conclusions of the second generation conspiracy thesis.[18]† Evidently, during the 1930s, the idea that vested interests were exerting a controlling influence on the course of public policy was a serious topic both in the media and in the federal government.By the late 1920s, after a decade of Federal Trade Commission investigations into the lobbying activities of gigantic public utility holding companies, the truth about the corrupting influence of these vested interests was finally beginning to reach the public.[19]† The methods of persuasions employed by the private concerns were as blatant as courting government officials to as subtle as distributing propaganda to school children and placing editorials in newspapers.Building on such revelations, an enormous money trust was uncovered in 1933.† Du Pont and the Mellon Bank were both participants in this money trust, which was ultimately presided over by the nationís most powerful banking house, J. P. Morgan & Company.[20]

†† At the height of these proceedings J. P. Morgan, Jr. appeared before the Senate Banking and Finance Committee Hearings and rendered the following opinion about the business of high finance.

ďI state without hesitation that I consider the private banker a national asset and not a national danger.As to the theory that he may become too powerful, it must be remembered that any power which he has comes, not from the possession of large means, but from the confidence of the people in his character and credit, and that that power, having no force to back it, would disappear at once if people thought that the character had changed or the credit had diminished - not financial credit, but that which comes from the respect and esteem of the community.Ē[21]


Throughout the investigations, special prosecutor Ferdinand Pecora made a mockery of Morganís previous statement.From the testimony of the nationís leading bankers and the analysis of their companyís records, Pecora revealed an intricate web of interlocking directorates among the nationís leading banks and corporations.Based on his observations, Pecora suggested the existence of an economic monopoly of national proportions.

††††††††††† Such an accusation was a common theme among the reactionary elements of the day, who frequently alleged that the American economy was controlled by a ďmoney trust.ĒWhat these reactionaries observed during the early 1930s was the grand culmination of the Morgan inspired movement to consolidate business interests.† Theoretically, the resultant monopolies would create financial stability amidst the chaos of competition.† However, in reality, the situation pandered to self-interest.† By controlling the boards of the nationís leading corporations and industry committees, certain banks, particularly J. P. Morgan & Company, were able to exert an invisible influence over the course of economic development in America.† Monetary gain always preceded all other matters.22

The implicit irony between Morganís lofty statement and the actual truth about the American business environment has a very profound relevance to this particular inquiry; specifically, the idea that the power to influence events does not lie in financial means, but rather in the trust of the public.† Irony pervades this naÔve belief.† In economics money directs the final outcome of events.Time and time again, the historical record clearly demonstrates that business interests have taken precedence over the mandates of moral majorities and the consideration of the publicís welfare.The case is no different when applied to the Federal Bureau of Narcoticsí campaign against marihuana.† Certain industries controlled by the money trust stood to lose billions of dollars in revenue if the new hemp industry was successful.The innate desire to protect their business investments motivated the leaders of the threatened industries to seek the aid of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics to ensure the failure of the new hemp industry.† Acting on these hidden motives, the Bureau implemented an educational propaganda campaign about the evils of marihuana.† On the basis of the evidence presented by the Bureau, marihuana was effectively demonized in the minds of the American public and the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed by Congress.† Together, the act of demonization and regulatory legislation destroyed the chances of the new hemp industry becoming established as a viable economy in America.

On the ensuing pages, an elaborate argument to support the main contention of this thesis, that the new hemp industry was politically assassinated by the money trust, will be presented.First, in order to justify the concept of demonization, which is central to this thesis, the history of the role of marihuana throughout the centuries in the world at large and in America, in particular, will be briefly provided.† A thorough explanation of the origins of the new hemp industry will be included with this history.† In the next section the material will trace the evolution of the marihuana issue in America.Continuing, the two previous sections will then be tied together and the focus will shift onto the final act of demonization, which resulted in the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.For the final two sections of this thesis, additional evidence in support of the main contention will be presented by analyzing the immediate repercussions of the Tax Act and the aftermath of prohibition.† When finished, this thesis should have created a foundation for further detailed investigations of what is a uniquely American dilemma, the prohibition of marihuana because of the hemp plantís economic promise.

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