My Director of Education, Michele Nelson, answers this question:
Prior to 1937, cannabis and hemp in America was used as medicine and material for various industrial needs. One of the plant’s greatest industrial benefits to early American’s was that it did not rot in seawater, therefore enabling sails and rigging. This made hemp essential to the new American country – without it; America could not have a navy. John Adams felt hemp was so vital to the creation of the new country that it was one of the first items on his to do list when riding to the Continental Congress. He wrote, “Encourage the cultivation of hemp.” Every farmer was required to dedicate a portion of his or her farm to hemp production. As a medicine, cannabis was used from children’s pain remedies to relieving adult’s depression, anxiety, and pain. During the mid-1800’s, there were over 600 tinctures of cannabis available on the market from pharmaceutical companies well known today – Pfizer and Merck for example.
However, in the 1930’s two things happened that made hemp/cannabis illegal. One, a machine was invented that processed the hemp/cannabis without using the heavy manual labor needed in the past. Some called it a “hemp gin” like the cotton gin. Suddenly, hemp was not such an expensive fiber. At the time, Popular Mechanics magazine ran an article calling hemp “America’s billion dollar crop”. Industrialists began experimenting with hemp and discovered that it could be used to create plastics, was an excellent bio-fuel and was a strong fiber for paper.
At the same time hemp was being touted as a new raw material, the petrol chemical industry was emerging. The Dupont’s were at the center of this industry, discovering other uses for petroleum such as plastics and nylon. Also during this time, William Randolph Hearst the newspaper tycoon, needed to secure paper for his news empire, so he invested in forests for paper. Because hemp could replace both petrol chemicals and trees to make products cheaper, easier, (and it’s a renewable resource that many could profit from producing) these two families joined forces with former Alcohol Prohibitionist, Harry Anslinger to create and pass the Cannabis Tax Stamp Act in Congress.
Many consider the Cannabis Tax Stamp Act as “industrial espionage”. At the time, cannabis was not a recognized name for hemp or cannabis and so the act was passed without the medical or farm community’s awareness. The tax stamp act gave the US government control over what farmers could plant and destroyed the cannabis pharmaceutical business. If farmers didn’t apply and receive a tax stamp, they were subject to fines and possible imprisonment for growing the plant. Cannabis/hemp production plummeted. Doctors begged Congress to allow cannabis to be used as a medicine, but they failed to overturn or even modify the Cannabis Tax Stamp Act.
Cannabis prohibition started because two families needed to have a monopoly on business. However, in today’s economic and environmental climate the prohibition that resulted from that decision might not be viable any longer. Cannabis and hemp might be needed soon.
Michele Nelson, GreenBridge Director of Education