The March 21st "New York Times" announced that the North American Industrial Hemp Council, "a coalition of farmers, politicians, manufacturers and environmental groups." is filing two petitions. One, to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a licensing system permitting farmers to once again grow hemp in this country, and another to ask the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to end its classification of industrial hemp as an illegal drug. In the past, though the DEA has the power to issue such permits, it has refused, citing its concern that industrial hemp might be diverted as an illegal drug. Though experts have long pointed out that industrial hemp contains too low a level of the psychedelic component, THC (tetrahydro cannabinol) to interest the underground drug market, the DEA has not changed its mind.

According to the "Time's" article, Raymond Bernard, speaking for America's carpet manufacturers emphasized hemp's "durability," the on-going expense of importing it, plus the fact that, unlike the present-day synthetic carpets such as nylon, hemp is completely bio-degradable. The Hemp Council also argued that in contrast to cotton which is "the most environmentally damaging of all crops because of its intensive need for pesticides," hemp cultivation requires no pesticides and little water. Cotton is a water-intensive crop. As was pointed out in the 1995 documentary "The Hemp Revolution," hemp has no natural enemies "except the U.S. government."

The history of hemp, or marijuana as it is commonly known in this country, goes back thousands of years. In a Chinese pharmacy book as early as 2737 BC, hemp was recommended for rheumatism, ulcers, earaches, menstrual cramps and malaria.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II recommended it as an eyewash. Hemp was the first plant known to be cultivated by man, and both its healing and mind-altering properties were understood across the ancient world. Hemp fibers were used in the first woven fabric. Carbon dating places some such weavings as far back as 8,000 BC. Hemp was used for paper long before linen or papyrus, whereas wood pulp as the mainstay for paper manufacture became popular only after the 1920s.

Early settlers in America were encouraged, even instructed by colonial governments, to plant hemp. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations and Benjamin Franklin started one of America's firs paper mills, using cannabis (hemp) as the basis. both America's Bill of Rights and our Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper. In fact, until some time around the 1920s, all official documents were ordered to be written on hemp paper because of its durability. During the days of sailing ships, the canvas for their sails, ropes and rigging were of hemp, and early Americans traveled west in wagons covered with hemp canvas. "Canvas" is the Dutch word for "cannabis." Levi Strauss made his first trousers for the Gold Rush pioneers from hemp canvas. The 1850, the U.S. census counted 8,327 hemp plantations (minimum 2,000 acres), but did not include the millions of hemp patches on family farms. The mood-altering qualities of hemp (marijuana or hashish) have been understood and used both socially and in religious rites since man's pre-dawn history.

The story of hemp's early popularity in this country, its disappearance after being criminalized as "marijuana," its resurgence as a vital commercial crop during WW II and its second demise after the defeat of Germany and Japan is a fascinating chronicle of commercial greed, the almost criminal compliance of the press, and the unbelievable power of isolationist attitude and lack of curiosity about other culture that makes it easy for our commercially-directed press and media to manipulate the American populace. Ignorance of foreign cultures restricts our understanding of those mood-altering drugs which people around the world accept as part of their lifestyle.

Hemp's demise and plant's criminalization is a story understood today by few Americans. For those interested in the details, I recommend either of two books: "The Great Book of Hemp" by Rowan Robinson (Park Street Press) or "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" by Jack Herer (Hemp Publishing, Van Nuys, CA).

In brief, the campaign to destroy hemp as a commercial crop began in the early 1930s when DuPont chemists developed their first petrochemical fiber, nylon, and patented the sulfate and sulfite processes for making paper from wood pulp. About that time William Randolph Hearst, newspaper giant, was investing widely in lumber holdings as pulp for newsprint. Since hemp was cheaper and better source for paper than wood pulp, and hemp's superior fiber length, strength and low cost competed with nylon, the two commercial giants connived to destroy the hemp industry. (Cotton with a fiber length of 1 1/2 inches compared to hemp's 15 feet plus cotton's extensive water and pesticide requirements offered no threat to DuPont.) About this time other industrial chemists were developing plastics from such biomass products as hemp. Henry Ford, at his secret biomass conversion plant, had already built a model automobile of plastics derived largely from hemp with only the frame of metal. The car's fuel was also derived from hemp.

To destroy commercial hemp it was necessary first to criminalize it, and so the campaign began. First, the name hemp was changed to "marijuana." DuPont then began lobbying the chief counsel of the Treasury Department, Herman Oliphant, to prohibit cannabis (hemp) cultivation, saying DuPont's synthetics could replace hemp oil commercially. Simultaneously, Hearst's papers began a campaign which portrayed Mexicans as "lazy, degenerate, and violent," and as marijuana smokers and job stealers. (Mexico's hero Pancho Villa, not incidentally, had stolen 800,000 acres of Hearst's prime timberland.)

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics had been established in 1930, and its first commissioner, Harry J. Anslinger, who at first ignored cannabis, was soon to become its most violent suppressor. When the Uniform Drug Act, which criminalized cannabis was passed by the National Council of Commissioners in 1932, and referred to the states for ratification, Harry Anslinger immediately assigned his 300 FBI agents to lobby state legislatures to pass the Act. Anslinger, as Jack Herer points out in his book, was nephew-in-law to Treasury Secretary and banker Andrew Mellon, who was not only busy financing DuPont but had actually designed Anslinger's government position.

Anslinger's campaign against marijuana drew national interest and his distorted and often fabricated horror stories of marijuana use were widely printed. In time, this multi-faceted campaign against marijuana gained a significant following. On August 2nd, 1937, the Senate finally passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marijuana Act. As author Rowen Robinson notes, "Hemp, the environment and the American farmer had lost. The corporate giants had won. But the crusade against hemp had only begun."

Today, with more than a million young men imprisoned for marijuana use and drug-related crimes, and while our prison-building and prison-maintenance industries grow exponentially, the private lives of Americans are increasingly threatened by the intrusions of local, state and federal drug squads.

The proponents of continued criminalization of marijuana as expected are those who most stand to benefit from this on-going campaign: the DEA and their increasing state and local battalions; the entire petrochemical industry who fear the competition which today's biomass derivatives offer their products; those who build, maintain and staff prisons; the lobby of American businesses which enjoy cheap prison labor; the military who are elbowing their way into the anti-drug scene; and finally, our INS and their supporting court system. American's fight for that personal right to control their state of conscious awareness will be a tough one.

No one has ever died from marijuana use, though millions have succumbed to both alcohol and cigarettes. Marijuana is not addicting, and with over 70,000,000 Americans admitting to have tried "reefers," that use has been either controlled or shrugged off by the majority.

The oft-repeated story that marijuana use leads to hard drug use has never been substantiated. Both Holland, Switzerland accept marijuana use, and recently groups in Britain have rallied to decriminalize it. As for marijuana's therapeutic value, oncologists recommend it for the nausea associated with chemotherapy, ophthalmologists say it lowers intraocular pressures in their glaucoma patients, pulmonologists note its use in asthmatics. Marijuana relieves the pain of arthritis and as early as 1843 Jacques-Joseph Morceau extolled its anti-depressive qualities. Cannabis use in insomnia, alcoholism, drug withdrawal and migraine has been reported worldwide.

Perhaps the time has come for Americans to re-introduce commercial hemp in this country as a first step in re-examining our attitudes toward a much-maligned but potentially valuable natural resource. All 11 countries of the European Union presently permit the growing of commercial hemp, a plant whose available protein content rivals that of the soy bean, and whose oil is nutritionally better. Just how the on-going legal battle between California's state initiative permitting marijuana's limited medical use and the powerful Federal Drug Administration will resolve is anyone's guess.

(Reprint, The Coastal Post, (415) 868-1600, 1998)

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