By Sam Orr
Until the 20th century, there was no debate about the value of hemp and its derivatives. They used paper made from hemp to print the King James Bible and cloth made from hemp to sew the American flag. Doctors routinely prescribed medicines made from hemp oil to treat a variety of illnesses. Although the plant was freely available and the authorities actually encouraged its cultivation, there was never a drug problem, real or imagined, associated with its use. What changed and why?
The beginning of the end came for both hemp fiber and medical marijuana in 1930 with the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. During his first years of tenure, the director of the FBN, Harry J. Anslinger was more interested in creating and enforcing laws related to the distribution and use of opiates. In 1934, however, he changed his tune and under his orders, the FBN began an extensive anti-marijuana propaganda program.
There are several theories about why Anslinger made marijuana the focus of his War on Drugs when there were addictive drugs like heroin that logically would have made better targets. One of the strongest theories revolves around the fact that hemp as an industrial cash crop was threatening the interests of the Dupont Corporation and William Randolph Hearst. Dupont had a monopoly on producing the chemicals necessary for making paper from trees but no investment in the rapidly growing hemp paper industry. Hearst, who had a huge financial stake in timber forests and paper mills, was concerned about competition from hemp paper manufacturers.
Be that as it may, the lurid stories of depravity and violence that the Hearst newspapers and other media published during this period had their desired effect and the remarkable medicinal qualities of marijuana became completely overshadowed by its imagined dangers. The government passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 with little difficulty, thanks largely to its successful cannabis smear campaign. With the added burden of a heavy tax, hemp became too expense to produce as an industrial crop and the outlawing of its distribution made it impossible to legally use for medical purposes. From there, it was just a short step to criminalizing its use for any purpose whatsoever.
The first three decades of the 1900’s were bad years for medical marijuana in other ways, as well. The 1908 Flexner Report recommended that only schools that taught allopathic medicine and biomedicine (theoretical medicine) be allowed to offer university degrees in the medical sciences. As a result, by 1935, the number of medical schools in America halved and the teaching and study of plant based medicines virtually ended. In effect, the Flexner Report led to the sanctification of the pharmaceutical industry and the relegation of plant-based medicine to the realm of ineffective “folk medicine.”
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