The war on drugs has been an ongoing feature of the United States political battlefield for decades now. “Tough on Crime” policies have been aimed at drugs and drug users, and more and more substances that qualify as drugs are being put on the watch list of illicit substances. Drugs are also associated with other vice crimes like gambling, prostitution, and others.
However, draining and costly as this war is, parts of the government seem to be budging on the issue of decriminalizing marijuana (apparently aware of the huge monetary benefits to be gained from making drugs legal). Very rarely do you hear about marijuana’s straight-laced and upstanding cousin hemp though, which has been painted with the same brush?
Hemp, unlike marijuana, isn’t a drug. Hemp does contain a small, trace amount of THC (the chemical in marijuana that leads to the effects smoking it has on the brain and body), but it is less likely to show up on a drug test than the opiate found in a poppy seed bagel or cake.
However, hemp has a huge record throughout the history of being used as something of a miracle crop. Hemp can be used to make oils, paper, cloth, rope and even petroleum products like oil and plastic. However, hemp is not used for these things in America, and it is on the controlled substances list that makes it illegal to have, to grow or to use.
The simple answer to the question you’re thinking is money. Money is the reason why the U.S. isn’t allowed to use hemp which is a clean, natural and easily harvested alternative to so many dirty, industrial products.
To really understand this, we’re going to have to turn back time a bit. Picture the 1920s and the beginning of the era of Prohibition. This is a time where the wants of the few dictated the behavior of the many, and those who were white, Puritan and who had a moral agenda pushed through legislation that made alcohol effectively illegal along with a slew of other substances.
This gave birth to American organized crime (which we still have today, ironically enough selling the very substances we tried to get rid of), and it’s a time period where police brutality and state suppression were a common, everyday occurrence.
Something else that was still huge in American culture at this time was racism.
The white, working class was still the biggest and most powerful group, and any time an ethnic minority threatened that group is was dealt with harshly, and often wrongly, through government sanctions and the passage of laws. Opium, the favored drug of Chinese immigrants since the 1800s, and cocaine, the favored drug of the black populace at the time, both became targets for fear mongering and legal action.
It was during this time where opium was referred to as a bizarre and corrupting influence of the Far East, and cocaine as unleashing primal, savage nature in the black populace (some claimed that a line of cocaine would make one black man as strong as 4 or 5 cops… a claim that has survived as a fear to this day).
Now, the pattern of attacking indulgences of choice is a pattern for controlling populations in United States history. Marijuana, despite how popular it is now, was originally the drug of choice for Mexican immigrants. Immigrant labor got on well with the establishment for a while, when there were plenty of jobs, but when the Great Depression hit and the white working class needed jobs it was time to use the Mexican population as scapegoats.
Marijuana was claimed to be responsible for crime waves in the Southwest states (it wasn’t, and the police statistics actually showed that Mexican workers were less of a problem than whites… mayhap because of the smoking of marijuana, but that’s conjecture), and the term Refer Madness is often applied to this supposed problem with marijuana.
That’s how marijuana got on the bad list.
Now, back to hemp. Hemp was used commercially all through Prohibition, and all the way up until the 1970s. Henry Ford built a car body from lightweight plastic made from hemp, and farmers were paid during World War II to grow hemp to be used for the war effort to make ropes, cloth, oil and dozens of other items that you can make from hemp.
So, from the dawn of hemp’s use as a do-anything material to the 1970s where it was labeled a harmless substance, what happened?
Useful as hemp is, it was difficult to gather it in large amounts necessary for certain activities. Industrialists experimented with hemp, such as Ford, but found that overall the technology to harvest and refine it needed work. As such, other solutions that were cheaper and simpler took over. Trees and wood were used for paper, oil drilled from the Earth was used for fuel and plastic manufacture, etc.
However, as technology advanced many scientists and alternative industries began to find ways to make hemp a competitor, if not an outright winner, in serving a number of industrial needs.
However, the industries that had been using alternatives, many of them damaging or not particularly environmentally friendly, decided that rather than using their money and power to switch over to hemp and beat the competition at their own game that it would be more financially sound to simply ban the use of the game-changing hemp.
Muddling the facts in whether or not hemp is the same as marijuana was really all that needed to be done since marijuana was banned already and hemp was guilty by association.
Up until the 2000 era the ban for hemp was in place. It couldn’t be grown in America, but industrial hemp could be imported for some very strict uses, including food. However, that use too was banned eventually, ostensibly for the trace amounts of THC in the food (which as mentioned is less than the opium found in poppyseed foods).
The United States is the only first world country that regulates hemp, industrial or otherwise, as a controlled substance. No other countries are willing to pass up the sheer usefulness of hemp to make a slew of modern products with less waste, cheaper harvesting and overall a much earth-friendlier product.
The United States, however, has a stranglehold on any use of hemp in the country, and that hold has been reinforced by drug paranoia, big industry and capitalists looking out for their own interests.