A brief history lesson on Pot and the War on Drugs

The “War on Drugs” – a phrase first used in 1971 by President Nixon – began during the turbulent socio-political upheaval surrounding hippies, anti-war protests and the counterculture. But the vilification of “the evil weed” began much earlier than that.

In 1937, media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Lammont DuPont (of ‘Chemicals’ fame) and other established industrialists were perturbed that the crop hemp – a cousin to cannabis, but not used to get high – was so amazingly versatile, with myriad uses over a vast number of industries, from a paper substitute (Hearst’s biggest concern), to clothing, to rope, to uses for hemp oil (for an interesting visual on a sample of things that are currently made from or with hemp, visit http://www.jackherer.com/hemp%20things.htm ).

“Hemp is a historical plant,” said Matt Simon, Executive Director of the NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. “Calistoga wagons were made from hemp. Old Ironsides’ sails were made of hemp. George Washington even told people to ‘Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, sow it everywhere.’ ”

Hearst and Henry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, had their motivations colored by distinct racism, specifically towards Mexicans, who came to America and were, they felt, threatening to take jobs away from U.S. citizens. In fact, the men were the first to introduce the word “marihuana” into the public’s mind, using the Mexican’s word for cannabis. “It’s much like the racism tying other drugs to other minorities,” Simon points out. “These were ‘drug-crazed Mexicans and Negroes’ who would ‘attack our women’ while high, just like the Chinese were portrayed as dangerous with opium.”

Hemp made a brief resurgence during World War II after Japan cut off supplies for raw fibers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the short film “Hemp For Victory,” encouraging all farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. However, it went back to its illegal standing after the war.