History of Hemp 101

Submited by: Joseph Andrews
Web Site: www.plasticbabylon.com


Early History

The history of man has been marked by many important discoveries—discoveries that have shaped human society from a primitive, nomadic tribe into an international, space-age village. Man’s eternal quest has been the quest for knowledge. He is not content to sit idly by and wallow in his genius. Rather, he has continually striven to further himself—physically, mentally and spiritually. It has been his lot in life to produce bigger and better things than those who came before him.

Man is a seeker. He assumed this role the moment that he evolved into a cognizant and conscious being. His mind is able to ponder upon other matters than just the life-sustaining ones that helped him to survive. Only a portion of his time is spent concerned with where his next meal will come from, where he’ll lay his head down at the end of the day or by what means he will keep his naked skin warm. The rest of his time is spent searching for answers to the question, ‘Why?’ He found that by answering this question, he was better able to manipulate his environment in order to make his life more easily lived for him and his descendants.

Man began his life on Earth as a drifter. He roamed wherever his next meal should roam. He set up camp for a night and was gone by morning. His sole means of sustenance for his ever-occurring hunger was the flesh of the land. Fire probably came as an early invention in order to make his meals more palatable. Killing was his past time and death, his friend.

This lifestyle, however, could not continue for very long. Man soon learned that he risked starvation if his soul means of sustenance could not be had quite readily. All species are gifted with the wonderful instinct for survival. Man was no different. He began looking for alternative means of sustenance to get him by during times of shortage. That was the point in time when man took up the role of forager.

As a forager, man looked to the plants of the earth to feed his ever-occurring hunger. Nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables became regular staples in his diet. He began experimenting with various plants in nature, discovering which ones cured his hunger best. Along the way, he discovered other, alternative uses for the plants in his environment. They were not just useful to cure his hunger. They could be used in so many other ways. To perpetuate the crop and assure he would have access to all the many benefits of the plants he discovered, man began to settle down in one spot in order to assume the role of farmer.

Cannabis most likely came from Central Asia. It was first used for clothing, replacing the bulky animal skins people used to wear, and as a medicinal herb by about the 27th century BCE. It was lighter, looser and more easily worked with than other plants available to early man. Many ancient burial sites have been discovered in China containing articles of hemp. At Yuan-shan, which is now modern-day Taiwan, a 12,000-year-old Neolithic site was found that had, among its various contents, some remains of pottery marked by hemp cordage. Another site was found dating back to 4,000 BCE in the Zhejiang province containing a few textile articles made by hemp. At yet another location in China, a western Chou dynasty cemetery site was found containing some bronze artifacts wrapped in hemp cloth. (Robinson, Great Book, 103-4)

Cannabis seed was also used by the inhabitants of early-China for its nutritional benefits. It was ground into a powder and used to make porridge, or it was simply eaten whole. There are tombs from ancient China that contained pots filled with hemp seed, to be used by the dead in the afterlife (Frank and Rosenthal, 5). It is also interesting to note that the Chinese symbol for cannabis is of a large man (Herer, 51). The relationship between cannabis and man depicted by this symbol is rather obvious.

The Shu Ching, written in China around 2300 BCE, makes mention that the Shanting province contained fields of cannabis. It also makes mention of the fact that the warlord’s army used armor that had been sewn using hemp cord. The superiority of bowstrings made of hemp rather than bamboo is highlighted. Another book, the Shih Ching, meaning ‘Book of Odes’, is a collection of 305 songs composed between 1000 and 500 BCE. Hemp is mentioned seven times throughout it. Yet another book, the Hou-Han Shu, places the invention of paper to the Marquis Cai Lun in 105 CE, who was the Prefect of the Master of Techniques under Emperor He Di. He espoused the making of paper from hemp for all imperial affairs. (Robinson, Great Book, 104-5)

At a cemetery at Tirfan in Sinkiang province, a bit of Confucius’ Lun Yu, written in 716 CE, was found, written upon bleached hemp paper. Also, at the same site, a pair of paper shoes made of hemp was discovered. The printing of the first book in 770 CE, which was the Dharani, used paper made of hemp. Hemp paper was also used to make all the books in the imperial library during the Khai-Yuan period, between 713 and 742 CE. (Robinson, Great Book, 105-6)

Chinese farmers used the hemp seed to help produce a black dye used on their clothing. A lacquer was also made using sap from a tree that was strained through a layer of hemp cloth, which acted to purify it. After it was strained, the sap was then heated and stirred. This process thickened it. After it was thickened, it was then applied over the hemp paper, strengthening it still more. (Robinson, Great Book, 106)

The nomadic tribe of Indo-Persians known as the Aryans brought cannabis into India after their invasion. The Aryans eventually invaded and conquered nearly the entire Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Europe. Also, the Aryans brought cannabis down into Egypt, and its usage spread south from there (Herer, 51). The Aryan word for cannabis was bhanga, from the Aryan word bhanj, meaning ‘to break.’

An offshoot of the Aryans, the Scythians, brought cannabis into Europe from the north. In 1993, a Russian archaeologist discovered a 2,000-year-old gravesite of a young Scythian princess. The gravesite was located in the Siberian Umok plateau. Buried with the princess were six fully harnessed horses. Also, a small pot filled with cannabis seeds was found in the grave (Robinson, Great Book, 108). Herodotus, the Greek historian who lived around 450 BCE, wrote of such funeral rituals of the Scythians involving cannabis (Herer, 51-2).

As previously stated, cannabis migrated south into Egypt. By 3000 BCE, Egyptians were using hemp for rope. The ancient Egyptian word for cannabis was smsm t. Rope made of hemp was used to help pull the enormous limestone blocks necessary for the construction of the pyramids. Also, the Egyptians used hemp fiber in their rock quarries. They would wedge the dried hemp fiber into the cracks in the rocks, wet it and then wait for the fibers to swell. The swelling of the fibers would eventually cause the rock to crack open. Bits of hemp cloth were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Akhenaten, who is more commonly recognized as Amenophis IV, at el-Amarna in Egypt. Pollen from the male cannabis plant was found on the mummy of Ramses II. (Robinson, Great Book, 111)

In some African tribes, the most serious punishment offenders of capital crimes were faced with was being forced to smoke enormous amounts of dagga (cannabis), continuously for hours, confined to a small, enclosed hut, until the offender passed out. What would typically be about a two-year supply for a hefty-smoking American user was consumed by the offender of a capital crime in the span of only two hours! Interestingly enough, the number of repeat offenses after undergoing this form of punishment was virtually unheard of. (Herer, 52)

In 1253 CE, Cairo found itself overrun with religious Sufis who were routinely using hashish in their religious worship of the divine. Sufi monks were individuals who had given up all their earthly possessions and traveled the land as religious paupers. They lived as simply as possible, believing that doing so would bring them closer to God-realization. In the middle of Cairo was a garden known as the Cafour. Cannabis grew prolifically on the Cafour. The authorities, wishing to rid their city of these religious vagabonds, destroyed every cannabis plant growing in the Cafour and declared a ban upon cannabis. To offset this slight difficulty, farmers on the outskirts of Cairo began growing and supplying cannabis to those in the city. They did so openly until 1324, when the Cairo authorities, for 30 days, sent troops out into the country to destroy all the cannabis they could discover. Of course, as the authorities of today have realized, the Cairo authorities couldn’t possibly destroy all the cannabis plants growing in the countryside. In 1378, the Emir of Joneima, Soudan Sheikhoumi, ordered the imprisonment and even, in certain instances, the execution of all who were found growing cannabis. Those who were caught in possession of or using cannabis had their teeth pulled out by soldiers while crowds looked on. Of course, this gruesome edict had no lasting effect, for cannabis was still used quite prolifically throughout Egypt and all of Africa. (Robinson, Great Book, 113)

There is a tradition among North Africans, even to this day, that centers on cannabis. A pouch, known as a mottoni, is carried about. The mottoni has between two to four pockets, each being filled with a different grade of kif (cannabis). Depending on how well respected one is determines how potent a grade of kif one receives as a polite offering. The kif is then smoked in a clay pipe known as a chquaofa. (Robinson, Great Book, 113)

The most commonly used pipe in Africa was known as an earth pipe. An earth pipe consisted of a hole dug into the ground. The hole was then filled with a combination of dagga and manure. This mixture was lit, and the user would place his mouth over the hole and inhale of the intoxicating smoke. Primitive at best, yet usable nonetheless.

In 1271 CE, Marco Polo traveled through Persia. He heard mention of a cult of murderers whose leader was named Hasan-ibn-Sabah. The Arabs he spoke to called the cult hashashins, or ‘hashish-eaters.’ Mistaking the pronunciation, Marco Polo referred to the cult as ‘the assassins.’ (Robinson, Great Book, 110)

The Roman Empire used hemp imported from the Babylonian city of Sura. Hemp was called quello delle cento operazioni, or ‘substance of a hundred operations’, by the Italians, because the fibers needed to go through many operations before that were ready for use. In the ruins of Pompeii, which was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, carbonized hemp seed has been discovered. The Romans, in their conquests, spread cannabis through much of Europe. The West Germanic people known as the Franks occupied most of Gaul by 253 CE. The Frankish Queen Arnemunde died in 570 CE. She was discovered in her grave covered with a cloth made of hemp. (Robinson, Great Book, 115-6)

The Moors established the first paper factory in 1150 CE. They used hemp grown near the city of Xativa (note similarity to sativa) in the province of Alicante in Spain. The Bible was published in the 15th century using hemp paper. (Robinson, Great Book, 118)

The Inquisition of the Holy Catholic Church made the ingestion of cannabis illegal in Spain in the 12th century and in France in the 13th century. The Church believed cannabis was a witch’s tool, allowing one to communicate with spirits. In 1430, Joan of Arc was accused of using herbal witchery—cannabis included—to hear voices. She was put to death at the stake for these charges and others. (Herer, 56)

England, Holland and Spain each made use of hemp for the canvas of their sails, as well as for the ropes used in the rigging of their ships. Holland used hemp in the sails that powered their windmills. King Henry VIII passed an edict requiring farmers to grow hemp or flax on a quarter acre of land for every 60 acres being used for crops (Robinson, Great Book, 120). Because England’s supply of hemp was nominal, she looked to Russia for nearly all her hemp. One of the reasons why England desired to establish itself in the New World was to create a more feasible supply of hemp.

Hemp in the New World

Cannabis was probably first brought to America by Chinese explorers in prehistoric times. The earliest known evidence of the usage of cannabis dates back to the Mound Builders of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. One such mound discovered was the Death Mask Mound of the Hopewell Mound Builders, built around 400 BCE in what is now Ohio. At this mound, hundreds of clay pipes were discovered containing cannabis residue. The pipes were wrapped in cloth made of hemp (Robinson, Great Book, 124).

It is known that the Vikings used hemp to make the sails and riggings for their ships. Early Viking settlements dating back to around the end of the 1st millenium CE were probably cultivated with hemp. With crops established in both the Old and the New World, the Vikings were assured that they would have a steady supply of hemp for all their needs.

When early colonists arrived in the New World, the plant that aided their transoceanic journey was one of the first crops to be planted. Cannabis was planted in Chile in 1545. It was planted in Canada in 1606, in Virginia in 1611 and in Massachusetts in 1630. (Frank and Rosenthal, 8)

Because tobacco cultivation required less labor and commanded higher prices than hemp, many colonists preferred to grow tobacco. To compensate for this lack of interest on the part of early colonists in regard to hemp cultivation, the Virginia Company, in 1619, issued an order to every Jamestown citizen to plant 100 hemp plants each. To show his good faith, the governor was to plant 5,000 hemp plants himself. (Robinson, Great Book, 127)

In 1637, the General Court at Hartford, Connecticut declared “every family within this plantation shall procure and plant this present year one spoonful of English hemp seed in some soyle” (Frank and Rosenthal, 8). Massachusetts followed suit in 1639. Parliament, in 1662, authorized Virginia Governor William Berkeley to offer two pounds of tobacco to every citizen for every pound of finished hemp they produced (Robinson, Great Book, 126). In 1762, Virginia passed laws that meted out fines to those citizens who did not grow hemp (Frank and Rosenthal, 8).

To encourage continued dependence, England placed a ban on spinning and weaving in the New World. In order to procure spun and woven cloth, the early colonists had to send their finished hemp back to England. Then, England would sell the cloth they produced back to the colonists at highly increased prices. This and many other reasons contributed to the Revolutionary War between England and her colonies.

With its victory over England, the young nation of the United States of America saw the need to expand. Hemp played a crucial role in that expansion process. In his Report on Manufactures of 1791, Alexander Hamilton, as the first Secretary of the Treasury, remarked that hemp is “an article of importance enough to warrant the employment of extraordinary means in its favor” (Robinson, Great Book, 129).

Realizing the great value of hemp, Thomas Jefferson put his life on the line by smuggling hemp seeds out of France (Rosenthal and Kubby, 59-60). In 1781, as governor of Virginia, Jefferson used hemp as a means of payment for much of Virginia’s military supplies. He even invented a machine know as the hemp-break, which was a slight modification of the threshing machine then in use. His hemp-break received the first U.S. patent (Robinson, Great Book, 133).

George Washington, the father of our country, stated: ‘Make the most of the hemp seed. Sow it everywhere’ (Rosenthal and Kubby, 59). Washington began growing Indian hemp in the 1790s. Indian hemp is the resinous cannabis that is found in India. It is even believed that he smoked cannabis, preferring cannabis over alcohol for its stimulating effects. The following is an excerpt from George Washington’s diary, writing on his cultivation of cannabis on his Mt. Vernon plantation: “May 12-13: Sowed hemp at muddy hole by swamp; August 7: Began to separate the male from the female—rather too late” (Goldberg).

The War of 1812: What They Don’t Teach You In History Class

As was previously mentioned, Russia supplied much of England’s hemp. Russia also supplied nearly 80 percent of the Western world’s supply of hemp. Russia became quite prominently known for its high-quality hemp. Hemp was Russia’s principal source of trade in the 1700s and the 1800s. (Herer, 59-60)

Hemp was very important to England’s navy and her trading fleets. As an indication of just how dependant England was upon hemp, it is interesting to note that each sea-faring ship had to have a complete overhaul of all its rigging and sails every year or so due to the damaging effects of the oceans that they traveled on. A complete overhaul required, typically, 50 to 100 tons of hemp; and that was for just one ship (Herer, 59-60)!

The French Revolution occurred between 1789 and 1793. The result was a complete overthrow of the previous French monarchy. Fearing a revolt by the French, the British nobility showed great disdain for the new government. The hostility culminated to the point where, between 1803 and 1814, France faced a blockade by the British navy. (Herer, 59-60)

Realizing the great amounts of money necessary for a war against England, Napoleon sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15 million. For the U.S., this represented a sizeable bargain, for the Louisiana Territory accounted for a third of today’s continental United States!

The next thing Napoleon concentrated his efforts upon was ending the British blockade against his homeland. Instead of going to sea and fighting a losing battle to the British, Napoleon looked inland towards Russia. He saw that if he were to cut off the trade of hemp from Russia to Great Britain, the British would have no possible means of replenishing their ships’ constant needs. So, as a show of diplomatic diplomacy, Napoleon convinced the Czar Alexander of Russia to sign the Treaty of Tilset in 1807. The treaty, in effect, cut off the Russian trade of hemp to Great Britain. (Herer, 60)

The British reacted harshly. In the U.S., the Embargo Act of 1807 was passed through Congress, banning American ships from shipping articles to or from Europe. Great Britain announced that an enemy would be made of any country that chose to trade with France. (Herer, 60)

Despite the Embargo Act, American ships still continued to trade with Europe. To show their seriousness, Britain began to confiscate any and all ships that chose to go against the act. The American sailors were given a choice. They could either say goodbye to their ships and cargo indefinitely or sail on to Russia and buy hemp in order to bring it back to Great Britain with them. Of course, the choice was quite obvious.

Napoleon saw the British scheme for what it was. He demanded of Czar Alexander in 1810 the end of all trade with the Americans. Alexander declined to comply. Napoleon declared war with Russia and, in June of 1812, began a series of invasions into Russia in an attempt to destroy its hemp crops (Robinson, Great Book, 119). Napoleon had not counted on the harsh Russian climate, however. Only 18,000 of his original 600,000-man army returned home to France (Herer, 62). The freezing temperatures and the French army’s lack of necessary supplies contributed to this devastating loss of life.

While Napoleon was busy invading Russia, Great Britain again set up a blockade against the United States. This time, they placed the blockade at the Baltic Sea. The British demanded that the United States begin buying other needed articles for them from France and France’s allies.

The Western United States, in response to Britain’s confiscation of all of America’s supply of hemp from Russia, voted for a declaration of war with England. Heeding their Manifest Destiny, the western states desired to take Canada from the British while they were involved in their war with France. So, on June 18, 1812, the United States went to war against the British. The result was the War of 1812.

Needless to say, the United States did not achieve victory against the British in Canada. However, a treaty did come of the war, between the two countries, in December of 1814. Under the treaty, Great Britain agreed to never do anything to interrupt trade by the United States. In return, the United States agreed to leave Canada alone for all times.

The British did, though, defeat the French. In 1814, Napoleon was defeated in Spain. On June 18, 1815, he was once more defeated at Waterloo. He was eventually banished to an island just off Antarctica and died a lonely man in 1821. (Herer, 62)

Now, see if they’ll ever teach you that in history class!

The Civil War:

The Battle of the Hemp Bales

Kentucky plantation owners, before the advent of the Civil War, typically required their slaves to produce 100 pounds of hemp daily. For every pound that the slave produced over and above the 100 pound minimum, he would receive one cent. A small percentage of slaves were able to purchase their freedom using the money that they earned in this manner. (Robinson, Great Book, 135)

The Civil War began with the Confederate strike upon Fort Sumter in April of 1861. This bloody war pitted brother against brother and father against son. It was bloody, and it was grueling. Many, unfortunately, did not come home from the war. One important battle of the Civil War came late in the same year that Fort Sumter was attacked. It came to be known as The Battle of the Hemp Bales. This is its story.

There were quite a number of towns along the Missouri River that prospered due to the hemp industry. A good number of well-to-do Southern aristocrats owned hemp factories along the river. Missouri was an odd state in the Union, for it had both Southern and Northern sympathizers in equal proportions throughout the state. The Southern sympathizers decided that, seeing as how the state had not yet decided to secede from the United States as the other Southern states had done, they would go ahead and create their own rebel state government. Feuding broke out throughout Missouri between the Rebels and pro-Northern militias.

Federal troops entered the state to try and restore order there. At Springfield, Missouri, they engaged in a conflict against Confederates from Arkansas and the section of the Missouri State Guard that was pro-secession. During the battle that ensued, the general who led the Northern army was killed. Seeing their hopelessness for victory, the Yankees retreated back to St. Louis.

Losing control of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers would mean splitting the North in two, keeping the East from the West. The Confederates realized the strategy in this maneuver. Under General Sterling Price, the Rebel army, 7,000 strong, was brought northward to Lexington, where 3,500 troops under the Federal and Home Guard army were positioned.

The Northern army made a fort out of an old Masonic College, which was located at the top of a large hill in Lexington. It was here that the first land mines of the Civil War were laid. As was previously mentioned, the hemp industry was big business along the Missouri River. At the foot of the hill upon which the Yankees were positioned was a scattering of hemp factories. Large bales of hemp, waiting to be processed into rope, were littered about the factory grounds.

The Rebel army marched into the vicinity on September 12. Six days later, they attacked. The ensuing battle lasted well into the following day. By the end of the initial confrontation, the Rebels had the Yankees completely surrounded. By surrounding the Northern army, the Rebels took assurance that no supplies would be able to make it through in order to fortify the Yankees while they waited.

That night, a plan was suggested by one of the Confederates. The plan was to drench the hemp bales with water and use them as cover from the Yankee gunfire coming from the fort on top of the hill. The morning of the 20th, the sun arose upon more than a hundred bales of hemp scattered about the hill. Behind each of the bales were about four Rebel soldiers. An attempt was made by the men in the fort to set aflame the bales of hemp when they noticed the Confederates’ tactics. They fired hot shot from their cannons, but it was to no avail. The Rebels had only to wait. Finally, with all of their supplies cut off from them, the Union army surrendered. The Confederate plan had worked most effectively.

The Confederates had gained an important advantage with their victory that day in Lexington. Although the North would eventually gain control over the Mississippi River later in the war, for the while the South had achieved its goal. They had effectively flushed the Northern army out of Missouri, thereby splitting the Union in two. Hemp played a vital role in that achievement. Hence, the coveted name: The Battle of the Hemp Bales. (as related by Kinnison, 33)

Beyond the War

In 1861, G.F. Schaffer patented the Cylinder Flax- and Hemp-Dresser. A year later, J.E. Mallory received patents for ten different inventions that each helped the process of finishing hemp (Robinson, Great Book, 136). Other inventions that served the same purpose would follow.

Between 1850 and 1937, cannabis was heralded in the treatment of at least 100 sorts of ailments. A few women’s temperance groups saw the use of hashish as an ideal substitute to alcohol. Alcohol was seen as an instigator of domestic violence. Many marriage-guides at the turn of the century were espousing cannabis’s role as an excellent aphrodisiac to spice up one’s love life.

Turkish hashish smoking parlors became very popular in the United States during the 19th century. By the 1880s, every major city had one. In New York City alone, there was estimated to be over 500 such parlors available to choose from! The upper-class members of society frequently visited them. When America turned 100 years old in 1876, her citizens celebrated her birthday by holding the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The Exposition had a tent that was billed as the Turkish Hashish Exposition. Here, the fairgoer could rest and partake of the relaxing qualities of hashish. (Herer, 65)

In the 1860s, the Ganjah Wallah Hasheesh Candy Company of New York premiered a candy made of maple sugar and hashish. It became a very popular confectionery with Americans. Its advertisement announced: ‘The Arabian Gunje of Enchantment confectionized—A most pleasurable and harmless stimulant. Cures nervousness, weakness, melancholy, etc. Inspires all classes with new life and energy. A complete mental and physical invigorator’ (Herer, 64). The Sears Roebuck Company marketed the candy for nearly 40 years.

Many literary greats delighted in the stimulating effects of cannabis. One of the authors credited with bringing cannabis out into the open was Fitz Hugh Ludlow. In 1854, he wrote The Hasheesh Eater, which enlightened readers upon the mind-altering effects of hashish. It is interesting to note that Ludlow was one of Mark Twain’s closest friends, and his influence upon Twain and his writing are quite evident.

Other famous partakers of cannabis were Victor Hugo (author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo), DeTours and Gautier. These four created a club in Paris devoted to cannabis. Its name was Le Club Des Haschischins. (Herer, 64)

However, cannabis’s influence could not last indefinitely. Cotton was king, and it was the preferred crop of the South. It was much easier to prepare than hemp and commanded far better prices. Metal wire cables began to replace the hemp rigging and ropes found on America’s ships. With the advent of the Ironclads during the Civil War, a new breed of ship was born. Soon, many of the ships being built were using metal hulls and making use of the new technology of the steam-powered engine. Wood-pulp paper found its place in the United States, and the demand for paper made of hemp soon dwindled. The once powerful hemp industry was slowly slipping away. By the turn of the century, the only real demand for hemp was for use in making simple twine and thread (Robinson, Great Book, 139).

The Beginning of the End

Cannabis had already earned itself some enemies by the turn of the century. Egypt became the first modern-day country to ban cannabis consumption by its citizens. It did so in 1868. In South Africa, the white aristocracy began to fear a black uprising amongst the masses. So, in 1910, cannabis consumption was outlawed throughout South Africa, for it was mostly blacks who partook of the herb. America was soon to follow. (Herer, 57)

For 18 years, a man named George Schlichten worked on an invention that would make the process of removing the durable fiber from the woody pulp of the hemp plant easier. Up until this point in history, the process was a long and tedious chore. After spending nearly $400,000 pursuing his goal, Schlichten finally achieved it. He named his new invention the decorticator. The decorticator thoroughly eliminated the retting stage of the preparation of hemp fiber, which loosened the fiber from the stalk. It combed out the hemp fibers and helped soften them considerably. On July 1, 1915, U.S. Patent Number 1,308,376 was given to Schlichten’s decorticator. (Robinson, Great Book, 40)

A rich industrialist named Henry Timken caught wind of the decorticator. He went and met with Schlichten in February of 1917. Schlichten figured he could easily produce 50,000 tons of paper yearly using his decorticator upon hemp. It would probably cost in the neighborhood of $25 a ton in the process, but this was still less than half the cost of the price of newsprint made from wood pulp at the time. It was estimated that each decorticator could manufacture five tons of hemp hurds a day, making it a very viable machine indeed.

Timken liked the idea of the decorticator so much that he decided to test it out to see if it did all that Schlichten claimed it could do. On his ranch in Imperial Valley, California, Timken set aside 100 acres to grow hemp upon. In the mean time, he went to see E.W. Scripps, who owned the largest newsprint company in the United States, and Milton McRae.

It was very possible that the deal could have panned out. The crop that Timken had planted was turning out 100 tons of hemp fiber and close to 400 tons of inner hurd by September of that year. The figures were definitely compelling. However, for whatever reason, Timken soon discarded the whole idea and withdrew his support. (Herer, 13-4)

Yet, the public conscious was sparked. The future for the hemp industry was looking up. With the advent of the decorticator, the preparation time for hemp fibers and hurds was greatly reduced. Both Popular Mechanics Magazine and Mechanical Engineering espoused the belief that with the invention of the decorticator, hemp would surely become a billion dollar industry. They each ran major articles at nearly the same time, in the early months of 1938, stating their predictions. Unfortunately, by this time it was too late. In 1937, the hemp industry had gone bust and hit pay dirt, as we shall soon see.

…And on to Prohibition

The prohibition of cannabis came about as a result of several reasons. Above all, it posed a major threat to many big-name companies of the late 1930s. It posed a great economic threat to those companies in the paper, pharmaceutical and fossil fuel industries in particular. To come boldly out and say such a thing would have been unheard of. The only surefire means of securing their survival was to destroy that which posed the threat itself, and that’s just what they did.

It is important to understand the state that America was in by 1937. The 18th Amendment, which had banned the consumption of alcohol, had just been repealed four years previously. Blacks were still looked at as second-class citizens by much of the South. The waning years of the Depression saw many companies go bust, as well as a terribly high rate of unemployment throughout the country. Many migrant workers from Mexico had found employment in the United States because of the low wages they commanded. A lot of Americans blamed the Mexicans for the loss of their jobs. Both of these races were commonly associated with the usage of cannabis. America’s ingrained prejudices contributed a good deal to the unpopularity of cannabis in this country.

The Harrison Act was passed in 1914. The act required the registration and payment of a set tax upon the sale of opium and coca related products by importers, producers and dealers. Upon engaging in a transaction involving an opium or coca related product, a fully detailed report had to be filed with the government. It was the chief aim of the act to limit the trafficking of these narcotic products, which Americans and politicians had increasingly begun to frown upon.

Just a few years prior to the passage of the Harrison Act, in 1911, Louisiana had passed laws that banned pharmacists from refilling prescriptions for their patients that contained opium, cocaine or cannabis. In 1914, due to increasing pressures, the city of El Paso, Texas approved an ordinance that prohibited the sale or possession of cannabis by its citizens (Robinson, Great Book, 145). California and Utah followed suit in 1915 by passing laws of their own prohibiting cannabis usage within their borders. Colorado did the same in 1917 (Herer, 69). Texas passed anti-cannabis laws in 1919, and Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas followed suit in 1923. Louisiana passed a similar law in 1927, meting out a maximum penalty for violators of six months in jail and/or a $500 fine (Robinson, Great Book, 145-6). By 1929, 16 states had passed laws restricting the usage of cannabis by their citizens (Frank and Rosenthal, 10).

What historical events led to such a wholesale banishment of cannabis in such a rapid period of time? As was previously mentioned, prejudices were running rampant at the early part of the 20th century. Those prejudices did not arise from out of no where. They were fanned and fueled until they turned into a raging fire. One particular individual played an important role in seeing to it that the fire had enough oxygen and debris with which to roar on with great and destructive force. His name was William Randolph Hearst.

William Randolph Hearst and Lamont DuPont

William Randolph Hearst and his Hearst Paper Manufacturing Division, which manufactured paper from wood pulp, faced the threat of losing billions of dollars were the hemp paper industry to find a firm foothold with the invention of the decorticator. As was previously mentioned, minorities were commonly associated with the usage of marijuana. Hearst despised minorities, but most especially, he hated the Mexicans. The root of his bitter hatred most likely found its origin in the “Scourge of God Himself”, Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa.

Villa was a renegade of sorts. He was born a peon in the old Mexican caste system known as the hacienda system. A peon was not allowed to own land, and he worked the land for those who had possession of it (much like a surf in Medieval times). In 1900, in a country of 10 million, only 500,000 owned more than an acre of land (Skye, 53). When he was 15 years old, Villa killed one such landowner for raping his sister. He fled for his life and soon became a sort of Robin Hood in the eyes of the peon class, stealing from the rich and giving what he stole to the poor.

The rich obviously despised Villa, and the poor saw him as a hero. Followers soon flocked to him, forming a rebel army that numbered 50,000 at its prime (Skye, 57). Together, Villa and his army sacked and pillaged whole towns and villages. Marijuana became a vital staple of Villa’s army. The song La Cucaracha is written proclaiming many of Villa’s wonderful deeds. One particular verse was written that said the reason his enemies had not a chance of defeating Villa was because they had “no marihuana for to smoke.” One of Pancho’s exploits was the seizure of 800,000 acres of Hearst’s prime Mexican timberland (88).

Hearst owned, in addition to his paper manufacturing company, a chain of newspapers that stretched across the country. Throughout the 1920s and the 1930s, Hearst waged a private campaign against cannabis using his newspapers. The method he used to wage his war is what is commonly referred to as yellow journalism, where outrageous fabrications of lies are used to sway the mass opinion of a newspaper’s readers. Examples of yellow journalism are quite numerous. For instance, if a black man raped a white woman and had a half-smoked joint upon his person when he was arrested, front-page headlines would scream of the horrible atrocities that marijuana pushed its black users to commit.

Hearst hammered the Mexican word marijuana, meaning ‘the weed that intoxicates,’ into the minds of his readers. He blamed marijuana for causing black men to look at white women, and vice versa. He especially extolled its influence upon the “voodoo-satanic” jazz of the blacks and the violent rowdiness of the Mexicans. Marijuana was blamed for corrupting the youth of America and driving people into insanity. Marijuana was also viewed as nothing but a bothersome narcotic, causing abhorred laziness in the Mexicans. One of Hearst’s newspapers contained the comment: “If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster marijuana, he would drop dead of fright” (Herer, 27).

Other popular magazines and newspapers took their lead from Hearst and began running articles of their own purporting the vileness of cannabis. Articles declaring “Youth Gone Loco” and “Sex Crazing Drug Menace” started appearing with increasing regularity. In 1931, the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal wrote: “…The dominant race and most enlightened countries are alcoholics, whilst the races and nations addicted to hemp and opium, some of which once attained to heights of culture and civilization, have deteriorated both mentally and physically.”

One particular article, which appeared in 1932 in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, was referred to often by other publications. It claimed that the user of marijuana was endowed with great strength and endurance while under its influence. The user’s sexual libido was affected, which was cited as something that could cause one to commit rape. The article further claimed that the use of marijuana caused irreparable brain damage and ultimately led to death! (Robinson, Great Book, 147)

Another key player in the drama that would ultimately lead to the prohibition of cannabis in the United States was Lamont DuPont. His company, the DuPont Company, also stood to lose great amounts of money to hemp after the manufacture of Schlichten’s decorticator was begun. Something had to be done in order to ensure that such an occurrence never happened.

In 1937, the DuPont Company developed the sulfate and sulfite processes for use in the manufacture of synthetic products such as nylon and cellophane, as well as in the manufacture of wood-pulp paper (Herer, 24). The manufacture of these particular products was predicted to be the principal source of income for the DuPont Company in the years ahead. Cannabis was seen as a threat because of its magnificent fiber durability, which would compete against nylon, and its inner hurd, which could more safely and efficiently be used in the manufacture of paper and simple plastics.

As one can see, with the invention of the decorticator, DuPont stood to lose a vast percentage of its market. Something had to be done in order to ensure the DuPont Company’s continued survival. The answer soon came in the form of Harry J. Anslinger.

Harry J. Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics

The Treasury Department created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (the FBN) on August 12, 1930. Harry J. Anslinger was appointed its first commissioner. The Bureau’s main purpose was to enforce the Harrison Act. Anslinger saw the potential in adopting a federal law similar to the Harrison Act with regards to cannabis. However, he wondered whether such a law could be deemed constitutional. He didn’t see all the tragedies that the media heaped upon cannabis. Anslinger even went so far as to remark: “Now this [hemp] is the finest fiber known to mankind, my God, if you ever have a shirt made of it, your grandchildren would never wear it out” (Frank and Rosenthal, 12).

How did Harry J. Anslinger come about his position as first commissioner of the FBN, and what swayed his opinion upon eradicating cannabis from American society? Well, it just so happened that Andrew Mellon, of the Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh, was Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury. He had appointed his future nephew-in-law to the position of commissioner of the newly founded Federal Bureau of Narcotics. How did Andrew Mellon key into this whole drama? It just so happened that Mellon was the DuPont Company’s key financial backer! Of course, Mellon’s feelings upon the subject of eradicating hemp were quite strong, and they could not help but to be passed along to his kindly nephew-in-law. (Herer, 24)

The National Firearms Act was passed into law in June of 1934. Under the act, individuals were allowed to purchase machine guns, but they had to pay a transfer tax of $200 and fill out an order form for their purchase. This act disguised Congress’s secret desire to do away with machine guns all together, for many criminals made use of these weapons in their day-to-day activities. It was hoped that the hassle that an individual had to sustain while purchasing a machine gun would discourage the market for such weapons. The National Firearms Act was upheld in Congress on March 29, 1937 (Herer, 26).

Herman Oliphant, who was the general council to the Treasury Department, took his cue from the National Firearms Act and introduced a bill directly to the House Ways and Means Committee. The House Ways and Means Committee has the authority to send a bill directly to the House floor for immediate voting without a debate by other committees. The bill, which promoted a tax be put upon cannabis in order to discourage its increasing market, was introduced on April 14, 1937 (Herer, 167). It was labeled HR 6385 (Robinson, Great Book, 155).

Under the act, anyone trading and dealing in cannabis had to first register with the Secretary of the Treasury, and then pay an occupational tax of one dollar an ounce. If the dealer was unregistered, a tax of $100 an ounce would have to be paid. It’s interesting to note that in 1937, one ounce of cannabis was selling for one dollar (Herer, 28)!

It also happened that the Ways and Means Committee chairman was Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina. Robert L. Doughton was still another important ally of the DuPont Company, and he was a crucial individual in the events that followed.

In testifying before the Committee, Anslinger vehemently declared that cannabis was a dangerous drug that was corrupting the minds of America’s youth. He stated with authority: “Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind” (Herer, 29). He presented his evidence in the form of clippings drawn straight out of William Randolph Hearst’s very own national newspapers! He attributed much of America’s crimes, unequivocally, to the evil scourge, marijuana.

Dr. James Woodward of the American Medical Association attempted to testify on behalf of the medical potential of cannabis. He said: “There is nothing in the medical use of cannabis that has any relation to cannabis addiction. I use the word ‘cannabis’ in preference to ‘marijuana,’ because cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products. The term ‘marijuana’ is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of cannabis preparations for smoking” (Robinson, Great Book, 157).

Woodward was dismissed and ignored. On June 14, 1937, the bill was presented to the full House for a vote. The act, after passing the House vote, was sent on to the Senate Committee on Finance. On July 12, a hearing was held on the bill. It was sent back to the House for some minor revisions. Once the revisions were completed, the House sent it back to the Senate once more without a roll-call vote from its members. Senator Prentice Brown of Michigan led the Senate Committee on Finance. He happened to be another important ally of the DuPont Company. The Senate passed the revised bill on August 2, 1937, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law. The Marijuana Tax Act was now on the Federal books. (Robinson, Great Book, 157-9)

In 1942, the Office of Strategic Services (which was the forerunner of today’s CIA) appointed Anslinger to a top-secret committee to develop a truth serum to be used by the OSS in the field. He suggested the use of an extract made from hash oil to force spies to tell all of their little secrets. The project was eventually dropped, because those who were being drugged with the hash oil extract were giggling uncontrollably and experiencing the munchies, a condition that often occurs with cannabis consumption, causing an individual to crave foods of all sorts! It was also discovered that some of the OSS agents were also secretly using the hash oil extract! (Herer, 31)

Anslinger hatched a plan to arrest as many famous people continuing to use cannabis as he could in one night. This would attest to the American people just how effective his Federal Bureau of Narcotics really was. Files were kept and maintained on many celebrities of the early 1940s. Among these were: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Jimmy Dorsey, Jackie Gleason, members of the NBC orchestra, Duke Ellington, Milton Berle, Mezz Mezzrow and Dizzy Gillespie. Anslinger never got to fulfill his dream, though. Assistant Secretary Foley of the Treasury Department, Anslinger’s boss, declared: “Mr. Foley disapproves!” (Herer, 68)

Hemp for Victory in World War II

In early 1942, Japan effectively cut off America’s supply of hemp from India and the Philippines. Despite the recent laws that had been passed, hemp was still being used by the United States military for many purposes. Among these were: rope for the rigging and towing of marine vessels, light-duty fire-hoses, shoelaces and threading for the millions of American soldiers and for the webbing used in parachutes. The Navy still used around 34,000 feet of rope on each of its battleships (Hemp For Victory).

So, between 1942 and 1943, American farmers were shown a video that the Department of Agriculture put together, called Hemp for Victory, that taught its viewers how to grow hemp and extolled many of its virtues. A booklet detailed how to grow hemp on their farms. Hemp seed was issued, and by 1943, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin had produced 63,000 tons of hemp for wartime purposes (Frank and Rosenthal, 12). Farmers who chose to grow hemp on their farms were excused from serving in World War II, as were their sons. The Defense Plant Corporation built 42 hemp-processing plants throughout the Midwest to help with the effort (Robinson, Great Book, 163).

By 1945, World War II had ended. The great military need for hemp was over. The War Production Board of the United States called for the end of the farming of hemp in America. Soon after, the memory of hemp’s role in the war was all but forgotten. Many official listings removed any record of the movie Hemp for Victory from the public. Only with a good deal of effort were Jack Herer, author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, and some of his associates able to find a listing of it in the Library of Congress. It is just one more example of how hemp has been deleted from much of America’s early history.

…And On and On

On November 2, 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, which increased the penalties associated with any and all narcotic violations. The Boggs Act also established uniform penalties for the Marijuana Tax Act and the Narcotics Drug Import and Export Act, both passed a bit previously. In 1956, one more bill was passed through Congress. It was the Narcotics Control Act. This act further increased the penalties for all drug charges.

The Beat Generation of the 1950s and the Peace Movement of the 1960s saw the use of cannabis increase among America’s youth. The youth of America discovered that cannabis wasn’t as terrible as they were first led to believe. Cannabis and other psychedelics came into vogue amongst college students and others who had begun protesting against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Over in Vietnam, American soldiers were also discovering cannabis. It was widely available throughout the country, and many soldiers began experimenting with it. It is estimated that nearly 75 percent of America’s soldiers stationed in Vietnam experimented with cannabis at one time or another while stationed in their tour of duty (Robinson, Great Book, 167). Most used it to help them to cope with the trials and tribulations of war and being in an odd place so far away from home. When these soldiers returned home to America, they brought their appreciation for cannabis home with them.

President Richard Nixon feared the growing tolerance America was heeding towards cannabis. On June 17, 1971, before Congress, he openly declared a “war on drugs.” He felt the rising figures of those who were using cannabis had to end. As a result of a merger between Nixon’s Office for Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (an offshoot of Anslinger’s FBN) in 1973, the Drug Enforcement Administration (the DEA) saw its birth.

In 1976, President Ford asked for the government to spend $60 million in spraying cannabis fields with paraquat, an herbicide that causes plants to shrivel and die (Robinson, Great Book, 171). What was not discussed was the fact that paraquat caused respiratory problems, lesions in the lung and convulsions amongst those who smoked cannabis sprayed with it. With high doses of the herbicide, respiratory failure and even death were possible. President Jimmy Carter eventually did away with the evil program. However, when President Ronald Reagan took office, the program was started once again!

In President George Bush’s December 1989 Operation Just Because, U.S. troops invaded Panama in order to seize General Manuel Noriega. Panama was viewed as a major importer of cannabis into the United States. The operation cost the U.S. close to $200 million and the lives of more than 1,000 of its own service men (Robinson, Great Book, 172)!

Other such senseless missions have been conducted in the name of the War on Drugs. The result is that countless lives are destroyed and untold amounts of money are lost forever. Has it worked? The numbers speak for themselves. More than $30 billion is spent each year by the U.S. government fighting drugs (Robinson, Hemp Manifesto, R89). Despite the drastic penalties that are meted out to convicted users, a large percentage of Americans still continue to partake of cannabis regularly. By 1987, it was estimated that one in three Americans had tried cannabis at least once in their lives. It is estimated that there are upwards of ten percent of Americans that continue to regularly purchase and partake of cannabis (Frank and Rosenthal, ix). Look at those figures once more: upwards of ten percent, my friends! That’s quite a sizeable percentage of the entire American population! Is the War on Drugs working? You tell me!

Awaken From the Ignorance

Cannabis has played a vital role in the history of man since his beginnings here on Earth. It has figured prominently in the industrial, religious, medicinal and recreational contingencies of most of the preeminent countries of human history, from ancient times right up to the present day. Cannabis and man have both shared a dance together that no government could possibly hope to delete forever from the history books of the conscience of mankind.

It is my hope that this newsletter has opened your eyes to the amazing history that surrounds this unlikeliest of plants. Perhaps you have gleaned a bit of knowledge to aid you in your efforts to eradicate the base laws that prohibit our usage of this herb. Perhaps the veil of ignorance that has been painted opaquely over your eyes has been lifted sufficiently, allowing you a slightly more clarified glimpse of the truth that is out there.

Take what you have learned and disseminate it openly and freely to all who will listen. Write to your government officials and share with them that which you have learned. Tell your friends, acquaintances and neighbors about the many truths that are being withheld from them. Spread the word. Dispel the ignorance.

We each have a part to play in the unfolding drama that is the War on Drugs. Do your part. Get the word about. Play your part well. Don’t sit idly by and watch the drama unfold without you. Jump on in. Climb aboard. Get involved. Make a difference. Exert your right as an American citizen. America is ours for the taking.

Remember always in your heart this quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “Finally, this is better, that one do his own task as he may, even though he fail, than take tasks not his own, though they seem good. To die performing duty is no ill; but who seeks other roads shall wander still.”

Find where your duties lay, my friends. Stop wandering in the darkness. Follow your heart, and together, we can achieve victory. Together, we can make a difference. As Thomas Fuller once said: “Some have been thought brave because they were afraid to run away.”

Stand tall.
Stand firm.
Stand united.
In unity, we shall conquer.


-Elishah Wood-


Frank, Mel, and Ed Rosenthal. Marijuana Grower’s Guide. Deluxe ed., rev. Los Angeles: Red Eye Press, 1990.

Goldberg, Jeff. “How Our Heads of State Got High.” High Times. April 1980.

Herer, Jack. Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy: The Emperor Wears No Clothes. 1993-94ed.

Van Nuys: HEMP/Queen of Clubs Publishing, 1993.

Kinnison, Guy. “Battle of the Hemp Bales.” High Times. Aug. 1989.

Robinson, Rowan. The Great Book of Hemp: The Complete Guide to the Environmental, Commercial, and Medicinal Uses of the World’s Most Extraordinary Plant. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1996.

---. The Hemp Manifesto: 101 Ways That Hemp Can Save the World. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1997.

Rosenthal, Ed, and Steve Kubby. Why Marijuana Should Be Legal. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1996.

Skye, Dan. “Villa’s Trail.” High Times, April 1998.

COPYRIGHT 2001© Greenleaf Bandit