Cannabis, in all of its forms, has been an important part of our history. Understand when I say “our,” I don’t just mean American history or western history, I mean the history of humans in general. With a plethora of practical uses including food, shelter, clothing, parchment and spiritual/religious ceremonies, among many others, one could understand why pre-industrial societies, especially early eastern societies (China, India, etc.), relied so heavily on this one plant for their survival. Combine that with the fact that it can be grown on the vast majority of the earth’s surface, let alone all 50 states and what you have is possibly the single most influential and purely useful plant the world has ever known. Even in American history alone, multiple attempts have been made by some of the most influential titans of industry, such as Henry Ford, to introduce the benefits of cannabis to the American public in mass. Despite that, when you flash forward to today, the cannabis community, in general, has become a subculture of western society which is often demonized by those who cling to the current status quo. In fact, there seems to be some correlation between industrialized nations and cannabis prohibition, a fact which I refuse to accept as a coincidence. That being said, there has been a revived effort to legalize this plant. However this time the charge has been lead by both citizen and state, giving the effort some credibility that is much harder for federal and other state legislators to ignore despite the seemingly obvious possibility of ulterior motives.
Cannabis, Man’s Actual best Friend?
Cannabis has been, and is still, listed as having the most practical medical uses of any substance known to man, something we will talk more about soon. As with most things that are beneficial to sustaining life, this is most likely not a coincidence. In fact there is a strong argument being made and backed up by peer reviewed scientific studies which claim that humans and cannabis actually went through a period of co-evolution. This would mean that humans and cannabis practically “grew up” together as would a brother and sister, affecting each other’s course in nature to the (in this case) benefit of both parties. As noted in the linked article, there is definitely an argument to be made that cannabis has benefited from human use as it was once a plant confined to central Asia. As humans learned to selectively breed strains for stronger fibers and more reliable food sources they made the plant more and more adaptable and refined for consumption. Maybe this has something to do with why the hemp seed has, literally, all of the essential fatty acids and other nutrients required for healthy cellular function and, even more telling, has an ideal distribution of said nutrients for healthy cellular function. This would be one of the greatest coincidences in history if that’s all it was but many thinkers, including the late, great, Carl Sagan, believe there absolutely has to be more to that story. It makes sense that if the earliest societies, pre-“human” even, were using this plant for food and medicine specifically, then those who were able to benefit more from what the plant had to offer would have gained an edge in the fight to survive. Those that have a better chance of living longer also have a better chance of procreating, passing down those genes, and creating more people whose bodies are naturally able to harness what the plant has to offer. Is there any evidence of prolonged and widespread cannabis use in any ancient civilization?
Cannabis and the East
I’ll try to be as brief as possible since in order to fully cover the history it would take more time than you probably have to read this, but in order to truly understand the complexity of our relationship with cannabis, a history lesson is in order. The first recorded evidence of cannabis use dates back almost 12,000 years ago in parts of what was then China, where the plant originally thrived. It seems they used hemp fibers to build and reinforce their homes, make chord, parchment, and also made foods and oils for various purposes from the hemp seed. It is of course also known to be used for spiritual and religious ceremonies, but it’s hard to tell when that exactly started. Remember this is merely the first historically-recorded instance of its use. It makes sense that if they had learned how to build with it as well as make foods and oils that cannabis had been a part of their culture for a long time already at that point. With its sheer growing efficiency alone, roughly three times more efficient than cotton, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which somehow cannabis wasn’t the dominant crop of the time. Along with China there are historical records showing that cannabis has been a major part of many eastern societies including those in present day India and Thailand. The very first written record of cannabis use was found in a book believed to date back to 2700 B.C. Written by a man named Shen Nung, one of the fathers of Chinese medicine, the book is one of, if not, the oldest known Materia Medica (an encyclopedia of medical treatments). Furthermore, an important thing to note, he would list the cannabis plant as having the most medical uses of all substances contained between its covers. China and other eastern civilizations would indeed come as close to perfection as possible for the time when it came to making goods out of hemp. Once trade routes were established, eventually hemp products such as rope and medicine would end up spreading eastward to places including Russia and Greece, even before 0 B.C.. So as you can see this plant made a large impact on some of the oldest known eastern civilizations who had an extremely close relationship with cannabis in all of its forms. That may very well be because of the more naturalistic lifestyle they led, as the interaction with cannabis and the more commerce driven western societies would end up completely different.
Cannabis and the West
The relationship with people and cannabis in the western world is far more complex and troubling. In my mind, it goes a long way in demonstrating the arrogance and greed of the west as well as the importance the west has always placed on efficiency of commerce above all else. It’s possibly the best example of how the mentality of the west has led to many societies being almost completely controlled by their economic systems, giving big business so much power that they can completely kill any threat of competition… A mentality that flies in the face of another western construct, the competitive free market. An important trend to note is that the countries who seem to be concerned with maintaining or reaching global economic, almost imperialistic, dominance are usually the ones who capitulate to their economic systems the most, after all money is power, and commerce combined with taxes and tariffs brings in the money. To this point, it would be the East India Trading company that would introduce cannabis to the west, in their minds, as nothing more than a mere widget or product of economic value. The company that had so much dominance over global trade and the British empire that they would even be allowed to act as the governing body of the territories they occupied, mainly in India, would be the ones to set the framework for the western relationship to cannabis. Unfortunately for cannabis, there was already a top dog in trade that cannabis would have to compete with, and it was the substance that practically made the East India co. what it had become. That, my friends, was Opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Remember that many of the medicines we use today, which could be replaced by cannabis-based medicines, are opiates. Are you beginning to see another reason why cannabis prohibition eventually came to be?
Flash forward to colonial America, and the mentality wouldn’t be any different. Being that the early American population would be entirely made up of European refugees seeking religious freedom (not necessarily economic freedom), the mentality when it came to commerce would be no different, and the dominant industries would largely mirror that of Great Britain. That of course doesn’t mean that the benefits of cannabis products would be lost on the whole population, as it would be there to fill a few specific niches. Throughout early American history, hemp was a very commonly grown crop. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are two famous figures who are known to have grown hemp and even the first draft of our constitution was written on hemp parchment. In this time it would also be used for making sails and riggings for ships as well as being an important part of the baling process for cotton, among other things. This meant that as the cotton industry grew to complete and total dominance of the textile market, hemp would be along for the ride. With the low price, incredible quality, and sheer breadth of hemp products to come from the east, you can imagine that the industries who currently dominated that economic landscape could see the unique threat posed to their fortunes by inadvertently increasing efficiency of home-grown hemp. Subsequently, they opted to simply import any materials they needed instead of helping to cultivate an industry at home that could possibly rise to challenge their fortunes, but not all titans of industry agreed with this shift, in fact some even had a hefty stake in hemp.
Did you know one of Henry Ford’s first prototypes was a hemp car? This car was produced using hemp fibers, among other things, to strengthen the chassis while also keeping it extremely lightweight and he even used hemp and other bio fuels to power it. Ford himself owned roughly ten thousand acres of hemp fields and over the years had become extremely versed in the area of ethyl alcohol bio fuels and other hemp materials. He even claimed to the NY Times in 1925, during the era of prohibition, that ethyl alcohol was “The fuel of the future” since you could make it from almost any vegetable matter that could be fermented. The bio-plastic that was produced for the car was estimated to be ten times more durable than the steel cars of the time, and to demonstrate this Ford took an axe to the car to see if he could make a blemish in it, to no success. This had the potential to be the largest ever boon for the small cannabis industry but this opportunity did not go unnoticed by other larger figures of American industry. John D. Rockefeller was already looking for a new market to sell his dirty oil to and he found it in the motor industry. Using his sheer wealth and political lobbying influence, combined with new refining methods and oilfield discoveries that, at the time, made it cheaper to fuel cars with fossil fuel-based gasoline he was able to muscle out the pesky ethyl alcohol fuels and even helped keep alcohol prohibition alive to further stunt the general growth of this industry. This is what happens when a nation is run to benefit its system of economics before its citizens.
WWI and WWII also presented some of the best chances for hemp to grow in popularity within the borders of the U.S. as it was nearly impossible to import goods from the east during wartime. To help boost the war effort, during both wars, the federal government would contract enormous plots of fertile land to farmers so they could grow hemp for making parachutes and other war supplies including medicines, an emerging market which would soon be in part dominated by cannabis and opiate-based medicines. As the medical industry grew in America, cannabis became a common ingredient in many medicines and salves, as it was still listed as having the widest range of practical medical uses, at that time, by the Pharmacopoeia of American medicine. I would argue that it was the incredible scope of its usefulness that directly contributed to its downfall. After all, two of the most common uses for cannabis were textiles and oils, markets that both already had a strong foothold in America and were dominated by one or two major entities who would stop at nothing to protect their bank accounts. Of course, this wouldn’t be part of the official reasoning for why prohibition would eventually take hold, but when you examine the official reasons versus what we now know about cannabis today, there aren’t many, if any, alternate explanations left.
Prohibition, the “Official Stories”
Despite the obvious historical significance there, has been no shortage of reasons as to why hemp and marijuana should be prohibited and I’ll try to highlight the main reasons given in historical order. The beginning of the end for cannabis was the enaction of the Marijuana tax act in 1937. The marijuana tax was interesting in the sense that it was a perfectly legal way to subvert the Constitution. This new system was based on the existing stamp system for obtaining machine guns which spawned as a way to combat organized crime in the era of alcohol prohibition. What would happen in the case of cannabis is that in order to legally be able to buy, sell, or grow cannabis you would first need a stamp from the United States government, but here’s the catch. In order to obtain that stamp you would first have to present the product, which was very illegal and therefore it was impossible to receive a stamp. In fact, less than five stamps would ever be issued through that program and none of them were given out without major pushback from the federal government. A few years later around 1942-43 the plant would officially be removed from the American Pharmacopoeia meaning no doctors in the states could legally prescribe cannabis as a viable treatment anymore, this was not the case for its more established cousin the opiate. Not only that but it would be listed as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it was considered among the most dangerous substances in the world and had absolutely no beneficial uses in the eyes of legislators despite thousands of years of contradictory evidence globally and at least a few hundred years of historically-documented benefits in the west, some of which I listed previously.
So that was how they managed to push it out of industry, but why did they feel this was necessary and how did they convince the population of its “dangers”? Well one thing that happened in this era was the birth of the term marijuana. Many citizens were already familiar with the terms cannabis and hemp because historically it was something people had been encouraged and at times even incentivised to grow. Thus, a new name was born to be able to establish a new face along with it. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the production Reefer Madness (also known under various different names), a propaganda film from the mid 1930’s which attempted to highlight proposed dangers of smoking marijuana. Through propaganda like this, the masses would be convinced that marijuana made people deranged, made them act out violently, made them entirely unpredictable, and just generally made them crazy. Now, there is truth in the fact that a very small minority of people who try marijuana do have negative effects but as a blanket accusation, I’m sure most, if not all of you know this is completely bogus. If anything it does the opposite to the vast majority of it’s users. It generally makes people docile and introspective, but this was the propaganda that was circulating at that time. Now, as humans tend to do, a different spin was put on this propaganda from region to region, based on the dynamics of each. For example, in the southeastern U.S. the marijuana fear-mongering was inexplicably tied to the black community as a way to bring both down at the same time. This new found knowledge of the dangers of marijuana combined with the existing fear of the black community, once linked, truly compounded and expedited the demonizing of both entities. As I mentioned before, during WWII (which, yes, took place in the midst of this war on cannabis) huge plots of land were once again contracted to farmers but this time they needed a little nudge. Because of the active campaign against the cannabis plant, American farmers would need some convincing before they jumped on board the hemp train. The federal government would be forced to subtly contradict itself to drum up support for farming this crop and thus the short film “Hemp for Victory” was born. Note that, prior to this, the government had always taken the stance that if marijuana was to be outlawed then hemp should be too because, after all, they come from the same plant. America was more invested in this world war than the previous and because of that, industrial production was nearly stifled. As we know women played a huge role in making sure the home front stayed economically sound, but another tactic was also employed to great success mainly in the southwest. Migrant workers from Mexico would fill many of those contracted hemp farming jobs, among others, while America was at war, just as they did during the boom of the 1920’s. Unfortunately for them, the war would eventually end and they would now be taking up space in the job market which Americans felt they were entitled to. So, much like the southeast, marijuana (marihuana) was inexplicably linked to the “Mexican problem” in the southwest, again demonizing both entities for the purpose of protecting Americans and American interests.
So as you can see, the earliest reasons for prohibition were deeply rooted in some of the worst expressions of the human condition. The prohibition of cannabis would stifle any real conversation on the benefits of marijuana or hemp for quite some time. It wasn’t until 1944 that the first real study of the plant would be prepared by the New York Academy of Medicine and released by the Laguardia Committee, a committee put together by New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. This wouldn’t only be the first in depth, government-sanctioned, study of the effects of marijuana use, it would also be the first time any official report would contradict the claims made by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics about the negative effects of smoking marijuana. This report infuriated Harry Anslinger, who was at the time, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He would defame the report by deeming it unscientific and irresponsibly dangerous. Anslinger’s public perception of being incorruptible (despite some shady dealing during his time on the Council of Prohibition, during the alcohol prohibition era), combined with the perception of science as being less reliable than we view it today, led to people buying into his defamation of the scientific report, almost wholly. This would nearly stop any counter arguments from forming in mass until the 60’s.
As we all probably know, the 60’s and 70’s were a time of great awakening. People were experimenting with mind-opening substances and learning to coexist on an entirely new level for the western world. More importantly and possibly because of the previous points, people were catching on to the corruption that surrounded them. Maybe this is partially how marijuana became known as “the great deprogrammer,” as people who partook, generally were able to think outside of the box they had been forcibly stuffed into. By the time Nixon took office this new found movement was starting to become a full on modern day renaissance. Nixon, in an attempt to once again, re-brand cannabis as extremely dangerous, put together his own commission of qualified officials who, much like the LaGuardia council, once again took the side of the plant coming to the conclusion that “use of marijuana, at least in one’s own home, should not be stigmatized.” This report would be flat out ignored by Nixon as he was determined to double down on his drug policies and enact the war on drugs. Something that I personally find extremely telling is that, just as the scientific community was starting to gain popularity and credibility among the American masses, new laws were enacted to ensure that no scientific study of any schedule 1 substance could be undertaken unless it was for the explicit purpose of outlining the dangers of said substance. This whole-handedly stopped any argument from being made in defense of cannabis and those laws continue to this day. Around this time, since it was becoming clear that the majority of people no longer bought into the idea that marijuana was inherently dangerous on its own, the idea that marijuana was the world’s greatest gateway drug, would become the newly perpetuated reasoning as to why this substance should be on the schedule 1 list. Now, you might be asking yourself, what on earth does all of this have to do with hemp? In reality, nothing, as the plant strains used for hemp and marijuana are wildly different in cannabinoid distribution. Cannabis grown as hemp contains a negligible amount of THC and is quite clearly used for purposes that are not outlined in the reasoning for its prohibition. It’s not even illegal to sell or buy hemp products inside of the U.S. Yet another very telling bit of info is that the American drug policies make a clear distinction between hemp and marijuana for the purposes of international trade but they do not make that same distinction when it comes to growing and selling hemp within the borders of the country. So with no logical reasons left as to why hemp should be prohibited, one is left to wonder, why on earth is this stuff even illegal for the purpose of local industry?
Enemies of Cannabis
As some of you may have already picked up on, the most likely enemies of cannabis are, as with anything else, those who stand to lose the most from its perpetuation, but who is that really? The obvious examples when it comes to marijuana would be industries such as alcohol and tobacco, two industries that have very good reason to worry about marijuana as a competitor. After all, marijuana can be used recreationally, which is the entire purpose of cigarettes and alcohol, only marijuana has never been proven to destroy your lungs, liver, brain, kidneys, skin, and all of the other proven harms of alcohol and tobacco. Suddenly cannabis sounds like a better recreational alternative, doesn’t it? So those are the more obvious opponents of cannabis but there are other far less obvious enemies. Think about this. What are the two most common types of medicines in use today? Painkillers for treating pain (duh) and psychoactive medicines for treating mental “disabilities” such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, BPD (borderline personality disorder), Bipolar disorder, and a plethora of others. What do these consist of? Painkillers, not your over-the-counter Tylenol brand, but the real deal painkillers like Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Tramadol, Methadone and Morphine are all opiates. Opiates as in opium (flashback to the era of the East India Co.) as in the active ingredient in heroin. What are the general effects of heroin and other opiates? They make you numb, they make you not feel anything physically or mentally, they make you…complacent. America has had plenty of dealing with the Opium trade and has even been caught assisting to some capacity with the transfer of these illegal goods. A fantastic example being, during the Vietnam war, factions within our own government were lining the coffins and body bags of diseased soldiers returning home with pound upon pound of the illegal substance. One of my favorite movies, American Gangster, does a fairly good job of highlighting this era and showing the complicity of the government on almost every level within the illegal heroin trade. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend you do so. Moving on, what are the most common psychoactive medicines? Things like Ritalin, Adderall and Vyvanse, which are all classified as amphetamines, making them eerily similar to the drug meth in the way the body responds. What do these amphetamines do? Well when they aren’t inducing irrational paranoia, they make you focused to the point of pure tunnel vision, not very effective for thinking outside the box, but, in my opinion, that’s not what “they” want you to do. What’s more is that many of these medicines come with a wide array of very undesirable side effects, including physical dependency. What is one of the main substances we know of that can inherently make people think outside of conventions and question the norm? That’s right, it’s also the only major classification of drugs that isn’t used medically in some way, in most of the United States, cannabis. I would argue that one of the greatest enemies to cannabis, besides the complicit government, is the Pharmaceutical industry which currently relies on a steady flow of opiates and amphetamines, especially during wartime (something America has a knack for getting ourselves into). This isn’t to say they are inherently an enemy of cannabis, as there are clear medical benefits to using the plant, but as the medical system has grown and advanced without cannabis, other industries have grown up around it and now have enough wealth to strangle any competition out of the market. With one of the largest lobby groups in America and the known effect that money has over the political system, it isn’t hard to imagine the ulterior motives of such companies and why we have laws that disallow people from studying the benefits of such a thing, lest we figure out, in mass, that we’ve been led down a wrong path for someone else’s gain.
Summation: The Benefits of Cannabis on the Ills of the World
So, as I hope I have successfully demonstrated, there was a hefty difference in the way cannabis interacted with societies in the east and the west, at least until somewhat recent times. Unfortunately many countries in the east, whose civilizations owe their existence partially to cannabis in its various forms, have fallen victim to the western mentality. The western world has always been known as having an imperialist approach to the rest of the world and that means its societal constructs are purposefully pervasive. The purpose for this is for financial gain. In fact corporations are bound by law to do everything in their power to increase value for their shareholders even if it means shirking social responsibility. With any chance for cannabis to become a viable industry stifled before it could get off the ground there certainly aren’t any shareholders or corporations based around the plant to go to bat for them. This means cannabis was effectively cut out of the market before it could become a threat to the copious industries it undoubtedly would have influenced. It just seems we’ve been taken down a different road, and then legislated into staying on that road. It’s no secret that those in power have always been against a free-thinking population as that tends to bring issues for the powerful. A mentality that Senator Marco Rubio reminded us, hasn’t gone anywhere, in a recent republican debate when he said “The world needs more welders and less philosophers.” Which in my mind equates more broadly to another famous quote usually attributed to John D. Rockefeller, who said “I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers,” this is the western mentality at it’s “finest”.
That being said I do not think it will stay this way. I am of the belief that the truth about this plant, its plentiful benefits, and the desire to be thoughtful and embrace that which makes us uniquely human can only stay under wraps for so long, especially with the major issues we face today and the positive effect that introducing cannabis to industry could have on them. For example, as I mentioned before, cannabis, especially hemp, is about three times more efficient to grow than cotton, and it can make entirely superior fabric in texture and in strength. Not only that, it can be grown entirely without pesticides (take that Monsanto). Since the cotton industry is among the leading abusers of pesticides this would make a huge impact on soil quality in areas where cotton is dominant. Furthermore, it’s far easier to harvest, produces far more products than cotton alone can, requires far less water, can grow in more than just moderate climates, can produce four times more paper per acre than trees, and as Colorado and Washington have already proven, it has the potential to be the most profitable and socially beneficial industry that has not already been explored, just to name a few plus sides. Arguably the most important change it could make would be to the medical industry. There are so many medications that could be almost entirely replaced by cannabis, leaving out all the nasty side-effects that almost sound worse than what you are treating, let alone how many of the medicines cause the patient to become physically dependent on them. There are plenty of studies out now showing the dangers of all these new drugs, especially the psychoactive wing of Big Pharma, which apparently has even corporations are bound by law to do everything in their power to increase value for their shareholders even if it means shirking social responsibility. These are the things we need to focus on and show at every turn that cannabis can and will be a productive member of industry, a positive force for society, and that a world that claims to love the idea of a “free market” has no business stifling competition for its own benefit, as that hardly underscores the FREE in free market. We will win this fight with enough light shed on the real reasons why the cannabis industry was never allowed to flourish, combined with proof of the sheer benefits that it so clearly brings. We are at a period of awakening on many levels. Thanks to those who have dedicated their life to shedding light on social, economic, and cultural injustices, I believe we are moving towards a more accepting and all-encompassing society. One in which we once again attempt to grow up WITH the world that made us and not set ourselves apart from it and, in my opinion, no other single substance fits into this new/old mentality, nor would perpetuate it better than cannabis in all of its forms. Keep fighting, keep spreading the truth, keep shedding light onto the dark places, and most importantly, keep Vibin’ Higher!