The Criminalisation of the Ultimate Saviour: Hemp
Happy May the 1st.
Here in Mexico, May the 1st is International Workers Day, also known as Labour Day. This particular date was chosen due to a series of miner strikes known as the Cananea Mine Strike of 1906 in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa. It is a festive day all throughout the country, with much frivolity, jubilation, music, dancing, food and of course, copious amounts of drinking and drug use taking place in the streets. Beer and tequila is swigged on every corner and marijuana smoke laces the air. For lovers of street life, fiestas such as this are their Woodstock.
Perhaps poetically, the state of Sinaloa where some of the strike action took place, is a major producer of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana. in the U.S. alone, the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by the notorious El Chapo, controls over 90% of the drug market. This includes New York, Los Angeles and even the casinos of Las Vegas. The cartel also have their claws in Canada, the U.K., Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. Their net worth is in the billions of dollars; they buy off politicians, customs officials and law enforcement agencies and even grease the wheels by donating large quantities of money to presidential campaigns in several countries and at both ends of the political spectrum. They are mostly self sufficient, growing their own opium poppies and marijuana plants, but they do also import large amounts of poppies from Afghanistan and coca leaves (cocaine's base ingredient) from Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. The Sinaloa Cartel even allegedly has ties to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. They are a big deal, competing with supposed legitimate multinationals for top prize in the financial stakes, thanks largely to their neighbours from the north.
In the cartel run city of Guasave, Sinaloa (where most of the production takes place), one gram of black tar heroin can sell for as little as $12 (US) on the streets. In Australia, one gram sells for up to $400 (US). In Northern Mexico and the U.S. border states, heroin is a major problem that is now getting too far out of reach to be able to solve.
One drug that seems to be undergoing a renaissance is marijuana and oddly enough, this is cutting into many of the Mexican cartels base profits. It seems to be a tolerant world these days towards this magical plant. Many U.S. states have not only made the drug available for medical use, some states such as Oregon and Colorado have decriminalised it altogether, thus paving the way for legitimate career opportunities in the lucrative fields of cannabis consultation and franchise ownership of marijuana dispensaries. Even in conservative Victoria, Australia, it is now legal to purchase marijuana with a certified medical certificate and in more progressive countries such as Portugal, marijuana, along with harder drugs like heroin and methamphetamines, have been completely decriminalised with effective results including severely reduced crime rates.
However, this recently evolved tolerant attitude shouldn't need to exist in the first place. Marijuana was once 100% legal with citizens of all classes allowed to enjoy the superb herb without fear of guilt or retribution from law enforcement agencies. America's first president, George Washington was a major advocate of marijuana smoking and its many health benefits and it is common knowledge that he was smoking a pipe stuffed with the green while signing the first draft of the U.S. constitution (which incidentally, was printed on drafted on hemp paper). A constitution mind you, that mentions nothing of criminalising a plant. Even the original American flag was made from hemp. Perhaps that's why it's called Ol' Glory. Symbolism, huh?
So what happened?
The first push for the criminalisation of cannabis came to light in the U.S. in 1914 with a new law passed called the Harrison Narcotics Act. This act, supported mostly by the southern states with growing Mexican populations, together with a multitude of big business, called for nationwide bans on previously cheap and legal over the counter (OTC) like heroin and cocaine which were mainly used to treat coughs and colds. Even the original incarnate of Coca-Cola had cocaine as its base ingredient; hence the name. So it came to pass that in the following year, 1915, these drugs became prohibited.
Cannabis was also attached to this bill, flagged for criminalisation, but despite numerous attempts to do so, it wasn't until 1937 that a nationwide ban on every part of the cannabis plant was passed. A ludicrous decision, given that it is only the psychoactive constituent of the plant (Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC) that can produce a high.
So why ban the entire plant?
Don't be fooled. It wasn't out of concern for our health. There is absolutely no proof that marijuana is detrimental to our physical or mental health and besides, what government could care less about our general well-being anyway? Due to the burgeoning pharmaceutical industry, it was, and still is, in their best interest to keep us sick.
It was conflict of interest that saw marijuana banned. Many influential U.S. politicians had their hands in the pockets of the big businesses of the day, such as Du Pont (the premier paper manufacturer for most major newspapers across the country, Hearst (the principal owners of most major newspapers across the country) and the Tatum Lumber Company (kings of the logging industry that supplied the pulp materials to Du Pont to produce paper). Each business had shares and vested interests in each others success and corrupt politicians stood to benefit from their success greatly.
These businesses and more, along with many politicians, were losing vast amounts of money due to the fact that the hemp plant produces four times as much pulp for paper manufacturing than one giant sequoia (redwood) tree. Henry Du Pont was especially upset. Why? Because Du Pont and his subsidiaries also had a monopoly on the logging industry. He had the most to lose. Independent hemp farmers were "pilfering" their profits and the faceless men in power weren't going to stand for it any longer. A great majority of the Du Pont family fortune today, was reaped directly or indirectly from the criminalisation of marijuana back in 1937.
So the appropriate law makers were petitioned with ferocity and, 23 years after the implementation of the Harrison Narcotics Act, cannabis and hemp were made illegal. Another irony, given that our smoker friend George Washington, America's ultimate hero and first president, was also a hemp farmer. There's even a public holiday celebrated in his honour.
To further substantiate the conflict of interest point (many people still refuse to buy into it to this very day), here is the most damning fact. The term marijuana was first introduced into the English language from Mexican slang by none other than newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst. His publications sold millions of dailies on the back of the newly coined term which he introduced to the public to confuse them into thinking that the plant was detrimental to their health. Articles were published suggesting that "coloured" men were forcing white women to smoke "dope" in order to corrupt them. Front pages were littered with propaganda, convincing the general public that the hemp plant was a noxious weed that "grew like dandelions", that "dope-crazed" foreigners were stealing America's women and finally, for a nationwide ban to be effective, the entire plant must be criminalised.
Another reason for the criminalisation of cannabis and hemp was that in the late 1930's, with the prospect of imminent world war on the horizon, the fledgling pharmaceutical companies were beginning to prosper, exploiting the rising disease and depression rates throughout the nation. Marijuana is, and was, often used to assist with mental health issues, glaucoma, arthritis and other ailments that the big pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, Pfizer and Lederle wanted to corner the market on. Banning cannabis was in their best interests. Banning the hemp plant, along with the emergence of WWII in 1939, meant that the late 1930's was the birth of the golden age of pharmaceuticals, a major social issue that still plagues the majority of the world to this day.
Other countries soon followed suit, banning both cannabis and hemp. England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were among the first.
Thankfully, laws around the world have been relaxed in recent years. Along with Portugal, Uruguay has recently legalised marijuana for personal use, allowing its citizens to grow a maximum amount of six plants in their homes. Here in Mexico, marijuana has always been a major part of many of its indigenous cultures, however, up until recently, stringent drug policies have been strictly enforced. The prison systems are overcrowded due to so many people being jailed for minor possession offences. Mexican prisons are bad enough as it is.
In 2015, Mexico underwent major law reform regarding marijuana, making it legal to possess up to two grams at a time, however the drug is still illegal to purchase. I know, don't get me started. It's everywhere here; even one of Mexico's most famous songs La Cucaracha is about a man whose entire stash was eaten by a cockroach. Didn't Speedy Gonzalez sing that song in every single cartoon he appeared in? Cartoons that were approved in 1960's U.S. mind you. Hmmm.
*For more information on this subject, the bible to refer to is Jack Herer's 'The Emperor Wears no Clothes'.