Hemp Rebranding for the Mainstream: Overcoming Marijuana Demonization

Marijuana's demonization like we know it started with hemp.

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A federal judge in California on April 15 knocked down legal efforts to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 Drug classification.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, an Obama appointee, stated that “This is not the court and this is not the time” to overturn federal law.

Prosecutors argued that marijuana met all the standards for Schedule 1, which includes heroin and LSD, saying it had no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

[quote_right]The problem with pot’s image however, stems further back than the hippie ’stoner stereotype’ quintessentially portrayed by Cheech & Chong[/quote_right]

This label keeps marijuana stymied in a category considered more dangerous than Schedule 2 Drugs, which includes methamphetamine and “bath salts.”

Despite the verdict, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws praised Mueller for “having the courage to hear this issue and provide it the careful consideration it deserves.”

The decision comes as the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is preparing to launch its Capitol Hill lobbying blitz, starting April 27th.

In a step towards rebranding pot’s image for mainstream America, the NCIA recently dropped actor Tommy Chong as a spokesperson.

“We are here to break ‘stoner’ stereotypes rather than reinforce them,” says NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith. “Having Tommy out in DC for the NCIA Lobby Days will detract from the overall message we aim for with the event, which is that cannabis business people are regular professionals and relatable to the generally conservative members of Congress we are looking to appeal to.”

The NCIA is a growing force to reckon with, last year spending $80,000 on congressional lobbying.

These efforts are resulting in landmark decisions including the legalization of medical marijuana in over 20 states, and recreational use in four.

The problem with pot’s image however, stems further back than the hippie ’stoner stereotype’ quintessentially portrayed by Cheech & Chong.

The demonization of pot was, according to some critics, an agenda purposefully executed during the first half of the 20th century, orchestrated by government and industry for political and economic gain.

[quote_right]Demonizing hemp was going to be no mean feat. Historically speaking, hemp was more American than “baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet”[/quote_right]

Researcher Jack Herer alleges that industrial giant Dupont and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst colluded with Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry Jacob Anslinger in a systematic program to defame marijuana.

Herer asserts that Dupont’s motive was the introduction of its synthetic fiber nylon, and the need to eradicate competition from the natural fiber hemp.

Dupont disputes this claim, but Herer notes that “In 1997 DuPont was still the largest producer of man-made fibers, while no American citizen has legally harvested a single acre of textile grade hemp in over 60 years (except during the period of WWII).”

Demonizing hemp was going to be no mean feat. Historically speaking, hemp was more American than “baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”

An oft cited fact has President George Washington growing hemp as his primary crop in Mount Vernon. He was not alone amongst the founding fathers to do so. Down the way, in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson was growing the same thing.

In fact, hemp was so vital to the development of America that as far back as 1619, Jamestown, Virginia passed a law requiring farmers to grow hemp.

Researchers have claimed that Hearst used his newspaper empire and the rude art of yellow journalism to manufacture a new threat to America to get hemp outlawed.

Herer notes that “A story of a car accident in which a marijuana cigarette was found would dominate the headlines for weeks, while alcohol-related car accidents (which outnumbered marijuana-connected accidents by more than 10,000 to 1) made only the back pages.”

Movies were also utilized at this time for the propaganda effort, resulting in classics like “Reefer Madness” and “Marijuana – Assassin of Youth.”

Spearheading the campaign to discredit marijuana in the public’s eye was Harry Jacob Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department‘s Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Anslinger sensationalized the dangers of marijuana, claiming “Marijuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him.”

[quote_right]“If hemp were legally cultivated using 21st century technology, it would be the single largest agricultural crop in the United States and world today!”[/quote_right]

Anslinger has also been accused of utilizing racially charged themes with such claims as “Colored students at the Univ. of Minn. partying with (white) female students, smoking [marijuana] and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result: pregnancy.”

Interestingly, the first in-depth study into marijuana effects, conducted in 1944 by the La Guardia Committee under New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, contradicted U.S. Treasury Department claims that smoking pot is dangerous. It determined that ‘”the practice of smoking marijuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.”

The findings did not sit well with Anslinger, who condemned the report as unscientific.

Herer states “If hemp were legally cultivated using 21st century technology, it would be the single largest agricultural crop in the United States and world today!”

Should the windfall from such a boom industry be negated due to the desire for certain individuals to smoke a marijuana cigarette in their spare time?

That would be comparable to banning all petroleum products because some gas huffers up in Seattle decide to sniff the contents of their gas tanks.