Hemp and the amazing continuing influence of Hearst and DuPont

In more than one discussion about the merits of decriminalizing marijuana use, I have heard people state that the reason that marijuana use is a criminal offence can be traced back to the efforts of a couple of influential U.S. businessmen in the 1930s. The way the narrative goes, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (with big investments in forest plantations) teamed up with the DuPont chemical company (with big investments in petroleum-based products) in an effort to make the growing of hemp illegal.  Using the services of Henry J. Anslinger, the head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics, they supposedly embarked on a successful campaign to demonize and eventually criminalize marijuana.  Do a Google search on the keywords hemp, Hearst, DuPont and Anslinger for lots of detail.

The thing that puzzles me about that story is the fact that it addresses legislation in the United States approximately 70 years ago, and in recent decades several countries including Canada have legalized the growing of industrial hemp, yet most paper is still made from trees.  It seems odd to me that William Randolph Hearst could still dictate to countries like Finland that they must not use hemp for paper production.

It seems more likely to me that paper producers likely prefer making paper from trees instead of hemp for technical and economic reasons, not to mention environmental reasons (forest crops are grown over many decades with minimal site disturbance, providing a full suite of environmental benefits, whereas hemp requires annual site inputs).

With a bit of digging I found an article “Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy Theory” that I think makes sense.

7 Responses to “Hemp and the amazing continuing influence of Hearst and DuPont”

  1. Marc says:

    Interesting. Still, is the racist theory ultimately any different than the Hearst/Dupont theory? My understanding is that people use the Hearst/Dupont conspiracy theory to suggest that marijuana was banned for poor reasons. Is the racist theory presented in the article a better reason for banning marijuana?

  2. Phil L says:

    I think there is a lot of evidence for the racism theory, and I hope my post isn’t taken as an argument against it.

    My interest in the hemp theory stems from my work in forestry. If it makes more sense to make paper from hemp than from trees, by all means it should be done, but trying to make that happen by creating a conspiracy theory isn’t justified.

    So in answer to your question, yes I think that the theories are different. It appears to me that only one is supported by verifiable evidence.

  3. Marc says:

    No, I see what you’re saying about evidence. My question had more to do with the argument’s use. If the conspiracy theory was used to support decriminalization because it was made a crime for poor reasons, can’t the racism angle be used the same way?

  4. Phil L says:

    I didn’t intend to get into arguing for or against the legality of marijuana. My concern was more related to the fact that forestry has been cast in a villain role that it doesn’t deserve.

    That said … I think that the reasons that marijuana use is illegal are many and complex, and I don’t doubt that racism was a factor in the U.S. legislation. In fact the article that I linked to states that clearly. With the usual caveats about not being an expert, I don’t see a problem with not only decriminalizing marijuana but legalizing it, while controlling and taxing it similarly to alcohol.

    However then in this province the SLGA would need to be renamed to SLPGA (Saskatchewan Liquor, Pot and Gaming Authority) which is a bit of an unwieldy moniker.

  5. Mr. C.C. says:

    Very good article you linked too at the end. Some of it does make sense. It’s interesting what some business men won’t do to fuel their own ideas and views.

  6. Marc says:

    I didn’t intend to get into a debate either! :) I didn’t connect the dots to realize that you were defending the forestry industry, and that you were *not* trying to replace the conspiracy theory with a better argument for prohibition.

    My mistake! Apologies.

  7. Phil L says:

    No need for apologies. I probably wasn’t very clear on where I was going.