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Op Ed: The Other Side of "Reefer Madness"

The government has been waging a war on drugs for many years. The result of that war can be seen in the number of people incarcerated for victimless drug charges and the astronomical costs involved in arresting, prosecuting and jailing these people. Despite the spreading legalization and acceptance of marijuana, the persecution continues in the hunt for illegal growers. Even with all the more serious crimes, crimes with actual victims, the war on drugs continues.

The government’s war on drugs has cost us much more than the visible expenses incurred from the persecution of those not following the rules of marijuana growing — but it wasn’t always this way. There was a time in this country when such things didn’t happen, a time when hemp was widely grown and used. In fact, the name marijuana didn’t exist, and hemp-based medicine, including cannabis, was commonly prescribed for a variety of ailments. Hemp was everywhere.

During the presidency of Herbert Hoover, a man named Andrew Mellon was appointed secretary of the treasury. Mellon was also reportedly a primary investor in a company called DuPont. DuPont is the creator of Nylon, Teflon, Corian, Kevlar and a plethora of other chemical-based products we’ve all heard of and still use today. While in office, Mellon had his soon-to-be in-law appointed head of the now-defunct federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Soon after this appointment, in the ’30s, the American media began a campaign against ‘marihuana,’ a Mexican slang term that was adopted with the new efforts to demonize hemp.

Prior to this time, hemp was widely grown and utilized throughout the United States. During this new anti-hemp movement, Hollywood was quick to jump on the bandwagon, giving us films like Reefer Madness and Marihuana: The Devil’s Weed. Over the span of a few years, hemp went from a widely grown crop that could be used for everything from medicine to plastic to a “devil’s weed.”

This anti-hemp campaign led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, a tax strongly opposed by the American Medical Association. At the time, hemp and cannabis products were commonly prescribed by doctors and pharmacists. The Marijuana Tax Act ultimately led to the end of hemp cultivation, and ushered in a brand-new era of drug prosecution. The first-ever arrests for marijuana possession and dealing took place in Denver shortly after the tax act went into effect, with a man named Moses Baca sentenced to eighteen months, and Samuel Caldwell to four years in Leavenworth penitentiary for possession and distribution, respectively.

Not only did these closed-door politics, instituted for the benefit of the politicians, begin a new war on drugs — they deprived the country of some potentially revolutionary products created from hemp.

In 1941, Henry Ford created the first ever hemp car. This car was made mostly of hemp products, and it ran on ethanol made from agricultural waste; yes, this waste included hemp. It’s been said that the body of the hemp car was lighter than fiberglass and stronger than steel. It was also carbon-neutral, because hemp sequesters carbon and leaves no footprint. Henry Ford strongly advocated making everything you can from plant-based products, including cars.

So why aren’t we driving carbon-neutral hemp vehicles powered by their own agricultural waste? Go back to the part of this story concerning closed-door politics controlled by nepotism and corporate interests. Government imposing its will in the name of its own best interests is nothing new. As a result of the government’s strong-arm tactics, we have no hemp cars. Instead, we have a thriving corrections industry with jails filled with people convicted of victimless drug crimes. We’ve been deprived of all the other potential uses of hemp and, until just recently, the use of cannabis.

Still think government is looking out for our best interests? Not much has changed in the political arena since the ’30s. What else might they be keeping from us? Is a more powerful government really better? American history is filled with remarkable thinkers and creators. How many revolutionary ideas and inventions have been swept under the rug because they didn’t benefit the government and those who control it? America deserves better, and it’s citizens shouldn’t have to ask permission for the things that will benefit all of us. A free market is the only way to a free society — a society where we choose what’s best for us, not our politicians.

Bonnie Hobart is a volunteer for the Libertarian Party of Colorado who lives in Teller County. For more information on this topic, contact Lance Cayko at 303-775-7406 or email CommunicationsDirector@LPColorado.org.

Westword occasionally publishes op-eds on matters of interest to metro Denver readers. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com.

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