Zachary Stevenson
Period 5

Laughing Grass and the Law


            In 1619, King James, I ordered every colonist in America to grow 100 plants specifically for export. In order to meet this order, colonists searched for and found an incredibly easy plant to grow. It was suited to most climates, required little pest control and was fast growing. The plant itself had a stalk that was longer, stronger and more absorbent than cotton fiber. It could be used for ropes, clothing and paper. For early settlers, it seemed to be the perfect crop. This plant was hemp. ewrej

From  the Colonial Period until the mid-1800s, hemp continued to be grown in America. “During that time Kentucky established itself as the leading hemp producer in the United States.” (   In fact,  George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon as one of his three primary crops. After the Civil War, hemp production declined not only in Kentucky, but other areas of the country too. Then, as part of the war effort during World War II, production was temporarily resumed.  However, once the war was over, crops dwindled until production in the United Stated ended in 1958. Several factors led to a plant that offered so many benefits, becoming illegal. The first and most cited factor is hemp’s close relationship to marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are from the same plant species (Cannabis sativa), but are genetically different. They are distinguished from one another based on their use and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels.  THC is the chemical that gets people who smoke it “high.” Marijuana typically contain 3% to 15% THC by weight, while industrial hemp contain only trace amounts - less than 1%. Even though the THC level in hemp is virtually non-existent, it remains a narcotic due to its biological relationship to marijuana and the misconception that smoking it will affect a person in the same way that marijuana does. Even the legislators targeted the cannabis plant as a whole, resulting in the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 that categorized any product containing THC as a Schedule I drug, regardless of narcotic content level or use. Thus, hemp was placed in the same category as heroin, LSD and methamphetamine. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Controlled Substances Act.” (Accessed March 4, 2014).

Another factor that led to the production of hemp and cannabis becoming illegal were the statements made by lawmakers that linked violence and social degradation to marijuana use. Focus was shifted from the potential uses of hemp to the degrading qualitites of marijuana. According to Harry J. Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that led the campaign again the cannabis plant, “In the earliest stages of intoxication the will power is destroyed and inhibitions and restraints are released; the moral barricades are broken down and often debauchery and sexuality results.” (Harry J. Anslinger and William F. Tompkins, The Traffic in Narcotics (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1953), 21). In a conservative, southern state such as Kentucky, statements such as Mr. Anslinger’s only reinforced the idea that marijuana and by association hemp, was a dangerous drug that should no longer be grown as a crop.

Which leads to another reason hemp production is illegal - crop production profits. As in all business, making a profit is the priority. Growing crops is no exception. Currently, Kentucky’s largest crop is tobacco.  ( Unfortunately, smaller tobacco farmers are finding it virtually impossible to compete with the larger corporate tobacco farms.  Hemp could be an alternative for those farmers who still need to make a living, but do not have the cash resources to keep up with corporate farms. Hemp is native to Kentucky, is easy to grow and has the potential to be a lucrative crop. In addition to being used in fabric, hemp seeds may be one of nature's most perfect foods. Considered a complete protein, hemp seed delivers 5 grams of protein in a two tablespoon serving, making them a great addition to any diet. ( However, law enforcement officers argue that they cannot easily distinguish between hemp and marijuana, especially during aerial surveillance.  They do not want the additional burden of having to monitor hemp farms. This added law enforcement burden coupled with the power of corporate farms to influence lawmakers is making it increasingly difficult for small farmers to have a voice in this debate.

This leads to the next point: corporations fund lobbyists to influence their interests. In the case of hemp and marijuana, well-established businesses fight to block legislation that is not in their interest. For example, the Marihuana Tax Stamp Act was backed and pushed by people who had something to lose if hemp production remained legal (let alone grew in national production). This legislation heavily taxed marijuana and required all people who possessed marijuana to acquire a tax stamp proving they had paid taxes on their marijuana. (Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. (Accessed March 7, 2014) If not for this bill, owners of the paper industry, timber industry, and the Du Pont family (who was working on a synthetic fiber to replace cotton/paper based fibers) would have suffered significant financial investments to the stronger, higher-yielding, cheaper natural fiber produced from hemp.

Pharmaceutical companies also stand to suffer financial losses if marijuana were to be made legal. For example, in August of 1996, Dr. Dale H. Gieringer wrote Review of Human Studies on Medical Use of Marijuana. It outlines the summaries of 65 human studies on the medical values of marijuana, most of which took place in the 70s and 80s. (Gieringer, Dale H. “Review of Human Studies on Medical Use of Marijuana (1996).” August, 1996. (Accessed March 2, 2014). Some of the findings were that the medical use of smoked marijuana as an anti-nauseant for cancer chemotherapy and nausea and appetite loss associated with AIDS. For companies that produce cancer and other drugs, this news was not favorable. In order to avoid large monetary losses, they needed to stop the research into alternative treatments such as Cannabis. One way to accomplish that is by continuing to keep Cannabis and hemp illegal. Large corporations can afford to not only block laws that want to legalize Cannabis through lobbyists, but also through media campaigns aimed at convincing the general public that hemp and marijuana should remain illegal.

For example, one organization, the Foundation For A Drug Free World, states that marijuana is a gateway drug to other more serious and stronger illegal drugs. ( While this idea may seem plausible at first, closer inspection shows that correlation is not cause.  “Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang members are probably more 104 times more likely to have ridden a bicycle as a kid than those who don’t become Hell’s Angels, but that doesn’t mean that riding a two-wheeler is a “gateway” to joining a motorcycle gang. It simply means that most people ride bikes and the kind of people who don’t are highly unlikely to ever ride a motorcycle. Every year, the federal government funds two huge surveys on drug use in the population. Over and over they find that the number of people who try marijuana dwarfs that for cocaine or heroin. For example, in 2009, 2.3 million people reported trying pot — compared with 617,000 who tried cocaine and 180,000 who tried heroin.” (Marijuana as a Gateway Drug: The Myth That Will Not Die |  This “gateway” argument is often used by people who do not to legalize want marijuana and hemp.

Unfortunately, misinformation and omission of the truth cloud the debate regarding whether Cannabis and hemp should remain illegal. In order for a rational decision to be made, the general public would need to educate themselves regarding Cannabis and hemp while focusing on the facts and avoiding the hype. Benefits versus cost to impose regulatory protocols would need to be determined. Each state would need to determine how best to implement safety guidelines, taxes and distribution if Cannabis and/or hemp were legalized. It would be a long and complicated process, that would require many different government agencies working together. It is difficult to determine whether that could be accomplished. However, the final question remains is the outlawing of Cannabis and hemp a business tactic or a legitimate moral and ethical concern? Only time will determine which side will prevail.                                                                                               












 University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, “Industrial Hemp Legal Issues,” N.p., 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2014.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Controlled Substances Act.” (Accessed March 4, 2014).

Harry J. Anslinger and William F. Tompkins, The Traffic in Narcotics (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1953), 21).

“Kentucky Agriculture Facts,” (Accessed March 4, 2014).

Bob’s Red Mill, “Hulled Hemp Seed,” N.p., 2012. Web. 2 Mar. 2014.

Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. (Accessed March 7, 2014).

Foundation For A Drug-Free World, (Accessed March 1, 2014).

Gieringer, Dale H. “Review of Human Studies on Medical Use of Marijuana (1996).” August, 1996. (Accessed March 2, 2014).

Marijuana as a Gateway Drug: The Myth That Will Not Die | March 1, 2014).