With so many reported benefits, why is cannabis illegal? It seems to be related to efforts by William Randolph Hearst in the 1930s. Hearst was invested in thousands of acres of timberland to make wood pulp to supply the newspaper industry. Hemp fibers produced a paper that did not yellow over time and was more productive per acre than trees—this was a threat. Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury under President Herbert Hoover and his bank, the Mellon Bank, financed DuPont’s sulfur-based process of turning wood fibers into usable paper.

Hearst and Mellon joined forces to expand their interests in wood pulp and take hemp off the market—which was financially rewarding to do. DuPont lobbied Congress while Hearst began a racial smear campaign in his newspapers painting cannabis as an extremely dangerous drug. Mellon was able to appoint his niece’s husband, Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He testified before Congress, “Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind…Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.”

But it was the sensationalized case of Victor Licata that really frightened the public against marijuana. On October 16, 1933, 20-year-old Victor Licata used an axe to murder his parents, two brothers, and a sister while they were asleep. All died from blows to the head. Despite evidence Licata had a pre-existing history of mental illness, police and the press made claims that he was addicted to marijuana. Hearst ran these types of propaganda stories in his newspapers and it strongly influenced public opinion against marijuana.

Next week: the rest of the story!

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