In the early days of our nation, the hemp plant (a.k.a. cannabis) proved a valuable resource for hundreds of years, instrumental in the making of fabric, paper and other necessities. This changed during the Industrial Revolution, which rendered tree-pulp papermaking and synthetic fibers more cost-effective through the rise of assembly line manufacturing methods. A more efficient way of utilizing hemp was a bit slower in coming.It was not until the early 1930's that a new technique for using hemp pulp for papermaking was developed by the Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the patenting of the hemp decorticator (a machine that revolutionized the harvesting of hemp). These innovations promised to reduce the cost of producing hemp-pulp paper to less than half the cost of tree-pulp paper. Since hemp is an annually renewable source, which requires minimal chemical treatment to process, the advent of hemp pulp paper would allegedly have been better for the environment than the sulfuric acid wood-pulping process. Hemp had many champions, who predicted that its abundance and versatility would soon revitalize the American economy. William Randolph Hearst, media mogul, billionaire and real-life model for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, had different ideas. His aggressive efforts to demonize cannabis were so effective, they continue to color popular opinion today.In the early 1930's, Hearst owned a good deal of timber acreage; one might say that he had the monopoly on this market. The threatened advent of mass hemp production proved a considerable threat to his massive paper-mill holdings -- he stood to lose many, many millions of dollars to the lowly hemp plant. Hearst cleverly utilized his immense national network of newspapers and magazines to spread wildly inaccurate and sensational stories of the evils of cannabis or "marihuana," a phrase brought into the common parlance, in part due to frequent mentions in his publications.
The sheer number of newspapers, tabloids, magazines and film reels that Hearst controlled enabled him to quickly and to effectively inundate American media with this propaganda. Hearst preyed on existing prejudices by associating cannabis with Mexican workers who threatened to steal American jobs and African-Americans who had long been the subject of white American venom (see accompanying articles). An ironic side-note: much of this racism had already been perpetrated by the propaganda of Hearst, an unabashed racist. The American people had already developed irrational hatred for these racial groups, and so readily accepted the ridiculous stories of their crazed crimes incited by marihuana use.
Hearst was not alone in his scheme to destroy hemp production. The new
techniques also made hemp a viable option for fabric and plastics, two
areas of manufacturing which together with paper seriously threatened
DuPont chemicals, which at this time specialized in the chemical manufacturing
of synthetic fiber and plastics, and the process of pulping paper. In
fact, Hearst and Lammont DuPont had a multi-million dollar deal in the
works for joint papermaking. So these two moguls, together with DuPont's
banker, Andrew Mellon, bravely joined forces to stave off the bitter onrush
of bankruptcy. They combined Hearst's yellow journalism campaign (so called
because the paper developed through his and DuPont's methods aged prematurely)
and the appointment of Mellon's nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to
Commissioner of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics in order
to successfully stamp out the threat of hemp production.