Marijuana legalization is a hot-button issue, with supporters ranging from serious activists to those who just enjoy smoking it, but many people fail to see just how far-reaching marijuana is as a political issue. Many people are aware of some of the more racist motivations behind marijuana’s prohibition (think "reefer madness"), but fewer are aware of the influences of oil and industrial politics behind the scenes.
In fact, most of the political and industrial motivation behind marijuana prohibition had little to do with the drug itself; it was simply an easy propaganda tool that could be used to achieve the true goal: the banning of hemp. Hemp is an extraordinary plant that is related to the marijuana plant – both are of the Cannabis genus. Whereas the marijuana plant produces large amount of THC, the “active ingredient,” the hemp plant produces very little, making it nearly impossible to achieve a high from its consumption.
Unlike its distant cousin, hemp has other useful purposes than getting high. Hemp is an extraordinarily versatile plant that makes excellent rope, plastic, biofuel, and even clothing. It grows easily with little to no maintenance in a wide variety of climates, and can be grown so closely together that fields can have extremely high crop yields. In fact, hemp was a staple crop that helped us get through World War II. Orignially, the industrial interests pushing for marijuana prohibition were lumber and textiles, but after the war when the oil industry truly began to dominate the energy and consumer product industry, hemp became an even bigger target for prohibition due to its potential to undercut the oil business, as well as other industrial interests. Hemp threatened the fuel and plastics industries, as well as lumber, steel, and textiles. Since it would have been difficult to garner political support in favor of banning such a useful resource by itself, industrial interests instead focused on banning its cousin, marijuana, as an excuse to ban hemp as an equivalent type of plant.
Despite the fact that marijuana has very few negative health effects compared to alcohol or tobacco, and the fact that its use as a drug poses very little societal risk, industrial interests succeeded in its banning, and were also successful in including hemp into the prohibition. Marijuana propaganda was so successful in convincing the American public that marijuana is a dangerous drug that it remains so to this day, with hemp still included. However, now that we know that marijuana is not a dangerous drug and that hemp use is an economically viable and versatile product, why is hemp still illegal? The answer lies largely with the practices of the DEA. The DEA receives funding for each marijuana plant it eradicates, and since hemp plants are included in that count, hemp plants make for an easy target. Because of this, the DEA continues to classify hemp as an analogue drug to marijuana, justifying its ban.
If legislation used to ban hemp were to be removed, our society could benefit greatly. First, hemp could reduce our dependence on foreign oil quickly; it grows quickly and in large amounts on most types of land (a resource America has plenty of) and makes a very efficient biofuel compared to corn-derived ethanol. It also can be refined into excellent plastics and even a rubber substitute for tires, both of which are oil-derived consumer products. Its usefulness in producing lumber-derived products like rope and paper, as well as its usefulness in textiles makes hemp a potential economic gold-mine. Its industrial use could also help alleviate America’s constant overproduction of corn and help replace agricultural business lost by the diminishing tobacco industry. These outdated and misguided policies must be removed, so that America can exploit this huge potential resource and reap its benefits. There is nothing to be lost by legalizing hemp, there is only potential for gain.