It does not matter if the war is not real, or when it is, that victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous.
~ George Orwell, 1984
While it’s fairly well known that the United States Constitution was written on paper made from the controversial hemp plant, it may come as a surprise to know that growing hemp, also called cannabis, or marijuana, was once mandatory. Indeed, our first marijuana law, written in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, ordered all farmers to grow “Indian hemp seed.” During hard times in the mid-1760s, a farmer could be thrown in jail for not growing it. By 1850 we had over eight thousand hemp plantations, boasting at least two thousand acres each.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp. In a 1794 note to his Mount Vernon gardener, Washington said, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere!” Washington and Jefferson were known to exchange gifts of a smoking mixture that was definitely not tobacco.
Many of our forefathers were said to have smoked marijuana. Given the inspired concepts inscribed in the Declaration of Independence -- that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- enthusiasts like to say it was written on marijuana.
However, long before the birth of our nation, from the 5th century B.C. until the advent of the steamship in the 19th century, hemp was a mainstay in commerce. In the shipping industry, for instance, ninety percent of all rigging, ropes, wood sealant, flags, maps, logs, Bibles and clothing, as well as the canvas sails themselves, was made from hemp. Today’s industrial uses include biodegradable plastics, construction materials, biomass fuels (renewable energy,) health food and medicine.
Proponents claim that hemp, the world’s only known fully-sustainable natural resource, can meet our paper, textile, transportation and home-energy needs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean the environment, and rebuild depleted soil, all while healing the sick. “In other words, it’s the greatest plant on Earth,” concludes a narrator in Melissa Balin and Jack Herer’s short film, The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
So, after a couple dozen centuries of being the greatest plant on Earth, how did marijuana suddenly become Public Enemy #1?
Greatest Plant or Loco Weed?
Between 1910 and 1920, during the Mexican Revolution, destitute immigrants from Mexico provided cheap farm labor, especially in the Southwest. This created tension with local workers, as unemployment and the encroaching economic depression stretched racial tensions past the breaking point. The use of marijuana in Mexican culture made easy targets of both marijuana and Mexican people.
All Mexicans are crazy and this stuff is what makes them crazy.
~ Texas lawmaker, 1919
California was the first state to outlaw “loco weed.” At the time, 1913, Congress lacked the power to outlaw drugs or alcohol at the federal level. Alcohol prohibition, which lasted from 1919 to 1933, required an amendment to the Constitution, while drug laws were passed piecemeal, behind closed doors. But the nasty business we know as the War on Marijuana began in earnest in 1930 with the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a Division of the U. S. Treasury Department.
Its first director, the ruthlessly ambitious Harry J. Anslinger, made cannabis prohibition his personal mission in life. He fanned the flames of racism with statements like, “…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races. . . . There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers,” baited Anslinger. “Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
(Quoting Dr. Hunter S. Thompson only slightly out of context, “It always worked for me.” But I digress.)
The U. S. government responded with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, making possession of cannabis illegal under federal law, except for medical and industrial use. Meanwhile, other fibers and fabrics were gaining popularity, edging hemp out of the marketplace. After we stopped producing it, we imported Manila hemp from the Philippines.
Enter World War II. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we stopped importing hemp from Asia. Once again, the U. S. government had to encourage American farmers to grow it. If you’re looking for an unabashed ode to hemp, forget the hippies. Look instead to the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s 1942 promo film, Hemp for Victory: “Long ago when these [pictured] ancient Grecian temples were new, hemp was already old in the service of mankind.... For centuries prior to about 1850 all the ships that sailed the western seas were rigged with hempen rope and sails….. For the sailor, no less than the hangman, hemp was indispensable.”
Praising the patriotic farmers who planted 36,000 acres of seed hemp in 1942, the U. S. government set the 1943 goal at 50,000 acres of hemp. (I love the smell of seed hemp in the morning. It’s the smell of….) The film whipped farmers into a frenzy of hemp-based patriotism over the Navy’s quickly dwindling supply of Manila hemp. “When it is gone, American hemp will go on duty again…. Just as in the days when Old Ironsides sailed the sea victorious with her hempen shrouds and hempen sails. Hemp for victory.”
After the war ended, the government shut down all the hemp processing plants and the industry died. Enter William Randolph Hearst, Lammont DuPont and Andrew Mellon to make sure it stayed dead. This unholy alliance set out to destroy the hemp industry once and for all, and they succeeded – to this day.
Although they used racism to whip up anti-marijuana public sentiment, in reality it was just a handy sales tool. The real motive – then and now – was corporate greed and corruption. Newspaper mogul Hearst had a corner on the timber and paper manufacturing market, which was threatened when new techniques and a more efficient hemp harvesting machine promised to undercut papermaking costs by more than half. Unlike trees, hemp was annually renewable and required fewer chemicals in the pulp-making process, so it was easier on the environment, as well. It had to be stopped.
DuPont Chemicals manufactured paper and textiles. Lammont DuPont and William Randolph Hearst were partners in a multi-million dollar paper-making deal. DuPont shared Hearst’s zeal for stamping out hemp as a potential competitor in making plastics and synthetic fabrics. His company had just come out with a new fabric called nylon.
Bankrolling DuPont’s nylon enterprise was Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon – the richest man in America and banker to the stars. He and DuPont believed nylon’s success was dependent upon hemp’s failure. To ensure that outcome, Mellon installed his nephew-in-law, one Harry J. Anslinger, as head of the Bureau of Narcotics.
Meanwhile, Hearst used his newspapers and magazines to smear hemp, calling it “marijuana” and linking it to job-stealing Mexicans, over-sexed African Americans, violent crime, and promiscuity. (Another lasting by-product of Hearst’s personal war on marijuana was “yellow journalism.”)
Though advocates claimed hemp had the power to revitalize the failing U.S. economy, Hearst did such a bang-up job of demonizing it, his propaganda still passes for truth today. And advocates are still claiming it could revitalize the failing economy.
Nixon’s “All-Out War” on Weed
In the late Sixties and early Seventies, President Richard M. Nixon found a way to use the new and improved War on Drugs to target anti-war protesters, liberals and anyone else who got in his way. “You see,” he explained on a May 13, 1971 White House tape, “homosexuality, dope, immorality in general: These are the enemies of strong societies. That’s why the Communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff. They’re trying to destroy us.”
The Controlled Substances Act, which Nixon signed into law on October 27, 1970, created five “schedules” for regulating drugs based on medicinal value and potential for addiction. Marijuana was listed as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal benefit. The following year, Nixon created the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, known as the Shafer Commission after “law and order” Governor Raymond P. Shafer of Pennsylvania, whom he personally appointed to head it up.
The Shafer Commission, after conducting the most comprehensive study of marijuana in American history, wound up recommending that possession and non-profit transfer of marijuana be decriminalized, stating, in part, that the actual and potential harm from using it “is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”
President Nixon did not share that reluctance. His reaction was to declare “all out war, on all fronts” against marijuana’s legalization.
Common Sense for Drug Policy posted transcripts of the infamous Nixon White House tapes on their website in March of 2002, including this excerpt from a meeting between Nixon and his Chief of Staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, on May 26, 1971:
Nixon: I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana. Can I get that out of this sonofabitching Domestic Council? [The Domestic Council was created to shape Nixon’s domestic programs and policies.]
Nixon: I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them…. You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there’s so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish. By God, we are going to hit the marijuana thing, and I want to hit it right square in the puss….
Those were the days, my friend. They don’t write comedy like that any more. But seriously, if you’ve been wondering where our insane marijuana laws came from, welcome to the Mother Lode.
It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character almost every other country in the world has learned to fear and despise.
~Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72
Declaring drug abuse Public Enemy #1, Nixon established the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1973. As a measure of the extent of his geographical reach, author Jerry Beisler wrote in The Bandit of Kabul, “President Richard Nixon offered the King of Nepal $200 million to build a sewer system for the capital city of Kathmandu. The string that was attached to this bribe was that the Kingdom of Nepal would then become the last country in the world to finally criminalize ganja.”
Profiteering in the Drug Wars
These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.
~ George Washington
~ George Washington
Who stands to gain the most from marijuana prohibition? All those who work for government agencies involved in prosecuting the so-called war on drugs, and all those whose businesses gain by having hemp and its derivatives made unavailable for private, commercial, or medical use.
In the public sector, whole bureaucracies have flourished in the war on drugs, including the Drug Enforcement Agency and its precursor, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Office of National Drug Control Policy; the Federal Bureau of Prisons; the State Department; the Treasury Department; the Justice Department; the Central Intelligence Agency; and the National Clandestine Services, for starters.
To date, more than one trillion tax dollars have been spent on the so-called war on drugs. Over ten billion dollars a year is spent enforcing marijuana laws alone. This gravy train feeds millions of government employees -- from cafeteria workers to bailiffs; from cops to prison guards; from clerks to prosecutors and judges; even legislators -- all of whom collect government paychecks with benefits and retirement packages. And that’s just in the public sector.
In the private sector, where the practices of Hearst, DuPont and Mellon are still very much in play, today’s war on marijuana benefits energy companies intent on killing competition from renewable biomass fuels made from hemp; pharmaceutical companies who stand to lose billions when people discover the specific marijuana strains that allow them to get off prescription drugs, replacing harmful side-effects with harmless feel-good effects; and alcohol and tobacco companies for obvious reasons.
Lesser known cash cows include rehab facilities dependent upon addicts who could be using cannabis to kick hard drugs, and drug testing companies getting fat from mandatory workplace and court-ordered drug testing. Witness the fact that the companies building and operating private prisons are growing while the rest of the economy is shrinking.
Prison Industrial Complex
It’s fixed across the grid, don’t matter what you did
’cause the companies that own the prisons keep the bodies comin’ in.
~ Buxter Hoot’n, “Chief Justice Shepherd”
During alcohol prohibition, organized crime flourished, and so did “law and order.” The same thing is happening today. An entire industry is growing up around the prosecution and incarceration of drug offenders, most of them non-violent users of medical or recreational drugs, even as the truly dangerous drug cartels get bigger. Among these prisoners are medical marijuana cultivators and dispensary owners who, when they were busted, were operating in full compliance with state law.
Because marijuana is still prohibited at the federal level, medical marijuana dispensaries and gardens are being raided and people imprisoned, even in states where voters have legalized it. An undercover cop with a fake ID and a legitimate doctor’s recommendation need only make a few purchases from a medical marijuana dispensary and…gotcha!... he’s caught himself a kingpin. By listing the same “crime” – selling marijuana – over and over, police can pile on felonies, including conspiracy charges, setting up hapless dispensary owners as “kingpins” while the real kingpins go free.
Once in court, prosecutors “for the People” determine the charges, some of which come with mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimums, enacted by Congress in 1986 during the Reagan/Bush administration, were intended to stop trafficking by international drug cartels. But by taking sentencing control away from judges and putting it in the hands of prosecutors, they also stopped judges from judging. Thanks to mandatory minimums, a judge no longer decides whether the punishment fits the crime.
Other than the actual drug cartels the conspiracy laws were meant to stop, the prison industrial complex seems to be one of the few real winners in this twisted game.
Jury Nullification: A Citizen’s Only Weapon
You are the law.
~ Paul Newman, The Verdict
Most of us assume the function of a jury is to determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence. But did you know a juror is also responsible for judging the law itself? That’s right. The power to change a bad law is in the hands of one person. Any person. You, if you happen to be sitting on a jury. An individual juror has the power to say, This is a bad law; not guilty.
Just like that. Hung jury. Trial over.
We the People have the power to change the law, case by case, courtroom by courtroom. Nobody, not the judge, not the cops, not the President of the United States, can punish jurors for exercising their right to repudiate, or nullify, the law that put the defendant on trial in the first place if they find the law unjust. That’s the way our forefathers intended it. People do have the power. We just have to remember how to use it. It’s called “Jury Nullification,” and other than the right to vote, it’s the only true power granted an individual citizen in the United States Constitution.
We may, in the War on Drugs, be up against an historic governmental and corporate monolith -- we may be David to their Goliath -- but the one stone in our sling, Jury Nullification, is a righteous and effective one. Used often enough, it results in changing laws. Just Say, “Not Guilty.”
The Two Joes: A Deal Goes Down in Long Beach
I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its Constitution.
~ Thomas Jefferson
On Friday, August 5, 2011, Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were offered another deal. Referred to as a “wobbler,” the deal stipulated that each would have a felony on their record for “a year or so.” After that, the judge would have the option of reducing it to a misdemeanor, as long as they didn’t get into trouble with the law in the meantime. They turned it down. They’re going to trial.
Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron have put their fate in the hands of a jury. Court support teams are organizing carpools so people from all over Southern California can stand in solidarity with them. “Everything is stacked against us,” said Grumbine. “This is true courtroom drama. Anything can happen.”
Grumbine and Byron will be in court on August 16th for the start of jury instructions. So far, they’ve been denied an affirmative defense, meaning they have not been allowed to tell the judge – nor will they be allowed to tell the jury – that they were operating a medical marijuana dispensary in compliance with state law. The jurors may never hear their side of the story. They may be instructed to hand down a verdict based strictly on a list of felonies. If that happens, Joe and Joe are looking at hard time in a state penitentiary.
The state Appellate Court rejected their motion to dismiss the case based on their denial of defense. They have a new appeal pending with the state Supreme Court. In effect, they still have a chance to start over with an affirmative defense. But the very real prospect of going to trial without one hangs over them like -- to borrow another phrase from the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson -- a million-pound shithammer.
Court support starts at 7:00 AM with breakfast at Egg Heaven (4358 East 4th Street, Long Beach, CA 90814) courtesy of owner and co-defendant Joe Byron. Green Solidarity Ribbons will be provided. Simply wearing one in public will help educate the jury pool.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Long Beach Superior Court, Room 508
415 West Ocean Boulevard,
Long Beach, California 90802
Trial Date: August 22 – 30, 2011.
Solidarity Ribbons and ride-shares are also available through The Human Solution, 951-436-6312.
In 1995 Cynthia Johnston directed public relations for an online publication, Sources eJournal, covering intelligence, espionage and terrorism. There, she wrote a three-part series, “Confessions of a CIA Brat.” She also wrote a business column, “In the Loop,” for an independent filmmaking web publication and several pieces for Bay Area computer magazine Micro Times. After Sources went down in the dot.com crash of the late Nineties, she took a leap of faith, moved into a funky cab-over camper, and started living curbside on the streets of San Francisco. She began her first blog before blogging was a word. Her online journal earned her the opportunity to write a piece, “Mobile Homeless,” for The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s been blogging ever since.
Johnston began writing about her experience as a medical marijuana patient as soon as she “got legal.” She went public on behalf of legalization in 1980 with the California Marijuana Initiative and a headline: “Marijuana Protester Busted at High Noon.”