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Never Mind Why: Hearst’s Smear Campaign on Hemp Changes History

Posted by: | September 15, 2011 | No Comment |

The going rate is 20 dollars a gram for marijuana in the Mid Atlantic United States. What if I told you that in the early 1900s you could have held several ounces of the plant for pennies? That’s right folks. It’s a pot blog. However without starting a referendum on who has the right to use it I plan to uncover an interesting fact about the newspapers of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s…They were made from hemp! Much paper was made with the fiber until the early 1900’s when William Randolph Hearst put his newspaper, The New York Journal, into the fray that has raged since then until this very day.

Hearst was a wealthy businessman fresh from his great success commercializing the San Francisco Examiner and poised to start a circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer in New York. That very circulation war is the spark from which emerged the practice and term “Yellow Journalism”. However the real story, that any educated stoner will be happy to tell you, is that in the midst of this struggle Hearst ran countless examples of the sensationalist style he became known for AGAINST hemp. The fiber had proven itself to be more durable and cheap to produce into paper than regular wood pulp and was fast gaining popularity with many stationers.

To understand Hearst’s rush to take down the plant, you must first know this. That in order to more cheaply produce his own paper, Hearst had made huge investments into the timber industry. With the rise of cannabis fibers he stood to lose all of what he had gained. In response William Randolph Hearst did what he did best.

He ran a smear campaign. And a damn good one too. According to the stereotypes of the day Hearst contended that the “Drug” (one of the first references to marijuana as a drug) was a dark tool used by “Negroes, Hispanics, and Entertainers” and that the plant forced them into a bloodcraze in which it would be perfectly normal for a black man to rape a white woman and kill her whole family without thinking twice. I ask you, does that sound like any kind of pot you’ve smoked?

Hearst’s domino had fallen into another and another and another, snowballing America’s drug war and dictating government policy even into the present day. Eventually the pressure got so high on the government from Hearst’s own readers writing in to protect them from this killer drug that the government was forced to criminalize the growing, and then the sale, and finally the simple possession of marijuana. That kind of achievement could not have ever been possible with credibility but in the age of WIlliam Randolph Hearst, it only took a whim and a typewriter to change whatever needed changing.

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