“Yeah, You can Grow Pot—Ah, Maybe Not”
Nov. 17, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — The Father of our Country, George Washington, grew pot at Mount Vernon. Of course, he wasn’t growing the high-THC pot that is being grown and sold nowadays in the United States. No, he grew industrial grade hemp. Hemp that was used to make ropes, sails, fishing nets, and the like. In the mid-1700s, hemp was a valuable crop for that purpose, so much so that Washington considered replacing tobacco with hemp, solely as a cash crop.
By 1775, hemp was planted in the Kentucky Bluegrass Region, and thrived. By 1850, one-third of the hemp factories were in that state. Hemp was grown in Missouri beginning in 1835, in Illinois, in Texas, in Nebraska, and in California. In 1908, Wisconsin started growing hemp, which continued until 1958.
The hemp market started to go downhill in 1937, when Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. Hemp became regulated, and some, like Harry Anslinger in 1944, lobbied for the complete prohibition on marijuana based on its “addictive” properties and use as a gateway drug. Of course, Anslinger had a vested interest; he was the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the predecessor agency of the current Drug Enforcement Agency. By creating another illicit drug, he validated the need for his own agency.
It really didn’t matter much to him that New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia established a committee that in 1939 debunked Anslinger’s claims, Anslinger had the Hearst publishing empire and the E.I. DuPont chemical interests supporting him. Anslinger was the chief architect of the “War on Drugs” well before President Richard Nixon coined the phrase in 1971.
Although Anslinger started it, Nixon launched the actual “war.” What most of the modern “warriors” conveniently forget is that the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (the Shafer Commission, after its chair, Governor Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania) recommended in 1972 that Congress legalize the possession and use of marijuana. Nixon ignored it and the warning that it gave.
Possession of marihuana is generally a private behavior; in order to find it, the police many times must operate on the edge of constitutional limitations. Arrests without probable cause, illegal searches and selective enforcement occur often enough to arouse concern about the integrity of the criminal process.
Gee, none of that has happened, or you would have criminal defense attorneys bemoaning the evisceration of the Fourth (and other) Amendments… oh, wait—never mind.
At the same time, Congress and the generally white American public have called on American Indian tribes to become more self-reliant, while decrying Indian Casinos and other revenue sources that the tribes attempt to use to generate revenue.
So one tribe, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin,* decided to try something new, based in part on the past crops of hemp in Wisconsin.
In August, tribal members voted to legalize marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes on the tribes reservation. The tribal council was wary, not that the feds have ever abused the tribes. So instead of growing marijuana for smoking, they decided to follow the example of George Washington, and grow industrial hemp.
You see, in 2014, the federal farm bill authorized pilot programs to grow hemp for academic or agricultural research, so the tribe partnered with the College of the Menominee Nation to grow hemp that contained little to no THC (the part of marijuana that actually gets people high).
The tribe spoke with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the DEA, and the local U.S. Attorney during this entire process. They had testing procedures in place to identify strains that had too much THC and plans to destroy those strains. They were cooperating with the federal government, and based their activities on a Justice Department memo authorizing the legalization of marijuana on reservations. The tribe even offered to go to court, to let a federal judge decide the matter and to settle any disagreements.
So on October 22, DEA agents raided the reservation, seizing and destroying all of the hemp crop. The soldiers police officers were dressed in tactical gear and were armed with AR-15 rifles. It didn’t matter that the tribe had offered to destroy questionable strains.
In 1973 the Shafer Commission basically predicted this type of action.
Because of the intensity of the public concern and the emotionalism surrounding the topic of drugs, all levels of government have been pressured into action with little time for planning. The political pressures involved in this governmental effort have resulted in a concentration of public energy on the most immediate aspects of drug use and a reaction along the paths of least political resistance. The recent result has been the creation of ever larger bureaucracies, ever increasing expenditures of monies, and an outpouring of publicity so that the public will know that “something” is being done.
Here, the “politically correct” yet absolutely wrong solution was to use force, instead of the courts, to settle a question on drug policy between two sovereign governments.
I wonder what Washington would have thought?
* Full disclosure: I am part Menominee Indian, albeit not with enough Indian blood to enroll in the tribe. My father’s side of the family grew up in the heart of Indian Country, after my half-Menominee grandfather was sent to the Kiowa Agency when he completed his schooling at the Haskell Indian School.