“Hemp for Victory” is the name of a rather curious little piece of World War II memorabilia. In the early 1940’s the USDA encouraged farmers to grow hemp, better known as marijuana, for the good of the country. No, the American public had not followed the advice of many a bumper sticker and voted Jerry Garcia into the office of President, but there was a war going on and during wars people do some especially unusual things.
The tale behind “Hemp for Victory” starts several years before the outbreak of World War II and if the conspiracy theorists are right, involves big money, big government and some very suspicious behavior. Industrial grade hemp, versus the kind you grow to use as a drug, is a very versatile plant involved in all sorts of manufacturing including the production of rope and various oils. In the early 1930’s its use as the raw material for both textiles and paper were being perfected. These latter uses of the plant raised the eyebrows of some pretty hefty characters with big wallets in the US. Enter in William Randolph Hearst and the DuPont family, two of the most powerful forces in the US at that time. William Hearst was a media giant and owned many of the biggest newspapers in the country. The DuPont family was into chemicals. Why were these two interested in hemp – because of the development in the use of hemp fibers for making paper and textiles. In addition to owning newspapers, Hearst owned huge forests of pulp trees used for making paper. The DuPont family, in addition to chemicals, was in the textile business. They were responsible for eventually creating the fabric that the lime green leisure suite I wore to my 6th grade band concert was made of – polyester. Hemp is basically a weed and thus grows really fast pretty much anywhere, is really tough and super cheap. Both these industrial giants realized that hemp had the potential of being a hefty competitor in their respective paper and textile industries.
Enter in the conspiracy theorists. According to their evidence and line of thinking the following went down. Hearst and DuPont used there clout to lobby certain influential people in Washington. In 1936, the cult classic “Reefer Madness” was released. It is a wacky tale of the maddening qualities of marijuana and highlights the effects of the drug on several wholesome down-home folk who get rapped up in the sinister world of marijuana and the people who peddle it. Due to this movie and the pressure of the politicians via the Hearst and DuPont lobbyists (according to the conspiracy guys and gals), marijuana was made illegal in the US in 1937. This included industrial grade hemp because it is indeed marijuana. Even though – you can smoke a tractor load of that stuff and not get high – according to a grower of the industrial type. So in 1937, the growing of hemp was no longer legal in the US.
So why did the US government encourage its farmers to grow the illegal crop during WWII? To understand this part of the story it is necessary to go to the other side of the world in the 1930’s. The Japanese had begun to expand in their quest for empire. Eventually this expansion involved the US and its colony of the Philippines. The Philippines fell under Japanese control. It just so happened that the former US colony was the main supplier of industrial grade hemp for the US. Hemp was needed in the war effort for such products as rope. Without this supply of hemp, the US government realized that it would need to encourage American farmers to grow the weed and thus the creation of “Hemp for Victory”. Once the war ended and the US established trading relations with hemp growing countries around the world, its status as an illegal produce was reestablished and remains so today.