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Calif. Flag
(Before the Coming of the Anti-Medical Marihuana Laws

California Hemp Field
[Los Angeles Times - Apr 22, 1928pJ3]

A long time ago, in my younger days, I was able to get my hands on an (already) old History of California textbook. [1]   Looking back on it (with 20/20 hindsight), I’m a little shocked that such a textbook could have ever been allowed to have been published, let alone reach the classrooms.   I can only presume that no one noted the now haunting references to Industrial Hemp, or simply didn’t know that Hemp and Marihuana were one and the same plant.

It seems (according to this textbook) that one of the main reasons why the Spanish Empire wanted to colonize Alta or Upper California was because Hemp could be easily grown here.   Something that was of great importance as Spain needed a re-supply stop for its pacific fleet of returning Manila galleons.   And for such an undertaking, a re-supply stop needed to be more than a place to obtain food and stretch ones legs.   It also had to have replacement stores of canvas sail, rope and other rigging.   Example: The US Constitution (Old Ironsides) required some 60 tons of Hemp rigging (rope, canvas sails etc.), just to keep that one ship going.   One can only imagine how much Hemp was required by the whole of the Spanish navy or even just that portion that existed in the pacific.

Again, I’m a bit stunned that this textbook was ever-published let alone made its way into California classrooms.   Almost all other texts that I have read on the subject do make mention of the need for a resupply stop for the Manila Galleons but are very vague on exactly what those needs were.

In addition, the author (being a retired Judge and thus one assumes knew well about the subject), also goes on to state that early California (both Spanish as well as Mexican) was noted for its financial irresponsibility and its strict enforcement of numerous victimless crime laws.   Laws ranging from wine making to public dancing.   In fact the situation was so bad that few of the locals protested when the Americans sailed in and took over the place.   In fact one can almost see the locals jumping up and down for joy over the take over.   ----- BUT here the only point being made is that California and HEMP have a long history together.

The answer is simple, California was always a geographically isolated area with a (relatively speaking) small population.   Without today’s hemp breakers and other modern day farm tools, it simply wasn’t practical (until the mid-1900’s) to try growing it in California.

The answer is simple -- something now known today as Reefer Madness.   To prove this point, perhaps it would be best to look over some bit’s and pieces of old newspaper articles.   [All taken from historical archives of the L.A. Times]   Note the dates (all in the 1920’s) or well before the Federal Government got involved.

April 25, 1920 pIX5
PORTERVILLE – Hemp culture, it is promised, will be introduced into this territory J.W. Ruse, who recently acquired a large tract of land at Quail, between Tipton and Pixley, is to introduce the new crop.   Mr. Russ owns a 400-acre farm near South Bend, Ind., where he raises hemp extensively.   He has exhibited specimens of the crop from this farm and declares that the soil, water conditions and climate of this district are favorable to the production of hemp.   He is securing seed this year to acclimate the crop and expects to put in a large acreage next year.

The crop matures in Indiana in ninety days, Mr. Russ says, and he believes that two crops a year can be produced here.   His plan is to work the crop completely, spin the flax and make the cordage.   The rapid development of shipbuilding on the Coast means a heavy demand for cordage, says Mr. Muss.   He is confident that this section can help supply that demand.   Little water is necessary for development of the crop.   Harvesting machines with other machinery for beating out the flax and spinning and weaving make handling easy.

Mar 13, 1921 pV8
-- Proposed as Rotation, Crop with Cotton, Beans.
-- Needed to Replace Flax in Linen Manufacture
-- Machine Harvesting to be Solution of Problem

Hemp, as a rotation crop with cotton, beans and grains, is the subject of considerable discussion and investigation in southern California industrial and agricultural circles at the present time, and a practical turn is given to the subject by the consideration given it by the agricultural committee of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and by Dr. Clements, manager of the commerce body’s agricultural department.

Linen, as a fabric of common household use, is threatened with extinction, first through the gradual decline of flax growing for a period of years, first apparent even preceding the World War, and almost suspended since that time in the principal flax-growing countries.   This threat of extinction of one of the world’s important textile industries is naturally arousing interest among economists, and directing efforts toward the encouragement of flax and hemp growing, as well as to simplifying the methods of harvesting and reducing the fibers, with the purpose of making it more astrictive and less arduous.

Hemp, as a substitute for flax, while somewhat coarser, is much more easily grown and is more susceptible to machine handling.   Serious consideration is being given it in various sections of the country, and Canada has entered on an organized experiment, under the conviction that it can be successfully and profitably grown in the Northwest territories.

It is asserted that it grows readily where sufficiently watered with no care or cultivation after broadcast seeding: and that the shortage of flax fiber, through the decadence of the Russian production and the interruption of its production in other European countries, assures prices for many years that should be attractive to farmers and agriculturists generally.   Information and data relating to hemp is being collected by the agricultural committee and will be available to interested growers.

American ingenuity is being directed toward the machining of the hemp harvest, and a “breaking” or decarding machine has just been invented and a patient issued, June 8, 1920, to William A. Shely of Chicago, who has spent his entire life in the effort to produce this machine. . . .[more]

April 17, 1921 pV3
Active work is proceeding in the negotiations looking to the furtherance of hemp-growing as a Southern California agricultural industry and progress is being made in bringing together the various land, chemical, machinery and financial interests for a practical experiment on a scale sufficient to make a thorough demonstration.

The proposition now hinges on the success of the breaking machine which is being tried out in Canada, and is being watched by prominent agriculturist and spinners, including some from England.   With the reports from the machine in hand, this week it is started will find the local interests ready to come to a conclusion on the extent of local development that will be undertaken.

May 29, 1921 pV1
Fiber Production Multiplied by new Processes; California Conditions Ideal; Start is Made.
  •   Thousands of acres opened up to a new rotation crop.
  •   Mechanical retting and breaking to supersede hand labor,
  •   Disagreeable conditions of handling abolished, making possible the use of white civilized labor.
  •   Time of retting and fiber making reduced from weeks or months to a few minutes.
  •   By-products of paper pulp, oil, feed and fertilizer, important new profit considerations.
  •   Hemp new to be raised to equality with flax for linen fiber.
  •   Means great reduction in cost of linens and vast increase in the supply.
  •   Means the development of great textile and cordage industries based on cheap and quantity production.
. . . [more about the flax industry ] . . . The Shely hemp break, invented by William A. Shely of Chicago, after many years of concentration on this one thing as his life work, was recently tested and demonstrated before interested parties.   Including growers and spinners, who pronounced it an unqualified success in the decorticating or separating of the fiber from the green or dried stalks, without crushing the fiber . .. [more]

Jan 6, 1924 pD13
-- New Corporation Commences Making Rope
-- Is Important Addition to Factory Group
-- Orange Concern First here to Weave Hemp

ORANGE. Jan. 5 – Adding to the hum of the Orange industrial district, which now boasts three major factory plants representing investments totaling more than $1,000,000, the Western Cordage Company, the only exclusive cordage factory in southern California, began operations last week giving employment to more than twenty-five workers, most of them trained in the business.

The plant, operating slowly at first, is turning out about 3000 pounds of rope a day.   Later, officials say, a double shift will be employed and the output increased to between 6000 and 7000 pounds a day, with a capacity of more than 200,000 pounds a month.

Another carload of machinery, consisting chiefly of additional finishing machines is now on route from Patterson, N.J.; schedule to arrive at Los Angeles harbor about the middle of this month.   Upon its arrival operations at the factory will be materially increased giving the plant additional “finishers.”

The factory, capitalized at $360,000, is engaged in the manufacture of the smaller, most popular lines of cordage running from paper-makers twine to one-inch manila rope, and convering in its scope, ropes of every description including marlines, hop twine, grape twine, lath yarn and other well-known makes.

Located on a three-acre site on Palm street near the Santa Fe trucks, the factory building, which is 100x136 feet, represents the latest in industrial plant construction.   All the machinery is mounted in solid concrete, eliminating unnecessary vibrations, while steel mesh windows on every side assure plenty of light and air, making for the comfort of the employees.

A warehouse, where raw materials are stored, is located at the rear of the main plant, the group occupying more than an acre of space.   The remaining two acres comprising the site are being retained for future expansion.

O.B. Eller, formerly plant manage of the Canada Western Cordage Company and president of the local plant, has been prominently identified in the cordage business for the last fifteen years, gaining an intimate knowledge of the game in England where he was connected in an executive capacity with two large cordage concerns. . . .[more]

SO WHAT HAPPENED?   Why didn’t hemp growth take off?   After all, weren't all the factors NOW favorable for hemp production; SO WHAT HAPPENED?   ONCE MORE, it was Reefer Madness. The following newspaper articles pretty much sum it all up.   And here note the dates --- most people forget that California was one of the first states to enact its very own anti-Medical Marihuana Laws -- Long before the Coming of Harry Anslinger.

Nov 30, 1927 pA10
-- State Narcotic Agents Tests Imperial Valley Crop
-- Suspects Marihuana Raised for Commercial Use
-- Will prohibit Cultivation I Analysis Proves Case

An investigation to determine whether hemp grown for commercial use as fiber is the narcotic-bearing kind commonly known as Indian hemp or marihuana, is being conducted by State narcotic law enforcement officers.   It was made known here yesterday by Frank H. Benson, chief of the narcotic division of the State Department of Pharmacy, upon his arrival after a survey of conditions in Imperial Valley.

Mr. Benson says he has samples of the commercial hemp and will have them analyzed at once.   If this variety of hemp should be found to have a strong narcotic content, he pointed out, a serious situation will result, because its control as a drug would be almost impossible if the ranchers continue to grow it.   It might result, he declared in the rapid spread of the marihuana smoking habit throughout the Southwest.

According to Mr. Benson, marihuana causes many dangerous forms of mania and its addicts are more feared by enforcement officers than the users of any other form of narcotics.   He says that his department has information that marihuana smoking has already been taken up by school children in this country to a greater extent than the use of any other drug.   One of its dangers, he said lies in the fact that it can be grown anywhere in the Southwest and therefore is much more easily obtained than opium or other drugs.

California has already passed legislation forbidding the growing of marihuana for any purpose and the only persons who can lawfully possess it are duly licensed druggist.   Mr. Benson said that he does not wish to interfere with legitimate industry, which he believes to be the intent of the Imperial Valley ranchers, but that if the hemp grown proves to be marihuana he will take steps to prohibit its cultivation.

Feb 5, 1928 pB8
Imperial Valley’s newest agricultural industry was on trial here yesterday when State Corporation Commissioner J. M. Friedlander and his assistant, H. A. I. Worch of Sacramento, conducted a hearing to determine whether or not a stock-selling permit should be granted to a group of business men for the purpose of growing hemp in this valley.   Opposition to the permit has developed from several sources.   Friedlander said, because hemp produces a narcotic known as marijuana.   Often used by dope addicts and especially by Mexicans.

The witnesses include Imperial Valley physician and peace officers who testified as to the effect of marijuana on those who used it and the result harm that might result if a large acreage is planted in the valley.

Dr. L. t. Pierce told the commission that hemp contained so small a percentage of the narcotic that it was hardly likely extensive plantings in the Imperial Valley would create a police problem.   Other witnesses were inclined to discount the seriousness of the problems.   Dirtrict recently passed a resolution indorsing the hemp-growing industry here.

The commission indicated that a final decision would be announced later.

AND NEEDLESS TO SAY (In the words of an old song) :

According to a NewsPaper account:

L.A.Times - Apr 22, 1928 pJ3 “Construction of Mill Insures Real Test of Hemp in Imperial”
  •   Hemp was first cultivated in California on a commercial scale in 1912 under irrigation at Lerdo, near Bakersfield, and a large acreage was grown in 1913.

  •   In 1927, interest was renewed because of improved decorticating machinery in use in Wisconsin and in Europe.

  •   The hemp market appears to have been rather unsatisfactory much of the time since 1920.   The high prices of 1924 and 1925 resulted in increased planting both in the United States and Italy, and prices went down.

  •   Hemp fiber is largely in demand for making burlap, twine, carpetwarp and more profitably, for imitation linen.

Below is a very partial listing of some newspaper headlines on the subject.   One can only imagine what would have happened if the anti-Medical Marihuana Laws had not gone into place.

[S]-   Nov 30, 1927 pA10 “Official Eye on Hemp Growers”
[S]-   Feb 5, 1928 pB8 “Valley Folk Seek to Block Hemp Raising”
[S]-   Mar 7, 1928 pA8 “Hemp Concern Hemmed in”
[S]-   Mar 10, 1928 p5 “Large Crop of Hemp Predicted”
[S]-   Apr 22, 1928 pJ3 “Construction of Mill Insures Real Test of Hemp in Imperial”

MOUNTAIN DEMOCRAT - Placerville, California
[S]-   April 16, 1936 "Hemp Growers Warned of Anti-Drug Rules" - a short

WOODLAND DAILY DEMOCRAT - Woodland, California
[S]-   May 8, 1919 p29 “Work Began Today on Ramie Farm at Davis; Local Men to Build for New York Capitalist” [Hemp]
[S]-   May 23, 1919 p1+ 8 “Great Industry About to Be Launched at Town of Davis” [Hemp]
[S]-   Jan 11, 1921 p5 “Expert Advises Yolo Ranchers Could Profit by Raising Hemp”
[S]-   Feb. 12, 1921 p1 “Deadly Marihuana Weed is Stolen From Davis Farm; 4 Drug Addicts are Arrested”
[S]-   Jan 13, 1922 p8 “Davis Hemp Project is Boosted”
[S]-   Feb 19, 1923 “Hemp, though Overlooked, Is One of Most Valuable of Crops Available in Cal.”
[S]-   April 3, 1923 p5 Short about a hemp machine
[S]-   April 13, 1923.p1 “Davis Hemp is Drug Producer; Warning given”

[1]- I long ago forgot its title, although I remember that it was written by a retired judge of some kind and that it’s blue cover showed a padre in the foreground and a sketch of a modern city in the background; representing the old and the new.


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