Weed Between the Lines: Marijuana in the 2020 Election

The orgy of partisan chaos that is the 2020 US election is still raging, but at this point, many results are clear. Among them is the legalization of recreational cannabis in four new states: Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. South Dakota also approved a medical cannabis system, and so did Mississippi, although recreational use is still not approved in the southern state.

The 2020 election added four new states with legal
recreational cannabis: AZ, MT, NJ, and SD.

With these results, the American West further entrenched itself as the vanguard region for cannabis politics, with Idaho the only state in the region that does not permit at least some kind of cannabis use. The Northeast is gaining steam as well, as are heavily populated Rust Belt states such as Michigan and Illinois.

Voter-approved weed in all these places looks a bit different. While Arizona’s measure provides for the immediate establishment of recreational sales within the state’s existing medical system, New Jersey’s measure only directs the state legislature to pass laws regulating the plant. South Dakota\’s law is similar in that it only provides for the establishment of a medical marijuana system and directs the legislature to “[set] the standards for legalizing the use of recreational marijuana.” The cannabis tax in South Dakota would be 15 percent, comparable to the rate in Colorado, which legalized in 2012. In Montana, voters approved a measure that would tax cannabis at 20 percent, higher than Colorado but lower than Washington’s 37 percent (WA also legalized in 2012). Montana’s relatively high tax rate basically ensures that the black market – including products procured in other legal states – will be Montanans” primary source for ganja until further notice.

In the context of the presidential race, cannabis appears to have no party affiliation. South Dakota and Montana went deep red, while Arizona flipped blue and New Jersey, as usual, was deep blue. The 2020 election affirms that cannabis may be the only truly bipartisan issue left among the American electorate.

Mandated LED lights – necessary regulation or bureaucratic overreach?

The state of California yesterday announced a proposal that, if enacted, would force all legal cannabis growers to switch to LED lighting by 2023. The proposal, now under consideration by the state’s public utility commission, comes on the heels of several new studies that more thoroughly document the excessive electricity use of indoor growing.

A typical indoor cannabis grow (Colorado Springs).

Sustainability is becoming more popular within the cannabis industry. But some growers in northern California are outraged by the LED proposal, arguing that it would cost them millions to upgrade their grow houses.

So, is California’s proposal a necessary one, given the increasing amount of data that points to indoor cannabis’s large carbon footprint, or is it going above and beyond reasonable regulation, as some of California’s growers allege?

High-Energy Cannabis: Made by Prohibition 

Whenever we discuss regulating the legal cannabis industry today, we must remember that today’s cultivation practices developed under prohibition, when growers faced huge fines and prison time for growing and adapted by developing sophisticated indoor growing systems. These often include not just energy-intensive halide lights but also fans, A/C units, and even carbon dioxide generators.

Some sustainability-minded growers have taken to using all-LED lighting for the plant’s “veggie” phase, where the plants grow out stems and leaves and have not yet flowered. More powerful lights, however, are required to push the plants through the flowering phase, where they develop the large flower clusters that will eventually become the final product (marijuana).

Cannabis plants in the “veggie” stage under LED lights (Fort Collins, CO).

This approach, however, is on a completely voluntary basis and is usually only possible for operations that have the capital to invest in new lighting technology. California, meanwhile, has the largest number of indoor grows in the country, as well as the largest concentration of illegal growers, so it makes sense that the state is turning to intensive regulation to address this growing environmental problem.

That is, it makes sense if LEDs are indeed the energy-saving boon that officials are claiming. But there are some scholars who dispute that. Evan Mills, arguably the nation’s leading researcher on cannabis-energy issues, writes that “the devil is in the details” with LEDs: “Peer-reviewed research suggests that marijuana grown under LEDs may take longer to mature and have lower yield, thus saving little if any energy,” because the lights must be on longer over each plant.

So now we have a situation where the state may be pushing growers too hard to do something that might not even have the benefits it thinks it will have; as usual, northern California growers are going to have to be convinced that they need more government regulation on top of the reams’ worth of rules they must currently follow.

Trust Issues 

Northern California growers, in particular, have a long history of opposing regulation designed to curb some of the social and environmental impacts of their industry. Their skepticism is based on repeated violations of trust, such as when Mendocino County leaked grower information collected in its 2011 “zip tie” program to the DEA, after promising not to.

Like the indoor cultivation model, the suspicion and noncompliance among California pot growers is a developed response to the heavy-handed and relentless enforcement by federal and state agencies over the last 40 years. Add to this the fact that most of these growers provide crucial economic support for their communities, and there is powerful incentive to oppose the kind of ambitious regulation reflected in an LED mandate.

So, while the state is pushing in the right direction with this lighting mandate, it is going to have to make (and keep) a whole lot of promises, and work harder than it might think it does, to earn the trust and compliance, of northern California growers.

Possible Solutions 

If the policy indeed goes through, perhaps some state-sponsored loan program to help growers meet the new lighting requirements would cultivate more support among small-time growers. There is some precedent for this, albeit in the more general, pandemic-driven bridge loans the state offered to small businesses (including cannabis growers) in April. Enacting a mandate without any kind of institutional support – the state saying, “let’s do this together, we’ll help you” – is simply going to be taken as an over-aggressive act against people just trying to get by.

Until growers in northern California can feel confident that their businesses won’t be unfairly burdened, they are unlikely to change their minds about the LED proposal, or any other widespread mandate, anytime soon.

That Time Twitter Spat Out the Ultimate Cannabis Reading List

Credit: Forbes

Twitter is mostly there to manipulate our emotions, harvest our data, and sabotage our politics. But the other day it actually did something pretty cool: it produced one of the best reading lists on cannabis I’ve seen in a while. Forbes writer Katie Shapiro got things started by Tweeting a link to her own list of favorite weed reads (where I was very grateful to see Grass Roots!).

Then, cannabis historian David A. Guba chimed in with some titles he thought had been overlooked. Others responded with their own books and recs, and voila, the most BA cannabis reading list in the last several years was born. Here it is, in its entirety, all because a growing community of cannabis writers decided to stave off the doldrums of quarantine on the world’s worst website.

First, Shapiro’s list (more info in her original post):

Now, throw in Guba’s academic additions, and some from the replies:

And finally, a set of my own recs, reviewed here and elsewhere:

Hemp for Victory: A Brief History – Part 2

In early 1944, while his countrymen still fought the Axis powers abroad, Senator Guy Gillette (D-IA) prepared for a political battle on the home front. Its first rumblings came from his constituents in the Heartland, but Gillette’s fight would be in the halls of Congress, and it would be over the government’s wartime hemp program.

Photo of Senator Guy Gillette of Iowa
US Senator Guy Gillette (D-IA)

In late February, the senator, who held a seat on the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, announced hearings “to investigate why the nation’s hemp industry, newly established at great expense, is being partially abandoned.” Gillette was skeptical of the War Production Board’s (WPB) explanation for the program’s reduction—the renewed availability of cheap foreign fibers after Allied victories at sea. Instead, he alleged that “the [M]idwest hemp program” was targeted “by people in WPB that have roots in an international jute and sisal cartel.”[1]

Gillette considered it suspicious that many of the government-funded hemp mills, initially ordered to be complete by September 1943, were still not in operation the following February. He cited one manager of an Iowa hemp plant, who allegedly wrote him saying “It is apparent that someone for some diabolical reason has prevented completion of the plants.”[2]A newspaper in Algona, Iowa—the site of a soon-to-be-shuttered hemp mill—echoed Gillette’s criticism, bitterly writing that the hemp program reflected “planning without foresight and without regard for the taxpayer’s money.”[3]

Hearings on Hemp
A list of the government\’s remaining hemp mills in 1944.

While Gillette’s frustration and skepticism were understandable, they had little basis in fact, as he would soon find out. The reality was that the WPB reduced the wartime hemp program for a number of practical reasons. For one, the program had produced more than enough hemp for the war effort; for another, the Allied defeat of German submarines in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean had allowed shipments of cheaper and more desirable fibers, including jute and sisal. There was never any evidence that WPB members had connections to international fiber cartels.

In the spring of 1944, federal officials attempted to clarify all this and put Gillette’s concerns to rest at a series of hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture and Forestry, of which Gillette was a member. At the hearings, Gillette told federal officials that Iowa farmers “have been well pleased with the work and the experience they have gained, and the return from this very profitable crop.” He asked, “Why are you cutting them off now after you have induced them to go into it? Why are you stopping it?”[4]

After War Production Board cordage chief Edwin Metcalf explained the re-introduction of foreign fibers to the supply chain, Arthur Howe, a WPB consultant, reassured the Senator that “we have not abandoned the hemp program. We will continue to grow hemp. We now have a nucleus of 42 mills. We now have more experience than we had before. That program expanded very rapidly, and if necessary we [will] recommend that it be expanded very rapidly.”[5]

At a later hearing, Iowa farmers testified to how quickly cannabis had become an important crop in their communities. Father Leo Entringer of Grundy Center told the committee that “our land in this neck of the woods has been mined. We need other crops. … it is up to us to get out and work hard and put in crops that will rebuild the soil by proper care, and I consider hemp as one of those crops.”[6]

Thomas Kenefick, a farmer from Eagle Grove, Iowa, argued that hemp had become “an integral part” of local communities. “These plants were put out on a patriotic basis,” he told the committee. “They have taken a place along with the other farm crops. They stabilize employment in the communities, and it would kind of unhinge things to see them just dropped without much reason for it.”[7]This echoed sentiments in other Midwestern communities; for example, after people near Lexington, Illinois, learned that their local hemp mill would be sold as surplus in 1945, they “expressed a wish that the mill might be continued in operation as a private industry during the peace years ahead.”[8]

Reactions from the Farm Belt
For many Midwestern farmers, hemp had
become an important part of their community
during World War II.

While people like Entringer and Kenefick were keen to keep their local hemp industry alive, others in Midwestern communities saw that the program had run its course. In February 1944, the Globe-Gazette in Mason City, Iowa, argued that criticism of the hemp cutback was “about as unfair as it could possibly be.” According to the paper, arguing that “we ought to go on raising vast quantities of hemp after the need for it has passed is like arguing that we ought to go on fighting this war after victory has been achieved.”[9]In Traer, Iowa, the Traer Star Clipperopined that “if the war outlook is so much better we should not mourn the loss of the hemp mill.”[10]

Still, there were clearly enough Midwesterners upset about the end of the program to warrant Senator Gillette’s attention. Some of the criticism was politically motivated. The Iowa GOP headquarters, for instance, declared that the hemp mills were “only a small part of many mistakes and much reckless spending” by a Democratic administration.”[11] Another Iowa paper “lamented” the program’s waste and conflated wartime projects with the New Deal, arguing that “farmers in the vicinity … more than likely feel that they have been given a raw deal by the new deal.”[12] In Indiana, a writer for the South Bend Tribune described the upcoming closure of Hoosier hemp plants as “another Roosevelt administration proposition … gone wrong.”[13]

A Private Industry?

For its part, War Hemp Industries, the government company that operated the mills, remained optimistic that the hemp program could become a viable peacetime industry. In January 1944, CEO Fred Butcher met with Iowa and Minnesota hemp plant managers in Mason City, Iowa, to announce “efforts to make hemp a permanent crop in the north central United States,” including a $30,000 “government grant to Iowa State College for such studies.”[14]

Later that year, the Subcommittee on Agriculture and Forestry discussed the findings of that program, as well as other research on hemp applications. Research at Iowa State found that most of the literature on hemp growing was in Italian or Russian journals, so American farmers and officials had a lot of catching up to do.[15] Meanwhile, research at the University of Wisconsin focused on breeding varieties of hemp for fabric and other non-cordage applications.[16]

Dr. O.E. Sweeney, an Iowa State professor of chemical engineering who participated in the college’s hemp study, told the committee that “hemp can be used for a great variety of things, if we could make it cheap enough.” He recommended feeding excess hemp material to cattle, and he showed a piece of hemp-derived insulation to demonstrate the fiber’s potential in building materials.[17]

Alas, after the Allied liberation of the Philippines in late 1944 and the end of the war in 1945, the government’s attention was removed from the potential hemp industry, and federal price supports stabilized the postwar farming economy.[18] In the end, there was simply not enough incentive, either on the part of government or farmers, to invest the time and resources required to revive the domestic hemp industry. With that, marijuana again became the major focus of government cannabis activity.

Return of the Marijuana Menace

The successful hemp program complicated postwar enforcement of the Marijuana Tax Act. In 1944, an article in the Courier of Waterloo, Iowa, reported that “30,000 acres” of marijuana had been “cut” in 1942, but the secretary of the state pharmacy board admitted that “farmers who raised hemp will have a continual fight to prevent patches of marijuana from springing up along creeks, in timber and along fence rows.”

Once it ceased to be a wartime necessity, hemp reverted back to its status as the dreaded source of \”marijuana.\” Here, GIs burn wild hemp near Denver, CO, in 1951.

Indeed, Midwestern authorities did have difficulty determining whether cannabis plants were intentionally planted marijuana or the natural progeny of wartime hemp plants. Those who tried to continue farming hemp ran up against the strict parameters of the Tax Act. In March 1945, the US Treasury Department sent a notice to hemp mill operators that “no hemp stalks could be legally transported from the farm to the mills unless all leaves were removed.” Some farmers protested, arguing that “such a process would not only injure the plant but would be so costly there would be no point in growing it.”[19] One farmer testified that he could think of “no instance … of anyone going into a hemp field and gathering the leaves for illicit purposes.”

Little did he know that in a couple decades there would be certain people who did just that, or that a “Johnny Pot” would be scattering cannabis seeds all over the country, leaving maps to wild patches of marijuana for his hippie followers.[20]


The saga of “Hemp for Victory” reflected the general uncertainty that accompanied life on the home front during World War II, as well as how the government’s attitude toward certain plants and substances can turn on a dime. It is ironic that, right after Federal Bureau of Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger spent years convincing Americans that cannabis was a fire-breathing menace to society, Midwestern farmers were then encouraged to plant thousands of acres of it. A recent article notes that Anslinger was aware of the government’s intent to create a wartime hemp program, but was instructed not to mention it in his public statements about marijuana.

While they may have gone along with anti-marijuana propaganda during peacetime years, rural Midwesterners’ unquestioning embrace of the wartime hemp industry suggests that, when it really came down to it, they did not view cannabis as the terrible thing that authorities often made it out to be.


[1]Ralph E. Young, “Gillette Group Will Probe Iowa Hemp Plant Cutdown,” The Courier (Waterloo, IA), February 25, 1944.
[3]“Throwing Money to the Winds,” The Algona Upper Des Moines, February 15, 1944.
[4] U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Subcommittee, Hearings on S. Res. 80: Utilization of Farm Crops (Fiber), 78 Cong., 2 sess., April 5, 7, 12, 21, May 3 and 19, 1944, p. 2513.
[5]Ibid., p. 2493, p. 2538.
[6]Ibid., p. 2831-32.
[7]Ibid, p. 2833.
[8]“Future is Doubtful For the Hemp Crop,” The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), November 15, 1945, p. 13.
[9]“Our Hemp Critics,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City, IA), February 8, 1944, p. 9.
[10]“Hemp Project Debated,” The Courier (Waterloo, IA), January 30, 1944, p. 4.
[11]“G.O.P. Hits Profit On Hemp Plants,” Des Moines Tribune, January 25, 1944, p. 14.
[12]“Waste Lamented,” Toledo (IA) Chronicle, in “Hemp Project Debated,” The Courier (Waterloo, IA), January 30, 1944, p. 4.
[13]“Hemp Plants Built by U.S. To Close Soon,” The South Bend Tribune, January 18, 1944, p. 13.
[14] “Would Make Hemp Permanent Crop in Northcentral U.S.,” The Courier Sun (Waterloo, IA), January 23, 1944, p. 12.
[15] U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Subcommittee, Hearings on S. Res. 80: Utilization of Farm Crops (Fiber), 78 Cong., 2 sess., April 5, 7, 12, 21, May 3 and 19, 1944, p. 2820.
[16]Ibid., 2821.
[17]Ibid., 2825.
[18] US Department of Agriculture, “History of Agricultural Price-Support and Adjustment Programs, 1933-84,” Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 485 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, December 1984), p. 17.
[19]“Marijuana Rule Hits Hemp Farms,” Chippewa Herald Telegram, May 25, 1945, p. 2.
[20]Nick Johnson, Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2017), p. 83-4.

Weed All About It: A Survey of Cannabis Media at Decade’s End

As the end of the 2010s approaches, we can’t be certain whether the recent wave of cannabis legalization will continue into the next decade. But we can certainly say that the 2010s was the best decade for the plant and those who consume it in modern history: after the unprecedented expansion of medical marijuana laws in the early aughts, the US states of Colorado and Washington kicked off the full legalization party in 2012, and it didn’t stop rolling until eleven states legalized by the end of the decade. Even Canada got in on the action, and although Mexico won’t legalize before 2020, its Supreme Court has declared cannabis prohibition unconstitutional.

Cannabis proponents also scored big when the US government finally legalized industrial hemp in 2018 and is now considering a full legalization bill that actually made it out of a Congressional committee for the first time ever.

In another break with tradition, mainstream outlets that were traditionally prohibitionist have added cannabis editors and sections to keep pace with these developments. The cannabis industry also has its own media world that’s been developing alongside it. Gone are the days when tight-lipped tokers combed the pages of taboo magazines for advice on janky basement grows—now, whether you grow, smoke, invest, or continue to protest, there is a cannabis source waiting to inform you.

But as with everything capitalism touches, more choices doesn’t always mean more great choices. So here’s a distilled list of some of the most popular cannabis publications, complete with grades based on my own blend of criteria that combines the basic bones of readability, trustworthiness, and accuracy, as well as some kind of intangible allure that I’m going to call “sesh appeal.” (translation: it’s totally subjective, folks)


High Times

We’ll start with the ol’ geezer itself. Founded by underground journalist and pot activist Tom Forcade in 1974, High Times remains a popular source for veteran enthusiasts, mixing its trademark how-to-grow columns and bud centerfolds with features on the biggest influencers in cannabis business and culture. However, the publication that once served as the cornerstone of an underground cultural movement has largely abandoned its subversive, crusader tone; with little to complain about legislatively, High Times now reads more like Newsweek than Jacobin. Though it still offers decent content, there are grave concerns about the magazine’s ability to survive with so many digital competitors. Grade: B+



Image result for leaflyLeafly hasn’t been around as long as High Times, but it was one of the first digital hubs for cannabis content. Directed at consumers as well as curious readers, Leafly was founded in 2010, during the rapid expansion of medical marijuana in the US. With its distinctively branded website and app, it has subsequently exploded into one of the premier platforms for cannabis news, facts, and product information. Its unique and rather comprehensive database of dispensaries acts as a digital mesh that links consumers to the industry, which might cause some to be skeptical of its news content.

Leafly was smart to head this off by hiring veteran journalist and cannabis author Bruce Barcott as deputy editor in late 2015. A cannabis skeptic-turned-believer, Barcott and his talented reporting team have brought high standards to Leafly’s news coverage. Earlier this year, Leafly managed to do something almost unheard of for a “trade” publication—it broke several importantstories related to the vaping illness scare. It has also provided important context and advice for those looking to avoid getting scammed in the Wild West-style CBD market. By incorporating high-quality, professional journalism into its platform, Leafly seems to reflect a self-conscious industry determined to show it has nothing to hide, despite the optics of hosting news and reviews of pot strains on the same site. So far it has paid off, mostly thanks to the rigorous work of Barcott and his team. Grade: A+


DOPE Magazine

The title of this magazine is actually an acronym for its mantra, “Defending Our Plant Everywhere,” which seems, well, defensive. I get that the magazine is out to combat the still-widespread stigma, but these days I’m not sure that the plant really needs “defending”; on the contrary, it is propelling a lucrative industry that a clear majority of Americans support and is on the brink of federal legalization—so if the plant needs anything, maybe it is more offense? The glossy, high-res pages of DOPE are replete with Chanel-like ads for fancy, expensive cannabis products, suggesting that the magazine is aimed at a more sophisticated (erhem, wealthy) consumer. Despite its bougie appearance and somewhat confused mission statement, DOPE Magazine does offer interesting profiles of industry leaders and some good longform feature pieces written by veteran journalists (although you have to subscribe to read most of them). It is a generally reliable publication, even if it tries a bit too hard. Grade: C+


Marijuana Moment

Image result for marijuana momentWith content written and curated by editor and veteran activist Tom Angell, Marijuana Moment is like an RSS feed for breaking cannabis news, especially in policy and politics. Angell keeps his sizable Twitter following in the know, collecting the most important and current headlines in his frequent “newsletter” Tweets. His adept use of social media has carved out a decent digital niche for his publication, and although it obviously reflects its editor’s pro-cannabis stance, Marijuana Moment is no-nonsense, informative, and honest enough. Despite the scoffing of some critics, Angell’s work and that of Leafly have proven so far that activism, industry support, and good journalism can all coexist, if the right standards are applied and the right barriers are put in place. Grade: A


Cannabis Culture

Image result for cannabis cultureCannabis Culturewas founded in 1994 by Marc Emery, a Canadian activist whose claim to fame was his multiple arrests for violating Canadian cannabis laws. Emery’s publication began as a newsletter, transitioned into a magazine, and then in 2009 became an exclusively digital product. The site’s scrolling lineup of cannabis news pieces is decent enough; its content is more accessible than DOPE, yet not as cohesive as Leafly or as punctual as Marijuana Moment.

However, at least for me, it is difficult to separate the magazine’s content from the abusive workplace culture propagated by its founder, who is accused of sexually harassing and assaulting female employees at his Canadian dispensaries (which share the same name as his magazine). Although Cannabis Culture has undoubtedly contributed to cannabis’s acceptance in Canada and launched the careers of many activists, there remain many better sources for cannabis information that don’t perpetuate the legacy of an attention-seeking misogynist like Emery. Grade: D



Image result for ganjapreneurAs one might immediately guess, Ganjapreneur is solely focused on cannabis entrepreneurs and the growing legal industry. Apropos: You can filter the site’s news content by market. If you’re looking to start a cannabis business, Ganjapreneur is a major resource gateway, offering advice culled from experts on cultivation, extraction, security, packaging, and marketing. However, this is not the site I’d go to for balanced news content, as it includes a hub for industry press releases, and its actual news content is a far cry from the aggressive, vetted journalism of Leafly and Marijuana Moment. Grade: B


Thus ends my survey of a few of the most popular cannabis publications out there—and there are a lot. There are also some decent podcasts, although not being a particularly intense podcast consumer, I don’t really feel comfortable making recommendations. For my money (or not, because it’s free), Leafly is the standout cannabis news publication of the 2010s, based on its rigorous standards and elite reporting talent. At times, Leafly as shown better respect for the facts surrounding cannabis than even the New York Times or The New Yorker, two well-respected outlets that are nonetheless prone to dubious head-scratchers about the nation’s most controversial crop.

Here’s to another decade of discerning quality media in the cannabis space!

Mapping Hemp for Victory, 1942-45

In early 1942, with foreign fiber supplies cut off by the Axis powers, the US Department of Agriculture and War Production Board launched a domestic hemp program to supply hemp fiber for military use. Thousands of Midwestern farmers signed up to grow hemp and enjoyed high prices for the crop thanks to government demand and price supports. This map shows the 42 hemp processing factories built in small towns across five Midwestern states between 1943-44. The plants took in the raw hemp crop from surrounding farms, extracted and baled the fiber, and shipped it out to other factories where it was made into rope, rigging, parachute cords, and other military essentials. It took about a year to process the previous year\’s hemp crop, so most factories did not finish processing the 1943 hemp crop until the end of 1944.

Explore the map above by clicking on the markers. Each marker represents the approximate site of a hemp processing plant. Light blue markers indicate a factory that only processed one hemp crop (1943), while dark blue markers indicate a plant that remained open through 1945 to process the 1944 crop. Clicking on the markers brings up photos and additional information about the plants (as much as could be found in contemporary reports).

The shuttered government hemp mill in Lexington, IL, 1945.

In 1944 the program was cut back by about 60 percent due to oversupply and renewed shipments of foreign fibers, such as Manila hemp, sisal, and jute. Despite the cutback, many farmers and their elected representatives, as well as the hemp program’s federally appointed officials, called for continuation of hemp cultivation after 1945. The lower price and superior quality of foreign fibers eventually prevailed, however, and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics also helped quash the nascent industry when it refused to exclude hemp in its postwar enforcement of the Marijuana Tax Act.

This map will be updated as new information becomes available.

Map © 2019 by Nick Johnson

Hemp for Victory: A Brief History – Part 1

Despite being one of the most important wartime projects in national history, the US government’s World War II hemp program (1942-45), often referred to as “Hemp for Victory,” is still not well understood. Few professional historians have paid much attention to it, leaving cannabis activists and other non-professionals to fill the void.

This activist literature regularly trots out “Hemp for Victory” to point out the hypocrisy of cannabis prohibition, but it rarely discusses the actual history of the hemp program. With American hemp now legal again via the 2018 Farm Bill and production returning to levels not seen since World War II, the time seems right for historians to dig back in and see just what was going on in America’s hemp-filled heartland from 1942 to 1945.

Why did the WWII hemp program come about, and how did it function? Why didn’t the renewed hemp industry continue after the war, and what did contemporaries say about it? Based on a recent review of hundreds of contemporary news reports and other sources[1], I attempt to answer these questions in an updated, 2-part history of the program. Today’s post tells the story of the program’s origins and implementation; part 2 will explore the program’s decline and how it fit into the political, agricultural, and economic history of the postwar United States.


Mature hemp plants in USDA
Farmers\’ Bulletin 1935 (1943).

As the activist literature correctly points out, “Hemp for Victory” came just five years after most cannabis production was effectively prohibited nationwide by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. However, far from its oft-understood goal of quashing the hemp industry, historian William B. McCallister argues that the Tax Act was secretly designed to leave the door open for just such an industry, in case foreign fiber supplies were endangered by Japanese aggression in the Pacific during the 1930s:

“Anticipating the insufficiencies of even the most extensive conservation-substitution program, prescient war planners recognized by the mid-1930s that massive domestic cultivation of hemp would likely be necessary.”

While it did not enact an outright ban on the crop, the Tax Act required strict licensing and extensive reporting from those who would buy, sell, or produce cannabis, and it laid down harsh penalties for violating terms of the license. By coupling strict requirements with harsh consequences, the Tax Act so discouraged legal cannabis activity that it did, indeed, function like a ban. During Congressional hearings for the Tax Act, representatives from the birdseed industry—the only major hemp-dependent industry at the time—voiced their fears that the law might run them out of business. Lawmakers countered by offering the industry a loophole: hemp birdseed could still be produced, but it would need to be heat-sterilized before it went to market.

Despite hemp’s historical importance as a fiber crop in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century US, there was only a very small hemp fiber industry at this time, so nobody showed up to defend the crop at the hearings. According to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and USDA, hemp leaves and flowers were a source of marijuana, and so only the stalk was exempt from the Marijuana Tax Act.[2] This allowed the nation’s few hemp producers to keep operating, but it was a death knell for many stands of feral hemp that occupied vacant lots and other weedy corners of the country. Helped by local law enforcement and citizens, federal agents conducted “anti-marijuana” drives that pulled up “wild” hemp plants as noxious weeds. Meanwhile, the nation’s fiber needs were met by cheap imported fibers, primarily Manila hemp (Musa textilis) from the Philippines and henequen (Agave fourcroydes) from the Mexican Yucatán.

Searching for Substitutes

Then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941, followed by the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in January 1942. In the Atlantic, prowling German submarines stemmed the flow of goods from the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Committed to a war that required a well-outfitted Navy, the United States and its Allies now had to reconsider their source of nautical rope and rigging. Just days after Manila fell to the Japanese, the US, Great Britain, and Canada formed a “Raw Material Purchase Board” to buy raw materials for arms production as well as “seek alternative sources of rubber, tin, tungsten, hemp, and other vital supplies.”[3]
Graphic showing effects of war on imported materials, Great Falls (IA) Tribune, January 2, 1942

As mentioned above, the US government “had recognized the growing tension in the Pacific” before its entry into World War II and anticipated a fiber shortage. When the shortage materialized, the government’s search for replacement fiber sources included experiments with yucca plants in the southwest, transplanting Manila hemp to Central and South America, and planting sisal in Florida.[4] Among these alternatives, it was determined that “American hemp, Cannabis sativa, was the most satisfactory substitute that could be quickly produced.” On January 7, not even a week after the source of Manila hemp was compromised, the USDA announced plans to plant 30,000 acres of hemp in the “dark-fired tobacco and blue grass belts” of Kentucky and Tennessee.[5] 

Growing a Federal Hemp Program

The Kentucky and Tennessee hemp was grown not for fiber, but for seed, which would supply a new, government-backed hemp industry in the Midwest.[6] Commissioned by the War Production Board, the program largely functioned through the USDA and its financing arm, the federal Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC, est. 1933)[7]. In January 1942, the War Production Board banned the use of domestic hemp seed for birdseed or “any purpose except for the growing of hemp fibre,” and called for “Midwest farmers to grow a new cash crop.”[8] 

Interestingly, not all wartime hemp production was initiated by the government. Soon after Pearl Harbor, associates of the Minnesota entrepreneur V.A. Batzner traveled to Washington, DC, to inquire about starting a private hemp business that would furnish the Navy; they “were given lots of encouragement and cooperation to go ahead,” and Batzner incorporated the Minnesota Hemp Company in early 1942.[9] Additionally, at least two private hemp manufacturers in Wisconsin  expanded operations to meet wartime demand.[10]

Later that year, the USDA released the short film “Hemp for Victory,” and the CCC began contracting with farmers in five states—Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin—to meet the USDA’s goal of 300,000 acres planted in 1943 (the CCC paid for the farmers’ registration under the Marijuana Tax Act). Meanwhile, the CCC signed a contract with War Hemp Industries, Inc., a subsidiary of the federal Defense Plant Corporation (est. 1940), to manage 42 hemp processing plants that would be built near Midwestern hemp farms and prepare the harvested crop for its transformation into nautical rope, twine, canvas, parachute strings, and other products.[11]

Why those states? Of the five, only Wisconsin had a recent history of hemp fiber production. The USDA recommended hemp “as a good crop for the Corn Belt States, because of their favorable climate and soil conditions.” Indeed, a map of the 42 government hemp mills neatly overlaps with the heaviest corn-producing areas:

Left: Map of hemp processing mills, 1942-45 (prepared by author). Right: Map of corn farms, 1940 (USDA ag census).

Delivering the Goods

The federal hemp program’s productivity over the course of 1943-44 confirmed that the Corn Belt was a natural fit for the fiber crop. Iowa, which had no hemp acreage in 1942, set a goal of 60,000 acres by 1943 and hosted 11 mills.[12] Indiana’s 1943 target was 20,000 acres, but Hoosiers only planted around 8,000 and received only 2 mills.[13] Farmers in Illinois and Minnesota contracted for enough acreage to serve 11 mills in each state. Wisconsinites planted 31,000 acres[14] to serve 8 mills. Individual farmers, especially those who managed to produce high-quality fiber, saw exceptional profits that ranged from about $50 to upwards of $200 per acre, a price fetched by few other agricultural commodities at the time.

Harvesting hemp by machine near Polo, Illinois, 1944. Dixon
, October 20, 1944.

Overall, in just two crops—1943 and 1944—the nation harvested approximately 186,000 acres of hemp, providing more than enough raw material for military needs.[15] In fact, the government had so much surplus hemp after the 1943 harvest that it had to pay American cord manufacturers to “absorb a portion of the domestic hemp supply.”[16]

By the winter of 1943, Midwestern hemp farmers were busily delivering the final bushels of hemp to their local mills. Marveling at their new, profitable industry, they were anxious to plant more acreage the next year.[17]But by January 1944, Allied forces had eliminated the German submarine threat in the Atlantic. With jute and other foreign fibers again coming in from the Mediterranean and Caribbean, the government greatly reduced the domestic hemp industry in 1944.[18]Of the 42 Midwestern hemp mills either in operation or under construction, 28 were shuttered, and program acreage was reduced by about 60 percent.[19]

As in other wartime industries, women worked at government hemp plants across the Midwest. Here, women working at the mill in Hampton, Iowa, wear masks to protect themselves from dust & particulates while they pull separated hemp fibers through the steel teeth of a straightener. Once straightened, the hemp fibers were baled and shipped to other factories to be made into rope and other products. Des Moines Register, December 9, 1945, p. 58.

The abrupt downsizing of the domestic hemp industry apparently took Midwestern farmers by surprise, and many reacted angrily. After all, they had spent the last year learning all they could about hemp, not to mention performing the intense labor of cultivating, harvesting, and processing it. They were paid well for that work, and with a season under their belts, they simply weren’t ready to stop doing it.

This political backlash and the fate of America’s wartime hemp industry are the subjects of Part 2. Stay tuned!


[1]Special thanks to the folks at the Reefer Madness Museum and Hempology.org for digitizing and making available important documents related to the hemp program.
[2] B.B. Robinson, “Hemp,” Farmers’ Bulletin no. 1935 (US Department of Agriculture, 1943), p. 2.
[3] “Critical War Supplies Come By Sea Route,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 2, 1942, p. 34; “Raw Material Purchase Board Set Up By U.S., Canada and Britain,” Albuquerque Journal, January 6, 1942, p. 3.
[4] Charles T. Lucey, “Plane-Planted Rubber, Hemp Studied by U.S.,” Pittsburgh Press, January 12, 1942, p. 28; Jack R. Beardwood, “Latin America May Prove Source for Many Scarce Materials Needed by U.S.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 25, 1942, p. 14; “Hemp Experiments,” Pensacola News Journal, January 11, 1942, p. 4.
[5] “State, Kentucky Hemp Crop Planned,” The Tennessean, January 8, 1942, p. 9.
[6] Nellie Kenyon, “Big Field of Marijuana Here Not for Smoking; It’s Farmer’s Contribution to U.S. War Effort,” The Tennessean, October 18, 1942, p. 10-D.
[7] Robert Marsh, \”The Illinois Hemp Project at Polo in World War II,\” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 60, no. 4 (Winter 1967), p. 391-410. See also “Good Profit With Hemp Crop Indicated by Growers’ Books,” The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), December 12, 1942, p. 10.
[8] “Growing of Hemp Urged in Midwest; Shortage Brings Ban on Feeding Seed to Canaries,” Minneapolis Star, January 25, 1942, p. 21.
[9] Hearing Before the Committee on Finance, United States Senate, Seventy-Ninth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 2348, An Act to Provide for the Coverage of Certain Drugs Under the Federal Narcotics Laws, May 24, 1945 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1945), p. 8-9.
[10]Ibid., p. 6-8.
[11] “Tax-Financed New Industry to Be Shelved,” Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1944, p. 23.
[12] “Tentative 1943 Farm Goals,” Des Moines Register, December 2, 1942.
[13] “Sites for 5 Hemp Plants Selected,” The Indianapolis News, November 26, 1942; Tom Maddox, “Businessmen Farm Hemp,” (Report from Remington, IN) Cincinnati Enquirer, July 12, 1943
[14] “State Hemp Crop Four Times More Than Last Year’s,” Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, WI), August 5, 1943.
[15] Hearing Before the Committee on Finance, United States Senate, Seventy-Ninth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 2348, An Act to Provide for the Coverage of Certain Drugs Under the Federal Narcotics Laws, May 24, 1945 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1945), p. 10-11.
[16] “11,000 Tons of Hemp Are Processed,” Humboldt Independent (IA), August 29, 1944
[17] For example, see “Hemp Payment Checks Arrive,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City, IA), February 11, 1944, p. 3; “Ripon Group Trying to Keep Factory Running,” Marshfield (WI) News-Herald, March 4, 1944, p. 2.
[18]See, for instance, “No More Hemp to Be Produced For Lexington, Minonk Mills,” The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), January 20, 1944, p. 11; Hearing Before the Committee on Finance, United States Senate, Seventy-Ninth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 2348, An Act to Provide for the Coverage of Certain Drugs Under the Federal Narcotics Laws, May 24, 1945 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1945), p. 10-11.
[19] \”Tax Financed New Industry to be Shelved,\” Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1944, p. 23.


Welcome to Hempirical Discussions! In this podcast segment of the blog, I\’ll share my conversations with important and influential people in the cannabis world. My guests and I will talk about all things cannabis, including history, prohibition and social justice, the environment, legal and political debates, weed culture, science, medicine, and more!


01 – Adam Vine, Cage-Free Cannabis

Vine, a co-founder of Cage-Free Cannabis, discusses his work with legal cannabis businesses to repair some of the damage done to minority communities during the War on Drugs.

02 – Jacob Levine, author

Levine, author of Cannabis Discourse: Facts & Opinions in Context (2018), talks about his book-length attempt to understand the warped discourse surrounding cannabis and how to critically evaluate information about one of the world\’s most popular and controversial plants.

03 – Joy Smith, founder of Joy Organics

Smith, founder of Joy Organics, a CBD product shop in Fort Collins, Colorado, talks about her experience with CBD, current and upcoming product lines, company values, and her philosophy on cannabis treatment.

Hempirical Discussions, Ep. 3: Joy Smith, Joy Organics

On today\’s episode of the podcast I\’m talking with Joy Smith, founder of Joy Organics, a seller of cannabidiol products in Fort Collins, Colorado. Cannabidiol, most commonly referred to as CBD, is one of dozens of unique compounds in cannabis plants. Plenty of anecdotal evidence and recent research suggests that CBD is one of the most medically valuable of those compounds, useful in treating conditions ranging from insomnia to rheumatoid arthritis. CBD products are becoming more popular because they contain almost no trace of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychotropic compound in marijuana, meaning that people can get many of the benefits of medical marijuana without getting high.

After trying some CBD products in Florida to help her insomnia, Smith decided to leverage her family\’s considerable resources to open her own CBD shop in Colorado. The CBD in her products comes from a special variety of hemp that is grown organically in La Junta, Colorado. As a fellow Fort Collins resident, I had the opportunity to visit Joy at her new store and talk about her own experience with CBD, current and upcoming product lines, company values, and her philosophy on cannabis treatment.

Some highlights from our conversation, after the jump.

NJ: Can you give a general description of CBD and what people might use it for?
JS: Cannabidiol, CBD, comes from, at least our plant that we use, [a plant that] looks identical to the marijuana plant. The industrial hemp plant is tall, thin, and kind of stocky. But our plant is called a PCR hemp plant, so it’s phytocannabinoid-rich: very high in CBD, low in THC, it is a proprietary blend that has been perfected over the last ten years.
CBD comes from the plant and is good for a number of things. We have what are called endocannabinoid receptors in our body, so when you take a CBD [product], we have the receptors to receive what we need whether it’s for your immune system, anti-nausea, inflammation, pain. You said it’s not psychoactive in your introduction, but CBD actually is psychoactive; it’s not psychotropic. It does work with the neurotransmitters; it does affect your mood, it does help with anxiety and depression.

NJ: What is your background with CBD/cannabis and what led you to open this shop?
JS: I don’t have a background in this. I have always been a holistic person interested in a natural approach to health. My husband has been in the health industry for 28 years.
What happened was I used CBD for the first time this spring to help me sleep, and the first night I took it I slept through the night, which for me was crazy. … I would fall asleep but then I would wake up a couple hours later and then be up for 3 hours. … At the time my oldest son was looking for something, he came to visit us, he was looking for a new business. He’s been in the online marketing business for 13 years … and he came to visit us in Florida and I was having a hard time sleeping. I had just come back from a trip to Africa; I was gone for three weeks; I had injured my shoulder; I was a mess and he said, “have you tried CBD?” He had started investigating the industry. So we went to a shop in Florida, got some CBD, and the rest is history, really. From that experience my oldest son Jared started talking to my husband about going into business.
My husband is busy; he didn’t want to do anything with another business. … so we started investigating manufacturers, doing our own market research, and came up with the manufacturer that we feel is the best in the industry right now for a full spectrum, organic, THC-free product. … The manufacturing facility is in Colorado Springs and their fields are in La Junta.

NJ: Many people in the medical cannabis world advocate for a holistic cannabis treatment, combining THC with CBD. What is your view on that?
JS: I honestly don’t know, as far as what the THC is good for, besides getting high. I know there’s good properties in that plant, but the CBD is good for a number of things like I mentioned.
We won’t ever have THC in our products, and I don’t think you need it. … we get the entourage effect with our CBD and our terpenes. So I won’t carry the THC products; I do want to target children, those who might have drug tests and wouldn’t want THC.

NJ: What are some of the main sources that inform your approach here?
JS: I wouldn’t say just one thing; we’ve been reading non-stop from the time we [started] researching. … When you’re reading stuff—and we were brand new to this industry—you’re having conflicting stories from one person, somebody else, it’s kind of like you have to filter out all this stuff. I feel like we’ve gotten more information from our own chief scientist on our product and how our product works, than anywhere else. There wasn’t one source.

NJ: How did you locate your grower and manufacturer, and how do you ensure that your products are environmentally responsible?
JS: We did a lot of research. When we started in the spring researching who does this, we collaborated with a friend who already had 2 years’ experience researching these companies. … we found the company that met the criteria—organic, full spectrum, no THC—for us. And I’ve been down there. I’ve been to the farms. I’ve seen their practices. I guess there’s a trust level. I haven’t seen lab reports on them being organic like I have [to ensure] there’s no THC in there, but I trust them.

NJ: What in your experience are some of the most common misconceptions about CBD?
JS: The biggest one is “am I gonna get high?” Can I drive? Even just giving a little sample of 4 milligram CBD, people ask “am I gonna be able to drive?”

NJ: How do you combat those misconceptions?
JS: Mostly everyone who comes in, there’s an education process. I’m gonna work on some videos that we’ll have on the website that will educate, [about CBD] and also just [about] each of our products and how they’re used. But you definitely have to educate.

NJ: What are people coming in here asking for?

JS: Relief from pain, relief from inflammation, a lot of arthritis, diabetes, neuropathy, anxiety is a big one – probably anxiety and sleep are the top two. Some people come in and they’ve used CBD, they’ve used THC before, some haven’t. I would say sleep and anxiety are the two. This week … one guy came in for his wife who has RA (rheumatoid arthritis), and she’s actually taking the 25 milligrams (CBD) with curcumin in it, which is known for anti-inflammation. I had another guy come in for his wife who has cancer, this is I think his third time, and it’s just helping her through the treatment process.

NJ: How specifically did you want to differentiate your products from others out there?
JS: Our manufacturer was a big one for us—organic, full-spectrum, no THC. I feel like our branding is classy, and we wanted a classy look. A lot of stuff out there isn’t, and that’s fine, but we wanted to be set apart.
We’re working on a face line, a face cream. I don’t look at it as cosmetic, but it’s an eye cream, a day and night cream, and a face serum.
… We’re also working on a vape. We’ll be the only vape that is organic, full-spectrum, THC-free. … For anxiety or pain management, that’s instant. That’s the number one way to receive your CBD, so I feel like that’s going to set us apart. 

"Big Marijuana" may not be such a big deal after all

\”Big Marijuana\” is a concept that sprouts over and over again in current discussions about legal weed. The idea that several large marijuana producers will soon dominate America\’s newest and most profitable industry, leaving a trail of bankrupt mom-and-pop outfits in their wake, is continuously alluded to by cannabis advocates, opponents, and third-party analysts alike.

The immense value of the cannabis industry and our nation\’s long history of commodifying nature makes \”Big Marijuana\” a compelling concept. But in an upcoming book based on a swath of recent research, Concordia University law professor Ryan Stoa provides equally compelling evidence that not only is a \”Big Marijuana\” situation unlikely, but states and the federal government have viable options to prevent a corporate takeover of the cannabis industry. Stoa\’s Craft WeedFamily Farming and the Future of the Marijuana Industry (MIT Press) is slated for release later this year.

Craft Weed, an upcoming MIT Press book, suggests
that \”Big Marijuana\” may not pan out the way many
observers think.

\”The fear is that with federal legalization, you\’ll have any number of players – Big Ag, Big Pharma, Silicon Valley – someone will come in and build these giant warehouses or plant these enormous crops of marijuana,\” Stoa said.

But Stoa argues that this fear rests on problematic assumptions about both the plant itself and the current makeup of the legal cannabis industry.

First, Stoa says that the specter of Big Weed \”depends on there being one marijuana, one generic marijuana\” that a company could patent and then mass-produce.

But under prohibition, clandestine breeding and experimentation has so far produced nearly 800 – and likely more – different varieties of marijuana, making it by far the most genetically diverse crop in modern American agriculture. As a result, today\’s marijuana consumer is used to a tailor-made experience: walking into their local dispensary and selecting from an array of different strains that have their own distinct flavor or effects.

From a legal perspective, this means that it will be very difficult for a giant cannabis company to patent any specific strain.

\”When you attempt to acquire intellectual property rights, you can\’t do so if [a strain] has been in the public domain,\” Stoa said. \”Because all these strains are already out there, it will be hard for people to go out and claim that, for instance, Sour Diesel was their invention. It would be hard for a company to step in and buy all the patents on the genetic aspect of marijuana.\”

A second major obstacle to \”Big Marijuana\” is the current landscape of cannabis production, which is dominated by small-scale producers who currently possess a great deal of social and political clout. Unlike large, bureaucracy-laden corporations, smaller outfits are able to quickly adapt to consumer demand and grow the latest popular strain.

\”The challenge for a lot of these really big operations is that they\’re not as nimble as these smaller farms,\” Stoa said.

States and the federal government could also call on a familiar regulatory apparatus to protect smaller cannabis operations. The appellation system, in which an agricultural product is given a specific designation of origin, has protected small winemakers for generations, Stoa argues.

Law professor and cannabis scholar Ryan Stoa.

Winemakers in California\’s Napa Valley or France\’s Rhone Valley enjoy a unique set of conditions that produce a distinct type of grape and wine. To help them retain this brand identity, the California and French governments have a set of product standards and other rules in place so that producers elsewhere cannot claim their wines are \”Napa\” or \”Rhone\” quality. In the United States, these protected regions are called \”American Viticultural Areas,\” or AVAs.

Similarly, Stoa suggests that marijuana appellations be called \”American Cannabicultural Areas,\” or ACAs – regions where a distinct kind of bud is grown, and where its producers are protected from having a larger company co-opt their brand. In northern California, long a hotbed of cannabis cultivation, Humboldt County might be among the most obvious beneficiaries of an appellation model for cannabis. Colorado, where high altitude and large temperature swings make for potent greenhouse marijuana, may be another potential ACA.

Of course, Stoa admits that there will still be demand for mass-produced, low-quality cannabis, just as there is demand for cheap, mass-produced wine or beer. But under the protection of appellations, Napa wines survive alongside giant companies like E&J Gallo. Stoa says there\’s no reason why large cannabis producers could not coexist with smaller, more local and craft-type cannabis.

\”Increasingly, people are willing to pay more for beer that doesn\’t suck,\” Stoa said. \”A lot of people who are into marijuana want it to be good. They want it to be as positive of an experience as possible, and that comes from the artisan model.\”