Friday, December 3, 2010

The Biotechnology of Cannabis Sativa

The Biotechnology of Cannabis Sativa
Written by Sam R. Zwenger, April, 2009


Marijuana, whose scientific name is Cannabis sativa, is perhaps the most famous plant ever discovered by humans. Since its discovery it has been used by millions of people for both inducing pleasure and alleviating pain.Cannabis has a rich history, complex biology and a fascinating physiology.

Molecular biology and plant biotechnology are only beginning to uncover the secrets of this plant. Scientists now have the opportunity to growCannabis plants in vitro (in a test tube or Petri dish), thereby being able to genetically modify these plants in dozens of ways. FluorescentCannabis, THC-producing roses,Cannabis that climbs like a vine, and phenomenal increases in branch number and flower size are only a few of the ways in which this plant can be enhanced through biotechnology.

The tools of biotechnology, such as DNA sequencing and gene cloning, are speeding up the reality that this highly controversial plant will continue to make an impact on human societies for generations to come. This book covers advances and techniques on how to grow plant tissue in vitro, genetically modify this tissue, and re-grow it in order to produce a transgenic Cannabis plant. Anyone who wants to know what the future holds for Cannabis sativa and marijuana should read this book.

A Cannabis callus that has been genetically modified with the GFP gene is shown growing in a Magenta box. When its roots, shoot and leaves have further developed, it can be placed in soil and moved to a growth chamber.

New GMO Plants Grow Pharmaceutical Drugs

New Genetically Modified Plants Grow Pharma Drugs

Chemists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a process of genetically engineering plants to produce synthetic compounds.

The team of researchers, headed by Associate Professor Sarah O’Connor, added bacterial genes to the periwinkle plant, which enabled it to attach halogens (such as chlorine or bromine) to alkaloids, a class of compounds that are normally produced in the plant.

“We’re trying to use plant biosynthetic mechanisms to easily make a whole range of different iterations of natural products,” said O’Connor. “If you tweak the structure of natural products, very often you get different or improved biological and pharmacological activity.”

The research was funded by the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health, and was published in the November 3rd online edition of Nature. This newly developed process creates plants that can literally grow synthetic pharmaceutical compounds, which pharmaceutical companies can then patent.

The implications and uses of such advanced genetic manipulation of nature are sure to be many, the effects of which are yet to be seen.


Killing Cannabis with GMO Fungi

Killing Cannabis with mycoherbicides

John M. McPartland
VAM/AMRITA, 53 Washington Street Extension, Middlebury, VT 05753, USA
e-mail:, phone: 802-388-0575, fax: 802-382-8845

David West
GamETec, 363 S. Warren Street, Prescott, WI 54021, USA

McPartland, John M. and David West 1999. Killing Cannabis with mycoherbicides Journal of the International Hemp Association 6(1): 1, 4-8. Last year, researchers were funded by the U.S. government to create fungi that destroy drug plants, including marijuana (Cannabis). The fungi will be genetically engineered. Controversies surrounding this "new solution" for the war on drugs are discussed, including the ethics of exterminating plant species that have occupied central roles in human culture for thousands of years. The importation of foreign fungi into new habitats is fraught with unpredictable environmental pitfalls; exotic pathogens can spread from their intended targets to other organisms. All known pathogens of marijuana also attack hemp; exterminating drug plants will probably spell the demise of the valuable and resurgent fiber and oil-seed crop. Genetically transformed fungi are genetically unstable and mutate easily. Fungi with recombinant DNA may reproduce with native fungi and create new strains of virulent, transgenic pathogens. Once these pathogens are released in the environment, they cannot be recalled. In summary, research involving transgenic pathogens of Cannabis is a dangerous misuse of biotechnology, and should be the subject of an immediate moratorium.

Figure 1. Healthy marijuana seedling (C) flanked by plants exposed to pathogenic fungi (P.g. and M.p.).

The U.S. Congress recently appropriated $23 million dollars to fund a "new solution" for the war on drugs. The new solution attacks drugs at their source — the drug plants. Researchers say they can eliminate drug plants with fungal pathogens. The fungi would be genetically engineered to kill only coca plants (Erythroxylon sp.), opium poppies (Papaver sp.), and marijuana (Cannabis sp.).
Rep. Bill McCollum, who introduced the appropriation bill, described the tactic as "a silver bullet in the drug war" (Fields 1998). The development of transgenic coca and opium pathogens began several years ago, but previous appropriations were relatively small (the 1998 budget was $2.58 million). This year McCollum expanded the program to include marijuana, and moved the budget’s decimal point to the right.
A fungal weapon (Fig. 1) for the war on drugs is not new. Millions of dollars were spent in the 1970s in a world-wide search for fungi which would attack coca (Lentz et al. 1975), poppies (Schmitt and Lipscomb 1975), or marijuana (Ghani et al. 1978). It was a strange era for plant pathologists. While researchers around the globe attacked the pathogens of poppies and hemp, US-funded scientists reversed the strategy — they attacked poppies and hemp with these same pathogens (Doctor 1986).
Renewed interest in fungal pathogens for the "war on drugs" is of great concern. The law-enforcement lobby wishes to exterminate three plant species that have occupied central roles in human culture for thousands of years. Are the targeted plants inescapably evil? Are there no alternative means for reducing their dangers to humans? Reported herein are the ethical and scientific controversies pertinent to this issue, framed for consideration by academia, state and federal government agencies, and others interested in genetically engineered organisms, biological control, and the drug war (Cook et al. 1996).

Killer fungi
Experiments with fungi to control plants began in the late 1960s. The initial targets were noxious agricultural weeds that had been accidentally imported from one region of the world into another, where they became more aggressive because their natural enemies were often absent. Hence, the classical strategy for biocontrol of weeds involves the importation of natural enemies from their native ranges. Classical biocontrol generally enjoys wide approval and is used by organic agriculture, although the strategy does have its critics (Howarth 1991).
Classical biocontrol of marijuana was originally envisioned by Arthur McCain in 1970 (Shay 1975). McCain, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, suggested, "Just introduce a couple of pounds [of a pathogenic fungus] into an area, and while it wouldn’t have much of an effect the first year, in several years it would spread throughout the country with devastating results" (Zubrin 1981). In reality, however, classical biocontrol rarely extirpates a weed, it merely reduces the weed population to a low level (Watson 1991). Reduction without eradication is acceptable for most agricultural weeds, but is unacceptable for "zero tolerance" drug control, which seeks the complete eradication of a crop.
The other biocontrol strategy, inundative release, is also called the mycoherbicide approach. This strategy releases massive amounts of fungal spores upon target plants. The mycoherbicide approach can totally eradicate a field of drug plants. This approach, however, utilizes a delivery system similar to that of chemical herbicides — such as hovering over clandestine fields in a helicopter while releasing the control agent. Thus the mycoherbicide approach, compared to the current herbicide strategy, is equally expensive, exposes pilots to equal danger as they hover over fields, and may require retreatment of annual crops. The mycoherbicide approach is not the suggested "silver bullet."

Fear of foreigners
The importation of foreign fungi into new habitats is fraught with controversy. Once a self-perpetuating fungus has been released, it is impossible to recall or control (Lockwood 1993). Despite host-range testing to identify potential nontarget hosts, exotic fungi can spread from their intended targets to other plants. The entire flora of a continent may ultimately be exposed, especially if the fungus produces wind-borne spores (Auld 1991). Because of this concern, only two exotic fungi have ever been intentionally imported into North America—Puccinia chondrillina and Puccinia carduorum.
Fear of "collateral damage" to nontarget plants is justified. When Puccinia xanthii, considered a selective pathogen of Xanthium weeds, was imported into Australia from North America, the fungus spread to sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) and Calendula officinalis (Auld 1991). Native fungi sold as mycoherbicides may also spread to new hosts after release. For example, Colletotrichum gloesporioides f. sp. aeschynomene (Collego®), one of only three mycoherbicide fungi commercially available in the U.S., has a wider host range than originally determined, including several economically important legumes (TeBeest 1988).
The situation with insects is comparable to that with fungi. Turner (1985) estimated that 21% of biocontrol insects intentionally introduced into North America have spread to non-target native plants. For instance, the beetle Chrysolina quadrigemina was imported into North America to kill weedy St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), but it subsequently moved to the ornamental species Hypericum calycinum (Turner 1985). Howarth (1991) described nearly 100 cases where errant biocontrols have driven non-target hosts to extinction, mostly in island ecosystems. Howarth claimed that more species extinctions have been caused by biocontrols than by pesticides.
Non-target hosts at greatest risk to exotic biocontrol fungi include:


plants phylogenetically related to the target species,

plants with secondary compounds or morphological features similar to the target species,

plants attacked by fungi related to the biocontrol fungus,

plants never exposed to the biocontrol fungus,

plants whose fungal pathogens are unknown (Watson 1991).

The study of fungus-host specificity is site-dependent. That is, each potential release site has its own unique flora, fauna, and climatic conditions. Sites with a high degree of biodiversity, such as Amazonia, are teeming with potential non-target hosts. Studies of tropical sites are very complicated and become susceptible to errors of tremendous consequence. The potential spread of fungi away from release sites must also be taken under consideration. Biocontrol agents do not recognize international boundaries, yet host specificity studies rarely consider non-target hosts in neighboring countries (Lockwood 1993).
In the case of pathogens of Cannabis, the non-target host at greatest risk, because of its close phylogenetic relationship to Cannabis, is hop (Humulus lupulus). At least 10 fungal pathogens are known to mutually infect Cannabis and Humulus (McPartland 1992). The next closest relatives are the Urticaceae (members of the nettle family) and the Moraceae (mulberry family), with which Cannabis shares at least 20 fungal pathogens (McPartland 1992).

The species debate
The non-target host at greatest risk is Cannabis itself. Within the genus we find plants cultivated for drugs (marijuana), or for fiber or seed (hemp), as well as feral plants. How closely related are these plants? Some taxonomists describe marijuana and hemp as completely separate species (Schultes et al. 1974), whereas other taxonomists say they are the same species, Cannabis sativa (Small and Cronquist 1976).
This "species debate" achieved semantic importance during the 1970s (Small 1979). Drug libertarians promoted the polytypic approach and cited marijuana as Cannabis indica to argue that statutes written against Cannabis sativa did not apply to marijuana. Conversely, law enforcement agencies have maintained that the genus is monotypic. Now, to rationalize the mycoherbicide approach, law enforcement appears to have reversed its position. Semantics aside, most fungi that attack marijuana also attack hemp (McPartland 1995b, 1995c, 1997, McPartland and Cubeta 1997).
Clearly, the greatest concern surrounding biological control is host specificity. Consider Pseudoperonospora cannabina, a marijuana pathogen promoted by biocontrol researchers (Zabrin 1981, McCain and Noviello 1985). P. cannabina may be identical to Pseudoperonospora humuli, a pathogen of hemp and hop (Hoerner 1940). McPartland (1995d) investigated several fungi that were originally described as specific pathogens of Cannabis, but under closer scrutiny, turned out to be misidentifications of widespread pathogens that attack many hosts (for example, "Pleosphaerulina cannabina" turned out to be Leptosphaerulina trifolii, "Stemphylium cannabinum" = Stemphylium botryosum, "Sclerotinia kauffmanniana" = Sclerotinia sclerotiorum).

Genetic engineering
Wishing to improve host specificity and toxicity of fungal pathogens, researchers are now turning to genetic engineering (Brooker and Bruckart 1996). The use of transgenic organisms, however, elicits a new set of concerns (Levin and Israeli 1996). These are concerns that resulted in the Asilomar moratorium on genetic engineering of human pathogens.
Genetic engineers have recently been investigating a coca pathogen, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. erythroxli (Sands et al. 1997, Nelson et al. 1997). F. oxysporum f. sp. erythroxli was selected for coca eradication because it caused natural epidemics in Peru and on the former Coca-cola plantation on Kauai, where "containment of the fungus proved challenging" (Sands et al. 1997). Fusarium oxysporum is well known to bioengineers, and previous researchers successfully inserted toxin genes into the species (Kistler 1991). Nevertheless, Gabriel (1991) considered it "unwise" to clone a toxin gene into a necrotrophic pathogen (such as F. oxysporum). He argued that such a pathogen might gain unexpected fitness and radically expand its host range, "a potentially dangerous experiment." Fusarium species can produce a variety of toxic metabolites known as trichothecenes, which gained some notoriety for their reputed use in biological warfare ("yellow rain"). F. oxysporum is known to cause systemic infections in humans (Rippon 1988).
Genetically transformed fungi have unstable genotypes, making mutations more likely. Experiments have shown F. oxysporum spontaneously mutates its transgenic DNA (Kistler 1991). Furthermore, F. oxysporum utilizes parasexual coupling, and at least 5% of its genome consists of transposons, or moveable pieces of DNA (Kistler 1997). Parasexuality and active transposable elements would facilitate the transfer of recombinant DNA to native fungi, potentially creating new strains of virulent pathogens. The wheat pathogen Puccinia graminis, for instance, hybridizes with other fungi on wild grasses, giving rise to offspring with increased virulence (Luig and Watson 1972, Burdon et al. 1981). This fact is not cited by proponents of biocontrol with rust fungi (Cook et al. 1996).
"Gene flow" has been more thoroughly studied in plants than fungi. Levin and Israeli (1996) documented five examples of spontaneous gene flow from crops to native plants, which resulted in new or worse weeds. The introgression of engineered genes from transgenic crops to related weed species has been demonstrated (Brown & Brown 1996), and may arise after just 2 generations of hybridization and backcrossing (Mikkelsen et al. 1996).
Currently, testing for gene flow is not standard procedure during the evaluation of transgenic organisms. This could be accomplished by crossing engineered fungi with related fungi (particularly if the fungi reproduce sexually, and especially if they are heterothallic fungi). Several generations of crossed hybrids are evaluated in serial host studies. Testing for gene flow is especially imperative for biocontrols which have been genetically manipulated to resist fungicides. Researchers have transformed Colletotrichum gloesporioides f. sp. aeschynomene (Collego®) with a gene for fungicide resistance (Brooker and Bruckart 1996). Imagine if this fungicide-resistant gene introgressed into Histoplasmosis capsulati or other human pathogens commonly found in agricultural areas!

The species question, round two
Another Fusarium species, F. oxysporum f. sp. cannabis (Fig. 2) is the primary candidate to kill marijuana (Hildebrand and McCain 1978, Noviello et al. 1990) and feral hemp in the American Midwest (Shay 1975). Researchers promote F. oxysporum as a marijuana mycoherbicide because they claim that hop, (Humulus lupulus), is not susceptible to fusarium wilt (McCain and Noviello 1985). However, they overlooked "Hops wilt" caused by F. oxysporum in Australia (Sampson and Walker 1982).
F. oxysporum f. sp. cannabis was originally isolated from hemp cultivars in Italy, by researchers who believed "...the wilt disease and its pathogen have not been previously described" (Noviello and Snyder 1962). In fact, these researchers missed many previous descriptions of this wilt disease (Dobrozrakova et al., 1956, Rataj 1957, Ceapoiu 1958, Czyzewska and Zarzycka 1961, Barloy and Pelhate 1962, Serzane 1962). All previous descriptions attributed hemp wilt disease to Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum. This fungus is morphologically identical to F. oxysporum f. sp. cannabis, but has a very broad host range (e.g., cotton, mung beans, pigeon peas, rubber trees, alfalfa, soybeans, coffee, tobacco and many other plants).
McPartland (1995a) proposed that F. oxysporum f. sp. cannabis may be a misidentified pathotype of F. oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum. Similarly, the fungus causing tobacco wilt, originally named F. oxysporum f. sp. nicotianae, proved to be a race of F. oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum (Armstrong and Armstrong 1975). According to Kistler et al. (1998), F. oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum consists of at least 10 vegetative compatibility groups (VCGs). Comparing F. oxysporum f. sp. cannabis with the genotype of F. oxysporum f. sp. vasinfectum can be accomplished with VCG studies using nit mutants.

Figure 2. Microscopic spores of Fusarium oxysporum, a potential mycoherbicide of Cannabis.

Conflicting interests
U.S. regulations have prevented the testing of bioengineered fungi in the field (Brooker and Bruckart 1996). But regulatory oversight is lacking in Peru and Colombia (Levin and Israeli 1996). Exigencies generated by the drug war metaphor could dangerously rush these fungi into deployment.
Moreover, saboteurs or irresponsible scientists could breach regulatory barriers, as occurred in Montana where several bioengineered organisms were illegally released around 1987 (Roberts 1987). In Australia, saboteurs illegally introduced the fungus Phragmidium violaceum to control European blackberry (Rubus fruticosus). Weedy R. fruticosus was spreading across pastures and impeding Australian cattle ranchers. The government had previously rejected ranchers’ requests to import P. violaceum, because of economic objections from commercial blackberry growers and beekeepers. Wind-borne spores of illegally introduced P. violaceum dispersed rapidly across the continent, and the fungus now infests at least four Rubus species (Watson 1991).
The Australian debacle illustrates how biocontrol may impact competing interests. The first U.S. drug czar, Carlton Turner, recognized that target plants may be considered noxious weeds by one group, and valuable crops by another group (Turner 1985). St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an excellent example. H. perforatum was previously branded a noxious weed. But now it has become the second-best-selling herbal medicine in the U.S. — $121 million dollars of H. perforatum was sold last year, and producers are predicting a severe shortage of this raw material (Brevoort 1998).
Consultants to the European and Canadian hemp industry face a dilemma. Ecologists endorse classical (non-engineered) biocontrol organisms as potential replacements of chemical pesticides (McPartland 1984, Doctor 1986). Physicians praise the safety of biocontrols over paraquat and other synthetic herbicides (McPartland and Pruitt 1997). Nearly 20 years ago, these reasons guided the decision to search for classical biocontrols against marijuana (McPartland 1983). But times have changed. Hemp cultivation has resurged in western Europe, the former USSR, and China. Last year the Canadian government allowed farmers to grow hemp for the first time in 50 years — 251 farmers successfully harvested 5,930 acres (Cauchon 1998). Have our neighbors to the north been explicitly informed of the "Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act" spearheaded by Rep. McCollum? The development of transgenic mycoherbicides against marijuana would endanger hemp cultivation, permanently. Hemp is usually a pest- and disease-tolerant crop requiring little or no pesticide for cultivation. It has been characterized as "an environmentally friendly crop for a sustainable future" (Ranalli 1999). Hemp should not be endangered, and research involving transgenic pathogens of Cannabis should be halted. Moreover, the use of genetically engineered pathogens as a weapon in "the drug war" should be re-evaluated.

We thank David Morris and two anonymous phytopathologists for reviewing and improving our manuscript.



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Editor’s Note

For additional reading on this timely subject see; Kleiner, Kurt 1999 "Operation Eradicate" in New Scientist Sept. 11 with the accompanying editorial and Hogshire, Jim 1998 "The Drug War’s Fungal Solution?" in Covert Action Spring issue.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and the Birth of a Synthetic Economy

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and the Birth of a Synthetic Economy
Written and Copywritten by KT Botanicals

The date was August 2nd, 1937 whereby a relatively empty 75th congress instituted the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937,” after a mere 30 minutes of debate. While this act did not criminalize cannabis or hemp as it is commonly thought, it did call for heavy taxation, strict regulation, and introduced harsh penalties for those who did not adhere to it. Nonetheless, the key figures that advocated for the passing of this act had strong social, political, and economic motives towards eliminating hemp altogether. This paper will discuss the social, political, and economic motives of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and will demonstrate how the key figures behind this act paved the way for the new synthetic economy of the 1950’s which has forever changed the American way of life.

Before the synthetic boom of the 40’s, and the pharmaceutical boom of the 50’s, much of the world including America, depended upon natural products like hemp for their everyday needs such as foods, medicine, building materials, clothes, paint, and even fuel. Jack Herer, author of “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” the number one best selling hemp book of all time, writes:

“In fact, eighty percent of our economy depended on hemp for paper, fiber and fuel, 125 years ago. At that time, it took 300 man-hours to harvest an acre of hemp, but with the invention of the brand new hemp decorticator in the 1930s, it only took 1-1/2 to 2 hours. This is equivalent to reducing the labor burden from $6,000 down to $40 per acre, in today’s money. Keep in mind that the cotton gin of 1793, reduced the man-hours from 300 hours down to 2 hours to harvest and clean an acre of cotton.” [1]

Armed with the invention of the hemp decorticator, America was staring in the face of the 20th century industrial revolution; the great depression was fading, alcohol prohibition was repealed, and now an already billion dollar industry was about to explode on the already good wartime economy.

The hemp-based economy was looking very bright, optimistic, and extremely profitable for Americans. However, in 1937, the largest ammunitions manufacturer in America, DuPont Industries, had announced exciting new developments in the chemical-based synthetic field. These developments included plastics made from coal and oil, a sulfur based paper making processes, as well as the man made textile, Nylon. DuPont Industries had just one problem: Hemp already had a tight grip on the markets for plastics, paper, textiles, fuels, medicines, and with the invention of the hemp decorticator, their relatively expensive synthetic products would not stand a chance in the American marketplace. A law such as the Marihuana Tax Act would eliminate hemp from the competition by heavily taxing all medical and non-medical sales of hemp from the farmers to the end users. As DuPont had predicted in its 1937 annual report, “Radical changes from the revenue raising power of government would be converted into instruments for forcing acceptance of sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganisation.”[2] Indeed, America was unknowingly well on its way to being forced to accept a radical new economy, as well as a radical change in their ideas of industrial and social organization. It was as if DuPont Industries had known something that the rest of America did not.

DuPont Industries’ primary financial support came from the 6th largest bank in America, Mellon bank, which was owned by the United States Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.[3] Andrew Mellon invested very heavily into DuPont’s patented sulfur –based process of converting wood fiber into usable paper. According to a 1938 article that appeared in both Popular Mechanics and Mechanical Engineering magazines entitled “New Billion Dollar Crop,” hemp produces 4 times as much usable pulp per acre than trees.[4] Not only do hemp fields outperform trees in pulp production, hemp is also a renewable resource (unlike trees), as hemp can grow up to 20 feet tall or more in one growing season.[5] The article also states that paper alone was a billion dollar industry in America at the time, and that 80% of American paper was imported.[6] Despite these facts, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, and owner of the 6th largest bank in America, Andrew Mellon continued to invest in DuPont’s sulfur-based paper making process. It was as if DuPont Industries and Andrew Mellon had known something that the rest of America did not.

In 1930, Andrew Mellon had appointed his niece’s husband, Harry Anslinger, to be the first director of the Federal narcotics Bureau.[7] Anslinger had previously been the Assistant Prohibition Commissioner for the Bureau of Prohibition. However, when Mellon saw that the Alcohol prohibition days were numbered, Mellon used his power to appoint Anslinger to a new office for the sake of his niece’s financial security. Anslinger eventually went on to secretly write the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 for two years before he sent a copy to Rep. Robert L. Doughton of North Carolina, who introduced the Act in Congress on April 14, 1937.[8] Anslinger secretly worked on the act without consulting the American Medical Association or law enforcement agencies for fear of having it shot down by doctors, farmers, law enforcement, and businessmen. At the hearings, congress called upon William C. Woodward of the American Medical Association to be present for the hearings. Woodward opposed the act saying, ”We cannot understand yet, Mr. Chairman, why this bill should have been prepared in secret for two years without any initiative, even to the profession, that it was being prepared”[9] Indeed the act would have been shot down, had congress and the American people known that they were about to outlaw the number one cash crop of the American economy, hemp. Woodward goes on to explain, “No medical man would identify this bill with a medicine until he read it through, because marihuana is not a drug, simply a name given to cannabis.”[10]
Anslinger, with the help of William Randolph Hearst, had effectively duped the American people as well as the United States congress into outlawing cannabis hemp by simply renaming it ‘marihuana’.

William Randolph Hearst is arguably one of the most powerful men in American history. Hearst who owned almost every major newspaper in the country had a heavy investment in the timber industry to support the trillions of pages in his newspapers and did not want to see hemp ruin his investments.[11] Hearst began a new form of political and social influence called ‘yellow journalism’, which he used against hemp in 1898 when he lost 800,000 acres of timber land to Poncho Villa in the Spanish American War.[12] Hearst then, had a hatred for Mexicans and through the use of his media monopoly, associated marihuana usage with lazy Mexican immigrants which in turn shaped American’s negative views on both Mexican immigrants and ‘marihuana’. In the 1930’s Hearst’s campaign shifted from the lazy Mexican who abused marihuana, to the violent Negros that abuse marihuana, rape white women, and create the satanic music that Americans now appreciate as jazz and soul.[13] The Hearst smear campaign was one of the worst and most inaccurate campaigns in history. It was also one of the most effective. By the time Anslinger’s bill was sent to congress, even congress believed that marihuana was a powerfully addictive and very dangerous narcotic that should be outlawed for the sake of public safety. Little did they know that they were about to outlaw hemp, the billion dollar cash crop that would have began the 20th century equivalent of the industrial revolution.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 solidified the foundations for the new synthetic economy of the mid 40’s to early 60’s by eliminating hemp from the marketplace. The heavy taxation and strict fines made it a risky business to cultivate, distribute, prescribe, or manufacture hemp based products forcing many farmers, businesses, and consumers to accept the new wave of a synthetic based economy. The future of the American economy was now in the hands of a select few unscrupulous elitists, DuPont, Mellon, and Hearst. As a result, the synthetic market exploded as synthetics became popular in almost every application imaginable replacing their natural predecessors. In an article that appeared in Popular mechanics, the president of DuPont explains, “Synthetic plastics find application in fabricating a wide variety of articles, many of which in the past were made from natural products… the chemist has aided in conserving natural resources by developing synthetic products to supplement or wholly replace natural products.”[14] These were truly the golden years of synthetic science. Scientists were well funded and well paid, synthetics were proving to be reliable and cost effective, and the American people were open and accepting to the synthetic movement.During the 1940’s the United States Armed forces were tremendously invested in synthetic markets in an effort to make their war machines cheaper, faster, lighter, and more reliable. After Pearl Harbor, the rubber supply lines from South East Asia were constantly being disrupted and other exporters of natural rubber such as South America could not fulfill the wartime need for rubber.[15] It came to a point where the United States Military was going to have a graveyard of useless and tireless cars, trucks, and planes.[16] As time was dwindling to correct the American rubber shortage, the United States Government met with the industry leaders, including the Goodyear Tire Company, to formulate a cost effective synthetic rubber that could meet the high demands of the military.[17] By 1945, the American government had shelled out more resources developing synthetic rubbers than they had developing the atomic bomb![18] Not only was the Government concerned about their military program, but they were also concerned with the average American family who had come to depend on rubber tires for their automobiles. If Americans could not drive to work due to a shortage in rubber tires and gaskets, the American economy would fail at a very inconvenient time. The American military also relied very heavily on synthetic lubricants for their increasingly complicated highly refined aviation engines. Synthetic lubricants could withstand higher temperatures for longer periods of continuous use without losing viscosity, allowing the air force to evolve from small turbo-props to jet fighters that could travel faster than the speed of sound.

The 1940’s and 1950’s also saw an immense increase in the usage of synthetic pesticides such as DDT. Prior to the 1940’s, pesticides were limited to a few botanicals such as pyrenthium and rotenone, as well as a few inorganic pesticides such as copper, sulfur, and arsenic.[19] All of which proved to be both effective and generally well tolerated with a high safety rating and very few incidents. The ‘second generation pesticides’ of the 1940’s, were mostly synthetic because they were cheap to synthesize, more effective against a wider range of pestilences, and had a perceived low toxicity to mammals. DDT was often called the miracle pesticide due to its ability to increase crop yields.[20] Soon the petrochemical companies found the pesticide market to be a very profitable way to dispose of their toxic byproducts such as hydrocarbons and organophosphates, which became the dominant chemicals for controlling pests over the next several decades.[21] As the market became dominated with synthetic pesticides, the research and development of organic pesticides came to a standstill and organics were unable to compete in the open market with their synthetic counterparts.

Medicine was also rapidly adopting the synthetic approach during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Up until the early 1950’s, several of the leading pharmaceutical companies continued to market and sell botanical medicines, which had been effectively employed for thousands of years by every culture throughout recorded history. However, botanical medicines like hemp were quickly on their way out as their synthetic pharmaceuticals counterparts began to overtake the market. In the early 1950’s, pharmaceutical manufacturers shifted their primary focuses from selling botanical medicines to researching, developing, and marketing potent synthetic chemicals. For example, by the end of the 1950’s, Smith Kline & French, a large pharmaceutical firm, had cut their line of botanical products down to less than 60, whereas in the 1920’s they had stocked over 15,000 botanical products.[22] However Americans were enjoying many of the positive aspects that the new synthetic medicines had to offer.

James Harvey Young, PhD, author of The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America, explains the tremendous immediate heath benefits that synthetic medicines had made available to the American people:

“Life expectancy at birth in the United States had been 60 years in 1937, when sulfanilamide appeared. By 1956 it had risen to almost 70 between 1938 and 1950 as between 1921 and 1937. Infants, children, and young adults had benefited most. The death rate from childhood diseases had tumbled 90 per cent. Almost as dramatic were declines in the death rates for influenza-pneumonia and for infectious diseases.”[23]

Austin Smith, the scientist that is recognized today as the pioneer of human embryonic stem cells, rhetorically asked in 1959, “How much value can we place on 3.2 million American lives?…These are the lives that can be attributed in large part to the chemical revolution in medicine.”[24] The synthetic economy was beginning to change every aspect of the American way of life, it was even saving lives.

Through pharmaceuticals, synthetics were changing the way that Americans looked, lived, felt, thought, and behaved. Synthetics were revolutionizing industries, strengthening the military, increasing agricultural productivity, saving lives, while simultaneously rocketing America’s economy to an all-time high. By the early 1960’s, natural products were a thing of the past and synthetics now had now absorbed the markets of its natural predecessors. As DuPont Industries had eerily predicted in 1937, “Radical changes from the revenue raising power of government would be converted into instruments for forcing acceptance of sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganization.” For better or for worse, the economic, political, and social motifs of DuPont, Andrew Mellon, and William Randolph Hearst, resulted in the birth of the synthetic economy had left America forever changed.

[1] Jack Herer, The Emperor Wears No Clothes Ah Ha Publishing Company; 11th edition (November 2000) pp 23.

[2] Ibid. pp 29.

[3] Colby, Gerard. DuPont Dynasty. (Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1984) pp. 238-239

[4] "New Billion-Dollar Crop" Popular Mechanics Feb 23. 1938. pp. 238-239.

[5] Lower, George A., “Flax and Hemp: From the Seed to the Loom”, Mechanical Engineering, Feb. 26, 1937. pp. 282-283.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Harry J. Anslinger” All Experts: <> Last Accessed 10/21/2006.

[8] N.O.R.M.L. “Still Crazy after all These Years, Marijuana Prohibition 1937-1997” August 2, 1997

[9] Ernest L. Abel Marijuana The First 12,000 Years (New York: Plenum 1980) Pp. 244

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. pp 29

[12] Ibid. pp 29

[13] Ibid. pp 28

[14] Lammot DuPont quoted in Popular Mechanics, June 1939. pp. 805.

[15] “The Synthetic Rubber Project” Science Reference Services (linked from library of Congress) Last accessed 10/21/2006.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Robert Hatherill, Ph.D, “Commercial Agriculture: Facts and Figures” Environmental Studies
Program, University of California at Santa Barbara. Last accessed 10/21/2006.

[20] “DDT Ban Takes Effect” The Environmental Protection Agency Website Last accessed 10/21/2006.

[21] Ibid.

[22] R.T. Stormont, “From Alchemy to Antibiotics,” FDC Law Jnl., 11 (Feb. 1956), 98-99

[23] James Harvey Young The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967) pp. 356-357.

[24] Ibid.