Road Trip: Detroit

From Petroleum to Pot

 Shades of a great city. The green spaces were once filled with homes. (photo submitted)

Shades of a great city. The green spaces were once filled with homes. (photo submitted)

You can’t talk about the history of Detroit without taking about the demise of one of the largest U.S. manufacturing industries in the world – the automotive industry. Yes, there is Motown and the rich history of music. There’s also a history of great food, as the auto industry brought many cultures from around the world to its work force.

The auto industry in Detroit has been dismantled for decades, leaving the “big three,” General Motors, the Ford Motor Company, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US barely standing. Its neighborhoods have become a virtual wasteland of burned out homes and empty fields. Unions were to blame, they said, with third world countries offering up cheap labor. The corporate bottom line, not human need, took precedence.

Legalize to Educate

Since the knowledge of industrial hemp for fuel and materials has resurfaced, those in the know are looking to the auto industry for real changes in our transportation’s environmental footprint.

In 2013 BMW announced its i3 electric model was made pounds lighter and more efficient by using hemp fibers throughout, including trunk liners, airbag parts, and door panels. And while Ford announced its cars will have 30 percent worth of recycled content, we’ve yet to see American manufacturers jumping on the hemp wagon just yet.

Cannabis as medicine has been legal in Michigan since voters gave it a nod in 2008, with 18 cities decriminalizing its use altogether, including Detroit.

 Photo: Sharon Letts

Photo: Sharon Letts

Verbiage on Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs’ (LARA) website states, “The program implements the statutory tenets of this act in such a manner that protects the public and assures the confidentially of its participants.”

Nice words, but not exactly true, as the state nor its cities and counties have adopted workable ordinances to protect those who would help patients with safe access under state law.

 Poster found at the Detroit Grass station on detroit's preserverance.  Photo: sharon letts

Poster found at the Detroit Grass station on detroit's preserverance.

Photo: sharon letts

Dozens of recent raids have shut down retail medical storefronts operating without the safety net of a business license. Dispensaries operate under caregiver licenses only, allowing just five patients per under a drafty umbrella.

Now anticipating legalization for recreational use, cities in Michigan are panicking, enacting bans that would stop further education on good medicine. But that’s where the irony of legalization is found. What most city officials don’t realize is, the lack of persecution once legalization is in place actually allows medicine makers to come out of the smoky closet of prohibition, with communities healed – not more people getting wasted, as is the common misconception. And more people healed with cannabis means less money to pharmaceutical companies.

Petroleum Based Pharma

In 1949 Morris Allison Bealle penned The Drug Story, with the sub-text, “America’s $10,000,000 Drug Cartel – its methods, operations, hidden ownership, profits and terrific impact on the health of the American People.”

Bealle traced the beginning of the petroleum-based pharmaceutical industry to the 1860s and William Rockefeller’s first patent of raw petroleum as a cure for cancer. Father to John D. Rockefeller, William was a farmer in upstate New York until 1850 when he moved to Cleveland and registered as a “physician,” peddling his snake oil of raw petroleum, called “Nujol,” or “new oil,” with son John’s Standard Oil researchers seeing huge profits from byproduct that would have otherwise been tossed.

 Standard oil originally made snake oil from its petroleum byproducts with big claims on cures, including cancer. (photo submitted)

Standard oil originally made snake oil from its petroleum byproducts with big claims on cures, including cancer. (photo submitted)

Hence the connection to petroleum and not-so-good medicine in America.

Today there are more than 300 cannabis dispensaries within Detroit’s city limits. And while they recently adopted a business license process, it’s limited to “Medical Marihuana Caregiver Centers,” with each employee of said centers requiring a caregiver license. Hence, any retail center operating prior to the new ordinance are noted as “operating illegally.”

Illegally Healed

 A state of the art dispensary sits void of product after the city of detroit banned concentrates from its list of allowable cannabis products. Only flower for smoking is sold in motor city now. photo: sharon letts

A state of the art dispensary sits void of product after the city of detroit banned concentrates from its list of allowable cannabis products. Only flower for smoking is sold in motor city now. photo: sharon letts

To make matters worse, the lack of education on ingesting cannabis as real medicine – not just smoking to relieve symptoms and getting high – is prominent throughout even the cannabis community, with the mid-west being behind the enlightened west coast by about 10 years.

For along with Detroit’s newfound ordinances allowing licensing, the city simultaneously enacted a ban on concentrates made with Butane hash oil (BHO), with the shelves of its retail shops left empty – albeit for flower to smoke. With nothing differentiating from BHO products to infused butter or oil products, all concentrated products have been banned out of sheer ignorance.

 the demise of detroit began in the 1950s with the closing of the Packard plant. photo: sharon letts

the demise of detroit began in the 1950s with the closing of the Packard plant. photo: sharon letts

Detroit patients must now travel to other cities for ingesting or topical products – boosting the economy of more fortunate neighborhoods.

Or, they go back to the black market for real, ingestible medicine, as was witness by this writer. Imagine my surprise during a visit to a Detroit apartment when a guest emerged from a back bedroom with hands full of infused gummy bears, topical salve, and a few cartridges of CBD smoking oil.

The Detroit resident purchasing products from a back room was suffering from myriad side effects from cancer treatments, medicating illegally within his own city limits, in a medically legal state.

 photo: sharon letts

photo: sharon letts

As Detroit grapples with its ever crumbling economy, the hope is that the education of cannabis as medicine, and the bounty that hemp has to offer, will reach its officials in time to make a difference for many. Until then, the plant continues to prevail for patients in spite of the mid-western mindset and the powers that be.

Backstory: A brief history of plant-based fuels and materials in the automotive industry

Note: This story ran as a sidebar to Road Trip: Detroit in Dope Magazine

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were close friends. Ford had been employed at the Detroit Edison plant as an engineer prior to incorporating his own auto company in 1904. The two owned winter homes next door to each other in Florida, where Edison had a botanical library researching industrial uses of plants. Both were friends of the farmer and convinced that the energy from plants and the industrial materials they produced could be used for the greater good.

 Henry ford (shown here) and thomas edison were friends who shared the same desire of using plants as building materials and fuel. photo: submitted

Henry ford (shown here) and thomas edison were friends who shared the same desire of using plants as building materials and fuel. photo: submitted

By 1941 Ford had created a car made of plastic manufactured and fueled mostly from plants.

“It will be a car of darn sight better design in every form,” he announced via the New York Times in February of 1941. “And don’t forget the motor car business is just one of the industries that can find new uses for plastics, made from what’s grown in the land!”

Three hundred pounds lighter than Ford’s steel-framed model and said to be more durable than metal, his plastic car from the garden was made from a combination of “strong fibers,” that included corn, ramie, hemp, straw, soy, and slash pine fiber – fueled, in part, by a combination of ethanol made from corn.

Ironically, DuPont had already created the first synthetic material from petroleum in 1935, with its own patent for Nylon registered in 1937. The creation of nylon initially replaced silk for women’s hosiery, but the petroleum-based material was just the start of a plastic industrial revolution that also spawned the pharmaceutical industry – successfully replacing plant-based medicines to this day.

 Remnants of detroit's past line up in rust in a neighborhood close to downtown, now a living art exhibit. photo: sharon letts

Remnants of detroit's past line up in rust in a neighborhood close to downtown, now a living art exhibit. photo: sharon letts

Though electric cars had been produced around the world since the late 1800s, saving energy via batteries, combined with a lack of speed, did not make them attractive to the consumer. Ford himself built one as an experiment in 1895 and was said to have a personal collection of electric cars made at the time.

It wasn’t until 1913 that Ford announced via the New York Times in 1914; “Within a year, I hope, we shall begin the manufacture of an electric automobile…The fact is that Mr. Edison and I have been working for some years on an electric automobile which would be cheap and practicable… The problem so far has been to build a storage battery of light weight which would operate for long distance without recharging. Mr. Edison has been experimenting with such a batter for some time.”

An energy plant was purchased in Niagra Falls and a manufacturing plant was set-up in Dearborn, when all was lost by fire in December of 1914. It seems Ford’s downfall in the project was insisting on friend Edison’s nickel-iron batteries that were said to be incapable of powering the electric car. Heavier lead-acid batteries were installed behind Ford’s back. He became enraged at the switch and the project ended before it could begin.

With the Ford Motor Company incorporated, Ford went into production with his combustion engine that was said to be less costly to the consumer.

Did DuPont’s interest in petroleum squash Ford’s farm fresh production? Did William Randolph Hurst’s interest in the redwoods of northern California contribute to the end of Hemp, as detailed in Jack Herer’s page turner, The Emperor Wears No Clothes? The debate is still up for discussion.

 Hemp was used to manufacturer more than 2500 products and put in more than 250 remedies for medicine prior to its demonization in the early 1940s after dupont began patenting petroleum byproducts, spawning both the synthetic and pharmaceutical markets. photo: sharon letts

Hemp was used to manufacturer more than 2500 products and put in more than 250 remedies for medicine prior to its demonization in the early 1940s after dupont began patenting petroleum byproducts, spawning both the synthetic and pharmaceutical markets. photo: sharon letts

Some speculate the drug war was created out of sheer prejudice to minorities, specifically blacks and Hispanics where cannabis, then Hemp, were concerned. But here’s something to ponder, did the powers that be use prejudice as smoke and mirrors to demonize hemp and the use of plant-based fuels and industrial materials?

We can’t change the past, but we can move forward with the newfound knowledge of the power of plants, specifically hemp, and their relationship to the sun and the energy found naturally on the planet.