America’s industrial ban on hemp is “a poster child for dumb regulation,” argues lazy ass pothead! Wait, sorry, scratch that. Make that Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, introducing an amendment last week to the densely contested 2012 Farm Bill, which is either a subsidies and sustainability savior or callous food austerity, depending on who you ask. But if you ask Wyden, “the best possible Farm Bill” is one that repeals a ban on industrial hemp the United States is already quite busy, and expensively, importing from the few feet it takes to cross the Canadian border.
“I will be urging my colleagues to support this amendment,” Wyden announced last week on the Senate floor, reminding the assembled elected that his plan won’t cost American taxpayers a dime. “I want [them] to know I will be back at this again until there are smarter regulations in place.”
“America needs to get real about hemp, and fast, even if the country continues to fight about ending cannabis prohibition,” National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre told AlterNet. “There is virtually no one on earth who intellectually opposes farmers cultivating industrial hemp, other than anti-cannabis bureaucracies, politicians, drug testing companies and the U.S. law enforcement community.”
That’s some stacked opposition. But the list below provides more than enough firepower for encouraging an overdue repeal of the ban on industrial hemp, cannabis sativa’s low-THC strain.
1. America buys hemp from Canada anyway.
Maybe we should just burn money, too? “We’re already importing a crop that the U.S. farmer could be profitably growing right here at home, if not for government rules prohibiting it,” Wyden argued, reminding listeners that in 2010, Canada subsidized its hemp industry with over $700,000 more in funding, increased crop sizes and “fortified the inroads the Canadians are making in U.S. markets at the expense of our farmers.” All while our hemp imports have grown 300 percent in the last decade, and 35 percent since 2009. Meanwhile, Canada’s cropland devoted to industrial hemp doubled from 2011 to 2012, Wyden added, remarking that his local Portlanders who manufacture hemp products are doing brisk business, thanks very much.
2. Everyone is growing hemp and laughing at us.
Besides Canada, Australia is enjoying an agricultural rebound because of hemp production. Over 30 countries permit its production, and as usual, resourceful China is the world’s largest producer with nearly 80 percent of global tonnage. Instructively, China has been around for thousands of years, so who on Earth is going to tell them shit about the future? Not the United States, which remains the only industrialized nation to forbid its farmers from growing industrial hemp. Cue the giggle track.
“Canada, France, China, Russia and the United Kingdom all have cannabis prohibition laws in place,” St. Pierre told AlterNet. “And yet, they still allow their farmers to cultivate and prosper from industrial hemp.” Speaking of…
3. We’re not talking about cannabis here. But who cares if we were?
Both should be legalized anyway, and everyone knows it. But even cannabis paranoiacs need to chill: THC levels of hemp are under .03 percent, which couldn’t get a tobacco lobbyist high. Under Wyden’s amendment, hemp production would be regulated, but by the individual states’ permitting processes rather than the federal government that has made a Kafkaesque mess of medical cannabis. Nine states have already put similar legislation in place.
“Why can’t the US government and its law enforcement community be as pragmatic and practical as other countries regarding making the logical ecological and economical distinction between ‘hemp’ and ‘cannabis’?” St. Pierre asked. “Is it that American narcs are less intelligent, or is it that they can’t be as educated about hemp as police in the UK, China or Canada?”
4. Hemp is green.
As any naturalist or historian will tell you, the uses for hemp — from paper, textiles and clothing to health products, biodegradable plastics and biofuels — are diverse and widely documented. But it’s a much more sustainable crop than most: It needs less fertilizer than King Corn, can be grown in several consecutive years in the same fields (monocultural!), rarely needs pesticides (if at all), and, irony of ironies, it’s a weed killer. Thanks to its fibrous density, it’s a construction material just begging for an increased American market. Wyden claimed that North Carolina builders are using hemp to make their structures stronger and greener, while Minnesota’s Original Green Distribution promotes it as the “perfect building material” — non-toxic, non-flammable, mold and mildew resistant, and cash-positive. The argument against local hemp production? A house of cards.
5. Hemp is patriotic.
Our lionized Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it, and they helped create the nation. Hemp has been cultivated and consumed across the planet for millennia, from China’s Neolithic Age to New England’s Puritans and Virginian farmers — who were instructed by a House of Burgesses’ Act to sow it on their plantations. Americans even created a World War II propaganda film called Hemp For Victory, despite the destructive, embarrassing Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which criminalized commercial use of hemp or cannabis. Whether that legislation, supported by progressive hero and president Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a back-door favor to the competing and eventually triumphant industries of his friends and sponsors Mellon, Hearst and DuPont, or just post-Mexican Revolution immigrant xenophobia, is ancient history now. This is a new century. We’re past it.
6. Hemp has carbon-negative promise.
Those remaining hemp naysayers will eventually change their minds when global warming starts downsizing the planet’s arable land. Because it has significant climate change upside, whether you’re talking renewable energy, carbon sequestration or just food. (Yes, you can eat hemp.) According to the Hemp Industries Association, the U.S. Department of Energy considers hemp a biomass fuel alternative that could ameliorate our addiction to fossil fuels, as well as an alternative to toxic petrochemicals involved in plastic production. In fact, there are over two millions cars on the road right now — from Ford, GM and Chrysler to Mercedes, BMW and beyond — housing hemp in their interiors. And it’s a naturally occurring carbon sink too. Unlike more traditional concrete, Hempcrete is carbon-negative, storing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. The HIA also claims that hemp proper produces more pulp per acreage than wood pulp, which is great because we really need to stop cutting down forests so they can continue to suck all the carbon dioxide we’re pumping into the air before the world as we know it ends before we know it.
7. Nuclear apocalypse? Hemp has an app for that.
Even if we jump back onto hemp’s historical bandwagon and dodge catastrophic climate change with the help of other green alternatives, we still might nuke ourselves like idiots. But hemp can even give us a hand with that irradiated lunacy. Thanks to its sprawling canopy, it’s already a powerhouse weed suppressor, as well an impressive mop crop capable of sopping up contaminants and even radiation. The Princeton-based company Phytotech and others even planted hemp in Chernobyl alongside sunflowers and other impressively extractive plants. It’s logical that planting more phytoremediation-friendly crops will help us clean up proliferating chemical and nuclear dumps. Hemp is a phytoremediator just waiting for the innovation that repealing a lame ban on industrial cultivation can bring.
8. Hemp can help the sick.
The medicinal and rehabilitative value of cannabis is already well-known, despite certain compromised parties still claiming the science isn’t in. But once the ban on industrial hemp is inevitably repealed, expect stories about the healing properties of hemp oil to percolate above the subculture that presently contains them. American integrative medicine physician Andrew Weil has found that “some cancer patients have found it to be a superior remedy for the nausea caused by chemotherapy, and some people with multiple sclerosis are grateful for its relaxant effects on spastic muscles.” But repealing the ban on industrial hemp will put these contentions to the test for true believers and skeptics alike, once hurdles to cultivation and innovation are removed. It’s not an accident that more seniors are signing on with cannabis and hemp to deal with the ravages of age. It’s also no accident that my late, great father-in-law, who passed last year no thanks to Parkinson’s, extended and improved his deteriorating state with cannabis, or that his children who suggested it to him are mostly doctors.
9. Hemp means jobs.
As you may have heard, we’re mired in an ongoing recession with unemployment hovering near 10 percent and going nowhere. So why would we trash an economically logical, environmentally friendly crop whose industrial production could increase jobs and revenue? (Hey wait, is this why the Pentagon is built atop Uncle Sam’s hemp farm?) In 2010, U.S. retail sales of hemp-based products passed $400 million, and there’s likely a good reason that how much America pays annually to import hemp isn’t just a click away. But It doesn’t take 300 economists, including some Nobel laureates, arguing that decriminalizing cannabis and hemp could save us $7 billion a year to realize that domesticating hemp production will bring jobs back across the borders to unemployed Americans. Who then might just turn around and buy more hemp products with their hard-earned pay. No-brainer, bean counters.
10. Hemp can be a peacemaker.
Bipartisanship haters, take notes. Senator Wyden’s reasonable amendment has been cosigned by the sometimes unreasonable Tea Party favorite, Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, whose controversial father Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced a similar measure earlier this year. Whether or not it immediately works should not overshadow the fact that it is Wyden and Paul who have brought legislation favoring hemp to the congressional floor for the first time since the ’50s. Not should it be forgotten than industrial hemp was once the second largest crop, after tobacco, of Kentucky’s antebellum economy, which grew more than any other state before its criminalization. Plus, legal hemp will stop pointless enforcements, like that of David Bronner, the fair-trade, sustainability entrepreneur and activist, who was recently arrested in front of the White House protesting the industrial hemp ban while locked in a metal cage alongside his plants.
Optimists with faith in humanity cannot help but look into the future and see more cannabis and hemp cultivation and consumption, as lab-rat mutations like soda, cigarettes and antidepressants finish off what’s left of the evolutionary skeptics. We can’t believe, for a second, that last century’s superpower could stoutly march right off a cliff, armed with pharmaceutical marketing and a very unhealthy disrespect for earthly reality.
About the Author
Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.