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High on Hemp.

it was country music legend Willie Nelson who first suggested to me that hemp is "not just for breakfast anymore." And Willie is a fellow who knows quite a bit about the plant called cannabis, marijuana, pot, reefer, or whatever you choose to call it.

But Willies point wasn't to tout the smokable cannabis but to push a strain of the plant that farmers worldwide have been raising for 6,000 years to produce a cornucopia of products, including beautiful fabrics, fine paper, inexpensive fuel, safe pain-relievers, and plastic substitutes.

Did you know that the Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made of 100 percent, pure dee hemp, that "Old Ironsides" was powered by hemp-cloth sails, and that both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cultivated the stufff Jefferson even wrote that "hemp is of first necessity ... to the wealth and protection of the country." And he wasn't just blowing smoke.

Even though hemp had been demonized and outlawed in the United States in 1937 as part of a nutty "Reefer Madness" campaign, it got a reprieve during World War II when the military suddenly needed huge amounts of rope and other hemp products. A "Hemp for Victory" drive was launched and 400,000 acres were rushed into production. With the war's end, however, the heroic crop went back on the no-no list, where it remains today.

This isn't about "Puff the Magic Dragon;" it's about an easy-to-grow commercial crop that can produce a natural high for our economy. As for its hallucinogenic properties, industrial hemp is to marijuana what near beer is to beer-it has practically zero tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the elemental oomph in marijuana that makes you get high. You could smoke a pure hemp rope all day long and you wouldn't get high; you'd get sick. As an agricultural economist put it: "You'd croak from smoke before you'd get high on hemp,"

Yet our ever-alert Drug Enforcement Administration classifies hemp as a "Schedule One Substance"--right up there with heroin, cocaine, and other life wreckers. Attempt to grow it, and John Ashcroft's drug troopers will storm your property, bulldoze your crop, and haul you off to the federal slammer. If he thinks you were growing hemp for "terrorist purposes,' he'll send you to Guantanamo Bay. He's nuts, but that's another story.

Suppose there was a political issue that could pull together people from all spheres--liberals and Libertarians; environmentalists and small businesses; the American Farm Bureau Federation and International Paper Company; Democrats, Republicans, Greens, New Party members, and Libertarians; Noneoftheabovers and Whatnots? Wouldn't that be worth pursuing? The legalization of hemp for America is one such common-sense, grassroots issue.

Family farmers could benefit because hemp can be a huge cash crop: it will grow anywhere in United States; indeed, the damned stuffliterally is a weed, growing wild in many areas. It has a short growing season, so it can be planted after other crops are harvested, giving farmers two incomes on the same plot of land. Plus, it's profitable. Imagine the frustration of farmers in North Dakota, who are losing money on the grain they raise, looking across the invisible border separating them from their neighbors in Manitoba, Canada, where farmers are enjoying $250-an-acre profit on their hemp crop.

The environment would win, too. Commercial farming today is soaked in chemicals, causing massive contamination of our soil, water, wildlife, and farm families. Contrast hemp: it's natural, requires very little water or fertilizers to produce an abundant yield, and is naturally disease and pest resistant, so toxic chemicals are unnecessary. Its seeds can be collected to grow next year's crop, too.

Also, hemp can save our forests! It produces a top quality pulp for papermaking and an excellent fiber that can be used in lieu of wood for homebuilding, and it's more productive than timber. For example, an acre of hemp generates more pulp than four acres of trees.

The economy also gains. As more and more U.S. jobs are being shipped out to Southeast Beelzebub by corporate America, hemp offers a grassroots opportunity for new economic growth and job creation. The whole plant can be used commercially--leaves, stalk, seeds, oils, and resins. For example:

* Make paper! Paper made from hemp is the best in the world--from beautiful writing papers to cardboard.

* Eat hemp! Its seeds have a wonderful flavor, great cooking versatility, and are more nutritious than soybean seeds because they are high in essential fatty acids, Vitamin E, and dietary fiber and they boost your immune system and are heart-friendly. The oil also makes a great base for skin care products.

* Make beer! Breweries in Kentucky, Maryland, and California are turning out case-loads of really good hemp brews.

* Wear it! Hemp makes strong canvas shoes and beautiful fabrics that "breathe" naturally. Hemp shower curtains are light and--get this--don't mildew. Hemp carpets are durable and naturally flame retardant.

* Industrialize it! Hemp fiber-board can replace wood; its scrap can be a biomass alternative for gasoline. And it's a biodegradable substitute for plastics--BMW already uses a hemp-fiber plastic for some of its trunk and door panels, and Ford is considering using it to make radiator grills.

Sales of hemp products are at some $100 million a year across the United States, yet U.S. farmers can't join in the gain--all of the stalks, leaves, and seeds used to make these products have to be imported from China, England, and twenty-eight other countries where hemp is grown freely and legally.

Bush, Ashcroft & Gang, crazed by anti-drug fever, totally oppose letting U.S. farmers--the heirs of Washington and Jefferson--raise this most useful crop. The Bush drug war is so stupid that, if you pay close attention to it, it could drive you to drugs.

How stupid is it? Ask Jean Laprise, a Canadian farmer. Birdseed is what got Laprise in trouble with America's Drug Enforcement Agency, which gives new meaning to the term bird brained. He shipped a twenty-ton load of birdseed to a U.S. customer. Some hemp seed was in the mix. The hemp seed is high in nothing but protein and is good for birds and people, but the DEA got wind of Laprise's shipment and had the whole load impounded, saying it contained a trace of the dreaded THC. Let me give you three numbers. Marijuana must have at least 4 percent THC to get anyone high. Industrial hemp is only 1 percent THC, so you can't get high on it. Laprise's birdseed mix tested out with a THC content of 0.0014--one fourteen-thousandths of a percent. Even a tiny bird couldn't get a buzz on that.

To compound this raw stupidity, the DEA demanded that Laprise recall seventeen loads of hemp-based products he had earlier shipped to the United States. This recall included hemp seed used by Nutiva, a California company that makes granola bars. As a result, Nutiva had to suspend production, forcing a layoff at the company. Also, a wholesaler was about to pick up Nutiva's bar for national distribution but backed out of the deal after it learned that the DEA was messing with the company.

What the hell is the DEA smoking? It's time to free hemp in the Land of the Free.

Progressive populist Jim Hightower is a nationally known columnist, radio commentator, and public speaker. This article is an excerpt from his new book, Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush.
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Title Annotation:Up front: news and opinion from independent minds
Author:Hightower, Jim
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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