By Stefanie Ramp, The Westchester County Weekly
One would be hard-pressed these days to find an American oblivious to the dangers of deforestation or opposed to a feasible solution. Oddly enough, there is a very practical solution right in our midst with myriad economic and environmental benefits. So why are we still cutting down trees?
According to an ever-increasing number of environmentalists, industrialists, politicians and citizens, hemp is the answer. Vote Hemp, an initiative propelled by the Hemp Industries Association and numerous environmentalists, has mobilized to educate the public about the realities and possibilities hemp affords our society and will target politicians and voters in this fall’s elections. Vote Hemp recently announced that the initiative has been joined by three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Brower, one of the most renowned environmentalists of our time. “In the 1930s hemp ropes helped us climb mountains said to be “insurmountable.” Today we need industrial hemp to help us surmount the much larger challenges presented by global climate change, toxic contamination, and the other hazards of our petrochemical-dependent economy,” says Brower.
Despite its bad rap, hemp is not marijuana; they are strains of the same plant, the former grown for fiber, the latter for its psychotropic effects. According to Vote Hemp, more than 25 nations including Canada, Germany, France, China and Great Britain currently allow industrial hemp agriculture, and each of these countries also prosecute marijuana offenses. Said Lloyd Hart, director and national coordinator of Vote Hemp, “No police agency in any other country believes that hemp production impacts marijuana use or sales.”
Hemp was grown in the United States until the Hemp Tax Act of 1937 destroyed the industry; in the following 63 years, 50 percent of the world’s forests have been cut down to make paper, a product originally made from hemp, Hart explained. The Hemp Tax Act was the final blow in a war waged by the lumber industry after the 1929 stock market crash. Housing and lumber sales plummeted, but paper was still a necessity and became the lumber industry’s salvation. William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper baron with massive lumber holdings, spearheaded an economic and environmental revolution using wood fiber instead of hemp to produce paper and using marijuana to defame the hemp industry. Hemp has never recovered from its misunderstood relationship to marijuana, which has helped create an environmental crisis just a few decades later.
“Deforestation could be halted entirely with the institution of hemp agriculture,” explains Hart. “Anything you can make out of wood fiber you can make out of industrial hemp fiber with less expense.”
“With the majority of farmland laying fallow in America, we would have no problem producing the fiber we need.”
In addition to abolishing clear-cut logging practices, hemp production would have far-reaching economic benefits. “Because you must process hemp fairly close to the source, it will create value-added jobs in rural communities that have been long forgotten by industrial America,” said Hart. In addition to the direct benefit to farmers, hemp will help develop paper, textile, body care and food industries in communities where hemp is grown. With such staggering environmental and economic benefits, bipartisan support, and exploding public support (75 percent of Kentucky residents polled support industrial hemp agriculture, according to Hart), why such opposition?
“Only marijuana prohibitionists are against the farmers on this one,” Hart said. “The cynical view is the $500 million spent to eradicate feral hemp in the United States every year is so profitable to law enforcement that they fear they would lose this funding if people realized 95 percent of the plants destroyed were actually hemp and not marijuana. Thus, they refuse to acknowledge the difference.”
The nonprofit Vote Hemp is raising funds to research, produce and distribute 30 million voter guides this fall containing every state and federal candidate’s official position on industrial hemp in the 2000 elections.
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