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There is a great paradox about Cannabis sativa

Posted on September 2, 2000

In response to:
Cash Crop: State program aims to help local law agencies get rid of marijuana, Saturday, August 26, 2000

To The Herald-Whig:
Payson, Illinois — There is a great paradox about Cannabis sativa and the dramatic pictures in Sunday’s Herald Whig of the police destroying large patches of “wild marijuana” reveal, unwittingly, a portion of it. In economics, there are those things which are the primary producers of real wealth that, in one way or another, derive their energy from the sun. The rest of the service economy depends on these primary producers. Fossil fuels are stored solar energy that is not renewable on a human time scale. Agriculture is the most important sector of any economy for converting solar energy into primary raw materials at a renewable rate.

As the pictures reveal, Cannabis sativa can grow to incredible heights in a single growing season. “Fifteen feet, towering above corn”, one article noted. There is no other plant capable, in our latitudes, of fixing so much carbon and generating so much biomass in a single year. Herein lies the reason its past, and possibly its future, role in agriculture is being re-evaluated in temperate countries the world over. Cannabis sativa consists of a hollow, woody core surrounded by long bast fibers which are some of the strongest and toughest in the world. Originating in China, it is the oldest cultivated fiber plant in existence. For centuries its ability to convert solar energy into raw materials and generate real wealth was unquestioned, and in many respects, unrivaled.

The great paradox of Cannabis sativa is this. It stands as one of the great wealth-generating crop plants in history. During a period of disuse after World War II, an array of forces including big oil, big chemical, big timber, big cotton and big government moved to eliminate its competition from the marketplace. But by the end of the 1960s cannabis was once again generating wealth at its historic levels. It is now the largest revenue producing crop in Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. It is one of the five top cash crops in 29 other states and all that wealth is going into a totally untaxed and unregulated black market. After 63 years of prohibition, what has been accomplished? Absolutely nothing.

Nature abhors a vacuum and a vacuum is what we have in agriculture. Neither industry nor government has a clue how we stop burying ourselves in corn and soybeans year after year, and end the need for bailouts. Thoughtful people of good will are demanding a reconsideration of hemp as a crop. The issue isn’t going away because the stakes are too high both for agriculture and the environment.

People think because hemp fell out of favor it must have been a poor substitute for something else. Nothing could be further from the truth. The inherent beauty and strength of the fiber assures that anything made from it will also bear those properties but will also, and here’s the thing, in the end be biodegradable. Hemp’s great marketing edge is its environmentally friendly aspects. It is grown without chemicals, produces an abundance of fibrous and woody material as well as a highly nutritious and edible seed, yet does not deplete the soil. It could replace wood- and paper-based products as well as petroleum-based fibers. It could save trees, jobs, communities, farms and families.

Yet, what is the stated reason for its not being an option? It sends the wrong message to children. The narrow issue is this: Should farmers be allowed to grow and profit from certifiably non-psychoactive varieties of Cannabis sativa? The larger issue is: Will the freedom we all profess to cherish prevail against the unnatural prohibition of a highly useful crop plant so that the great engine of market capitalism can go to work on a new concept to fundamentally reshape the way human society interacts with its environment?

Ned Behrensmeyer
Payson, Illinois

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