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Follow-up letter to Agri-Talk

Posted on October 29, 2000

Dear Ken,
At the alter of Thomas Jefferson I bow my head and kneel. In your kind note to me following our October 18th broadcast on hemp, you mentioned, “hemp may be the issue that backs Federal law out of states rights.” Indeed. As a farm owner, I exist at the interface between human society and the natural world and have very passionate feelings about hemp as a tool to get the two into better harmony. But the thing that motivates me the most is not hemp, but the awful sense that the fundamental rights I’d always believed were mine by birthright as an American are now less understood, less cherished, hence less secure, then any time in my life. I believe hemp presents us with the means — and therefore the duty — to forge a renewed sense of Freedom and Liberty in this country. I also believe it is precisely times like these that our Constitution is designed to get us through. I think you are more aware of the hemp issue now then before but I’d like, if you’ll permit me, the chance to take you to the next level in terms of what I think this issue is really about.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests, by the most lasting bonds. As long, therefore, as they can find employment in this line, I would not convert them into mariners, artisans, or anything else.”

Jefferson’s ideal of a nation of “yoeman farmers” as the best long term preservers of real Freedom and Liberty was swept away long ago in the currents of industrialism and urbanization. But not entirely. The germ of truth in his ideal has never lost its validity. Farmers are still portrayed as “vigorous, independent and virtuous” and seen as solid citizens in support of core American values. But that comes from being “tied to their country” “by the most lasting bonds.” The important point is that it is very threatening to democracy for the ownership of the land base to be concentrated into the hands of too few people and that, I believe, is a trend now accelerating in this country. The stability of the society is also bound up in the ordered passage of real property from one generation to the next and that, too, just gets harder. It’s the breaking of these “lasting bonds” that worries me.

All this is justified, of course. Get big or get out. Get smart or get out. Maybe the time’s come for the small farmer to just give up and get out altogether and let agribusiness do the farming, too. It’d be more efficient. It’s all part of the Agribusiness Bio-tech Revolution. It’s inevitable. It’s progress…

In the early 70’s my sister was a Harvard grad student in geology & paleontology and I was in my last year of high school at a school in western Massachusetts. I used to go visit her on weekends and holidays. Her office was near the main Harvard science building. I can remember when the technique of recombinant DNA was discovered, there were large demonstrations around that building by people protesting what it represented. What I’m saying here is there has always been a segment of the population who didn’t like the implications of GMO, right from the very start, and agribusiness and government have ignored these people at their peril. But it isn’t like they weren’t given fair warning.

I’m afraid Starlink is going to pound a very long nail into the coffin being built for GMO. The problem with GMO isn’t the science, it’s the symbol. And the symbol is becoming ever more crystallized in the public’s eyes. It is seen as a tool for centralizing and corporatizing agriculture worldwide. It is also seen as an emblem of government willingness to make and fund agricultural policy at the bidding of agribusiness corporations without regard for the perceptions or desires of the general public. To a public already highly skeptical of governmental motives and big business, the suspicion of GMO foodstuffs is a big load of new grist for the mill. More and more the public perceives GMO as something being shoved down their throats.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-GMO, I’m just describing the symbol as I see it. We grow Round Up Ready beans on my farm and I like it. We have a severe Johnson Grass problem and because of the spring, if we have to use chemicals, I’d rather use Round-Up then anything else. Going back to using more Atrazine on corn is not a happy prospect either. But the need to protect the spring from any possible surface contamination is always a consideration. I can show you a study from Yugoslavia which says that not even Johnson Grass can survive the intense competition of a thick stand of fiber hemp. If fiber hemp grown in rotation with corn and beans could be used as a management tool to control Johnson Grass without chemicals then, from the public relations standpoint of protecting my pure drinking water source, that would be ideal.

Its not really the job of farmers to be shills for agribusiness, as they are finding out. If the bio-tech revolution founders on the rock of public hysteria then farmers are still the ones on the ground running and it is more important for farmers to grow crops the public wants and needs. One group of consumer’s money is just as good as another’s. It doesn’t help farmers to be seen as accessories to the forces who have spent the last 30 years of research and development creating this mess in the first place when they should have, at the very least, spent some R&D on researching new crops altogether. The thing that must be appreciated about the hemp movement is this. It is coming from “the people”. This is not agribusiness talking, this is not the government talking, this is the “people” talking. Since Jack Herer’s book was published in 1985 the ideas he unleashed have penetrated deep enough into the society they now have a real life of their own. The logic of a hemp-based agriculture is so compelling the idea is spreading fast. There is also every reason to believe that because the concept of a hemp based agriculture is coming from the people, the people will embrace hemp products once they understand what they truly represent. Hemp could be considered the anti-GMO.

This brings us to Freedom. The Freedom, as farmers, to found a new industry for our own survival, and the Freedom as Americans to engage in the free enterprise system, the supposed cornerstone of our society, and let the chips fall where they may. But the federal government remains totally opposed to hemp agriculture. McCaffrey said recently the chance of hemp becoming legal is “zippo.” All hemp legislation is coming from the states. The President has the power to change the definition of marijuana by Executive Order to recognize low THC varieties but will not do so. The Illinois legislature is on record calling for just such a change in definition. Why is the government so opposed to it? What about it threatens them so much? It is in answering these questions that I hope to be able to take you to the next level of understanding of the hemp issue. Are you aware that Gen. McCaffrey spent the better part of the last year trying to ban the importation of all legal hemp products? What follows is a synopsis of events I prepared for your program but never got a chance to get into.

DEA Proposed Hemp Food Ban Timeline

  • August 9, 1999: U.S. Customs seized 20 tons of sterilized hemp seed coming from Kenex, the largest Canadian hemp processor, in Detroit. The seed was going to a birdseed manufacturer. For decades the DEA had allowed the importation of sterilized hemp seed for use in birdseed mixtures but suddenly announced that their “zero tolerance policy” no longer permitted the importation of any hemp product containing any trace of THC whatsoever. Hemp seed does not naturally contain THC and only acquires it from leaf dust during harvesting. The THC from the seed tested out at .0014%. Kenex was ordered to recall, in a matter of days, all previous shipments of hemp products much of it already used, totaling 17 trailer loads, including oil, granola bars, horse bedding and animal feed or face $500,000 in fines. The DEA refused to give a legal basis for the confiscation and a 30 day extension to clarify the situation was denied by U.S. Customs.
  • This was a violation of NAFTA because the action was taken without consultation with the Canadian government and Kenex took their complaint to Ottawa which handled the problem through diplomatic channels and the case against Kenex was dropped on November 4, 1999.
  • On December 7, 1999: US Customs issued new guidelines recognizing the international standard of 0.3% or less THC and allowed the resumption of legal hemp product importation.
  • On December 30, 1999: the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which is Gen. McCaffrey’s office, requested that US Customs suspend the guidelines of Dec. 7th. On Jan. 5th a memo from the ONDCP was issued instructing US Customs field personnel to use “constructive seizure procedures” for “any hemp product, or part thereof, which contains any amount of THC.” The memo also said the ONDCP and the DEA would “review the issue to determine whether the policy to allow for traces of THC in hemp products is consistent with their National Drug Control Policy.”
  • On February 11, 2000: Geoff Kime, the first licensed Canadian producer and owner of the Hempline processing company, spoke to Omniventures, Inc. and reported that Canadian products were not being seized at that time.
  • On March 5, 2000: McCaffrey again sent a letter to both the DEA and Customs demanding that agents seize all imports of hemp products but they balked, fearing to spark a trade war.
  • On March 23, 2000: John Roth, Chief of the Narcotic & Dangerous Drug section of the Justice Department sent a letter to Donnie Marshall, the head of the DEA, spelling out that there is no legal authority to ban the importation of legal hemp products based on trace amounts of THC and this was followed up by a letter from Janet Reno to McCaffrey stating, “we lack legal authority to prohibit importation of hemp products unless the definition of marijuana in Title 21 of the Controlled Substances Act is changed to remove the hemp exclusion.” And this is exactly what McCaffrey has been trying to do since by circulating in Congress three proposals to either ban everything, exempt paper and cloth or only exempt products not used for human consumption. This must not be allowed to happen either by this administration or the next.

All of the above was one reason Canadian hemp production fell last year to around 12,000 acres from the 35,000 acres previous. Communism couldn’t “bury us” but “zero tolerance” is well on the way! But again, what are they protecting? The answer to that question comes from an unlikely source, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, the great Republican champion of the Clinton impeachment, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the most credible man in America to be blowing the whistle on the Civil Asset Forfeiture scam which the Justice Department and police departments around the country are up to their elbows in. This represents the most vicious attack by our government and politicians on the 4th and 5th Amendment rights of citizens I’ve ever seen and is a testament to the corruption which ensues when we go from being a system of laws, not men, to a system where the end justifies the means and political opportunism and pandering are the modus operandi of policy making.

In 1995, Rep. Hype published a book called, “Forfeiting Our Property Rights, Is Your Property Safe From Seizure?” On the first page he says, “in my view, a drug war has been perverted too often into a series of frontal attacks on basic American constitutional guarantees — including due process, the presumption of innocence, and the right to own and enjoy private property. Foremost among the invasions we now witness are unrelenting governmental assaults on property rights, fueled by a dangerous and emotional vigilante mentality that sanctions shredding the U.S. Constitution into meaningless confetti.” Strong words from such a source. He adds, “much of what you may have learned in school or college about your rights and liberties no longer applies.” This is reassuring!

The book describes how under the more lax standards of civil court proceedings people can have their property seized without actually being charged with any crime or afforded due process. No one has a problem with “criminal asset forfeiture,” where property is seized which has been shown to be the result of criminal activity. Civil asset forfeiture goes back to hoary medieval theories about the property itself being “guilty” and therefore subject to seizure by the King. If a cow killed someone in the street that cow became the King’s property. Until recently all the police had to show was “probable cause”, the lowest standard of proof, that the property was somehow involved in a crime for the property to be subject to seizure. When Reagan brought these musty old theories back into play in 1985 to supposedly go after “drug kingpins” the total value of property seized that year was $27,000,000. In 1998, it was up to $449,000,000. In 1996, it was $336,000,000. It has added up to billions of dollars in the 1990’s. Yet fully 80% of the people whose property is seized are never charged with a crime! The lion’s share of the money derived from these seizures goes right back to the police departments doing the seizing. And where states have passed laws aimed at preventing this practice, such as Missouri, which has mandated that seized money should go to the state education coffers, the police, in a practice known as “adoptive forfeiture”, avoid state laws by routing the money back through the federal justice department which then sends the money right back to the local or state police.

“I have a right to nothing that another has a right to take away.”
— Thomas Jefferson

In a free society the profit motive has no place in law enforcement. The purse and the sword should never wind up in the same hands. The “drug task forces” loose in this country are now operating beyond any real legislative oversight. Rep. Hyde spent six years conducting hearings, which shocked him. As he found out, these were not the actions of a few rogue cops. In drafting his Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act he wanted to raise the standard of proof from “probable cause” to “clear and convincing evidence.” On June 24, 1999 the bill was passed by the overwhelming vote of 375 to 48 in the House. It was sponsored by Henry Hyde, Robert Barr, John Conyers and Barney Frank yet was hardly mentioned in the national media. The Clinton Administration teamed up with the 48 most reactionary elements in the House to water it down or kill it. They tried to pass a substitute based on “a preponderance of the evidence”, a lower standard of proof. This was defeated 268 to 155. When I saw this happening I lost my last vestige of respect for Clinton and trust in the Democratic Party. Mr. Hyde said about it at the time of the vote, “They don’t have to convict you. They don’t even have to charge you with a crime. But they have your property. This is a throwback to the old Soviet Union, where justice is the justice of the government and the citizen doesn’t have a chance.” Mr. Barr said, “its the monetary tail wagging the law enforcement dog.” These are not “liberals” trying to put brakes on the Drug War!

The bill was not welcome when it arrived in the Senate. Eventually, the Clinton Administration prevailed and the final bill that Clinton signed in May made the “reformed” standard “a preponderance of the evidence.” The Kansas City Star in a series of articles last year by Karen Dillon investigated the forfeiture scam and reported that the effect of the new law will be virtually nil. Rep. Hyde tried to insert language at the end which would have stopped “adoptive forfeiture” but in the final bill this “Missouri provision” was removed. The police remain addicted to seized property with the ability to avoid state laws. The drift towards a police state and real Tyranny continues. This is a seizure of Executive Branch power! Oregon has a ballot measure (#3) which would require that the police obtain a conviction before seizing property (since the 4th and 5th Amendments no longer suffice) . McCaffrey was in Oregon last week calling for its defeat. Massachusetts and Utah have similar initiatives.

This, for me, more then anything else, shows the true corruption of the Clinton Administration. He has perfected the technique of selling “security” at the cost of Freedom. The number of prisons has doubled since 1994 and we now have the largest prison population in the world at over 2 million. 1.2 million are there for non-violent offenses, 500,000 for drug offenses alone. Of those, a large percentage are there because of multiple offenses where the only previous offenses were other non-violent drug offenses. Racial profiling is also a very big part of this. One third of all black men between the ages of 19 and 29 are in the criminal justice system. In many states conviction of a felony results in life-time disenfranchisement which for blacks amounts to “Jim Crow by other means.” 14% of black men nationally are disenfranchised, 30% in some southern states. All these things are not happening in isolation from each other. The growth of prisons has led to the growth of industries and communities dependent on them as well as well-financed prison guard unions and private prisons capable of buying lots of political influence dedicated to maintaining a good supply of “new product.” For me, all this adds up to an incredible prescription for disaster and the total loss of anything resembling the “inalienable rights” and ordered Liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

“The legitimate power of government extends to such acts only as are injurious to others.”
— Thomas Jefferson

Twice in our history structural failings have threatened to collapse the edifice of our government and it’s carefully balanced division of powers. The first was the failure of the original Constitution to provide any means for enforcing itself upon the states. This ultimately ordained that slavery could only be ended by war. The 14th Amendment was the correction of this flaw. The end of the Civil War brought the beginnings of the Temperance Movement and a very strange thing eventually happened in the annuls of constitutions. The purpose of constitutions in democratic societies is to limit the powers of government. No statement in our Constitution more directly addresses this then the “forgotten” Ninth Amendment, “The enumeration of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” In other words, just because we’ve made this list don’t think the list is complete and these are all the rights we’ve reserved. All inherent and implied sovereignty stays on the side of the people and the government is limited to just those powers set down in the Constitution and no more.

But the 18th Amendment turned this on its head and handed power back to the government in bucket loads. The Bill of Rights, in Madison’s words, was supposed to prevent “the tyranny of the majority” over the rights of minorities but that is exactly what the 18th Amendment set out to do, establish a “tyranny of the majority” over alcohol consumers and created an overzealous bureaucracy to do just that. “Consentual crime” was born. Organized crime was born. The police as a pro-active force rather then a reactive one was born. Wire tapping, mass incarceration, murder, crime of all kinds, political corruption, jury tampering, contempt for government all came as a result. History records that Prohibition was a failure. The Noble Experiment which had been brought to us by the evangelical, moralistic and Puritanical side of the American psyche proved worse then the supposed “immoral” disease.

In 1932, the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition but here is where the second great structural weakness has crept into the American experiment in Freedom. That overzealous bureaucracy -the Bureau of Prohibition-created by the 18th Amendment was not dismantled, as it should have been, if the experiment in majority control over minority appetites had been truly repudiated. In other words, Prohibition never ended! For sure, the bureaucracy was downsized but it was never taken apart. The career prohibitionists were allowed to change the sign on the door to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) and continue business as usual. The 1937 marijuana law provided a nice new mandate and easy, powerless targets. The domestic hemp industry was trampled in the stampede for this new “legitimacy.” It all remained safely tucked away in the Treasury Dept. as an extension of Executive Branch Power never envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Today it is the DEA and it has evolved powers which overrule the Bill of Rights. What good does it do to have a Constitution dedicated to the ideal of creating a society which maximizes the freedom of everyone and then create a bureaucracy to make sure freedom doesn’t go “too far”, at least in the eyes of the disapproving “majority”? The former is an expression of faith in the capacity of informed people to govern themselves, the latter is the retraction of that faith. The first creates real Democracy, the second, Democracy-Lite or Democracy with training wheels. What do I think is truly wrong with this country? We have abandoned our own first principles!

“Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?”
— Thomas Jefferson

Mike Gray, at the end of his 1998 book, “Drug Crazy” writes, “Prohibition, as policy, can only ratchet in one direction. Each failure must be met with more repression. Any step backward calls into question the fundamental assumption that repression is the solution. Ultimately, every available gun will be brought to bear because marijuana is the pawl on the ratchet, the little catch that keeps the drum from unwinding….but if somebody jiggles that pawl and the drum slips, support for the current policy will plummet like a loose cage in a mineshaft, because it cannot sustain a serious evaluation.” So this is why the government is so opposed to hemp. By initiating a positive discussion of Cannabis sativa, that positive discussion threatens to catalyze a reevaluation of attitudes towards marijuana in general and thereby “jiggle the pawl” on the ratchet of Prohibition and everything which depends on it. 1999 was the first year in which the total number of arrests for marijuana related offenses, 88% for possession alone, exceeded the total for every other category of crime combined, 682,000 to 676,000.

“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
— Thomas Jefferson

The internet is creating a new mass of highly informed people in the population anxious to finally set things right again. But how to fight such a bloated and corrupt monster? Surely what is at stake here are fundamental American concepts of Liberty and not the “legalization of marijuana.” Hemp stands on its own merits and it will be argued on its own merits. It is agriculturally and environmentally of first rate importance. The call to allow for free market capitalistic experimentation in the potentials of a hemp based agriculture, as other countries are doing, is an absolutely right and just cause, especially if you’re a farmer. The question is how long the government will stonewall because of marijuana? Fiber revolutions are huge events in human history and always threaten established power structures.

But there is a Gandhian side to this struggle, too. Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see.” One way he was able to undercut the power of the British in India was by simply getting millions of Indians to go back to making their own clothes. This deprived the English textile industry of its huge Indian market. Likewise, with hemp, the way to ultimately undercut the power of the DEA and government resistance is for people to simply start buying, using and demanding quality hemp products. Its that simple! And unless they can succeed in banning the importation of all hemp products and do it soon, the outcome is already determined. The demand will create the market which will create the political will to legalize domestic hemp production again. And if all the other dirt comes out in the wash and we wind up a freer country again my duty as an American to defend and protect the Constitution will have been discharged and I can retire to my farm to grow hemp for the rest of my days secure in the knowledge that when the call came to fight, I did. The Hemp Revolution is the American Revolution.

During the Nixon years the historian Henry Steele Commager wrote, “Animated by impatience, anger and fear, we are giving up essential liberties, not for safety, but for the appearance of safety. We are corroding due process and the rule of law not for Order, but for the semblance of order. We will find that when we have given up liberty, we will not have safety, and when we have given up justice, we will not have order.” Amen.

If you have read this far I thank you for making it to the end. I am going to the North American Industrial Hemp Council’s conference in Chicago on November 4-5, 2000. Word is the Illinois Industrial Hemp Act will come up for a vote on November 14, 2000. I’ll keep you posted. I’ve noticed a definite upturn in hemp related calls to Agri-Talk since my appearance!

Ned Behrensmeyer
Payson, IL

“Only lay down true principles and adhere to them inflexibly. Do not be tempted into their surrender by the alarms of the timid or the croakings of wealth against the ascendancy of the people.”
— Thomas Jefferson

“The principles of Jefferson are the axioms of a free society.”
— Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2000, Ned Behrensmeyer. All rights reserved.

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