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Cannabis was once held in high esteem

Posted on December 21, 2000

Houston, Texas — Our next president, George W. Bush, struck a chord with his acceptance speech references to Thomas Jefferson and the plans he has to focus upon that forefather’s ideals.

Certainly, the nation owes much to Jefferson for his key role in getting us started. And a funny thing is, if today’s drug war tactics had applied back in his time, and if he had been busted with all those cannabis plants at Monticello, Jefferson may well have been a convicted criminal instead of an elected president.

The same is true of most everyone involved in agriculture back in those times, including George Washington. That is because practically everything they needed was produced on their own farms. And they needed those cannabis plants.

Not to inhale. They valued the crop for its fiber more than its fumes. It makes a sturdy cloth. As a matter of fact, when prehistoric man invented weaving, he likely used strands from the cannabis plant, judging from remnants discovered by archaeologists.

It makes strong ropes, too. So, from the same crop, our forebears could harvest both the sails needed to move their ships and the lines needed to rig them. It was considered such an important resource, in fact, that the first law regarding the cannabis plant in the New World required colonial farmers to grow it.

When the Revolutionary War came along, the famous battleship Old Ironsides was fitted out with just such sails and rope. Betsy Ross turned out the original Old Glory using canvas made from the cannabis plant.

It also provides handy raw materials for making paper, the stalks being much faster growing and easier to cut than trees. Would you care to guess what kind of paper was used for the original drafts of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?

Hemp vs. marijuana

Cannabis grown for industrial uses is called hemp. Cannabis grown for smoking is called marijuana. The folks who would like to grow hemp or who would like to make products from hemp grown in the United States, say the two are different.

They point out that hemp plants are selected and planted and cultivated to produce tall stalks, whereas the emphasis in marijuana production is on the leaves and blooms of plants that spread out more.

Hemp fans say their cannabis plants don’t contain nearly as much THC (the active ingredient prized by pot smokers) as marijuana plants. They say it would benefit American farmers to grow hemp, and point to the many thousands of products that can be made from the plant, everything from wall board and other building materials to bio-fuels that we could use in place of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

However, officials in charge of the drug war make no distinction between hemp and marijuana. They say if growing hemp were allowed, it would be too difficult to prevent people from growing marijuana.

“Ditchweed” growing wild of course, hemp can be found growing wild in parts of the country. The government drug warriors spend millions of dollars a year to eradicate patches of it that come to their attention.

Commonly called “ditchweed,” some of it may have descended from the vast fields of hemp grown during World War II. Just five years after the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 put an end to hemp crops on U.S. farms, the nation’s supply of fiber for many military uses was cut off when Japan took the Philippines. So the government encouraged patriotic farmers to resume growing “Hemp for Victory.”

The U.S.-grown hemp fibers were used in uniforms, boots and a wide variety of military items. I even read somewhere that the parachute that saved the life of George Bush, the elder, when he had to bail out of his airplane over the Pacific Ocean during the war, had some hemp in it.

Somewhere else I read that a U.S. farmer up near the northern border of our country made on his grain crops only about one-tenth as much an acre as a Canadian farmer only a few miles away made by growing hemp.

Canadian farmers are free to grow hemp and U.S. farmers are not. Don’t you wonder what Thomas Jefferson would have to say about this, if there were some way to ask him?

Copyright © 2000, The Houston Chronicle. All rights reserved.

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