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The World Grows Hemp; US waits

Posted on December 22, 2000

While most farmers await the naming of a new agricultural secretary, a much smaller group of agriculturalists awaits new leadership in another area of government. They are more concerned with who will head up the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

These new administrators may hold the key, the agriculturalists believe, to the return of the crop once grown on many US farms and an industry once prominent in America — industrial hemp.

The growing of hemp has been illegal for nearly 40 years. It is classified the same as marijuana another plant of the genus cannabis. Both plants produce a psychoactive compound called THC.

Why Hemp is not pot

Proponents argue that industrial hemp varieties contain very low levels of THC, less than 0.3% while marijuana contains levels of 15%-25% THC. So in other words you could smoke industrial hemp all day and never get high. Still the DEA holds firm that hemp and marijuana are equally bad for society.

A few of your families may have grown hemp to aid the war effort in the 1940s. Remnants of a hemp mill still remain in my hometown.

Why hemp was made illegal is not exactly clear. Growing marijuana was one reason. However it is also believed that the rapidly emerging industries centered around petroleum based synthetic products were involved.

These industries included very powerful players. They felt threatened by the potential of a bio-based industry that would provide energy and new synthetic products from renewable biomass.

What’s ironic is that the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. The crop was so important that three colonies had laws requiring that farmers grow hemp!

Hope for hemp

More than 30 countries, including Canada, now allow industrial hemp production. The industry is growing with hundreds of products including paper, construction materials, clothing, carpeting cosmetics and food. Most of these products are exported to America or processed here.

So why not just let American farmers grow the hemp? That’s the questions more Ag leaders are asking. At the least they would like to relax the rules to allow research.

“Farmers need alternative and profitable crops,” says NPO president Paul Olson, “It’s time to put politics aside and use common sense to give this a chance.”

Growing hemp may also contribute to the demise of marijuana. “With hemp pollinating marijuana across America, hemp would be like paraquat to a marijuana crop.” quips (former CIA Director) James Woolsey, a legal adviser to the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

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