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Why is a plant that was proclaimed by Popular Mechanics magazine to have the potential to be manufactured into more than 25,000 different environmentally friendly products being systematically withheld from U.S. farmers?
It is because the plant is hemp (otherwise known as marijuana) and for the last sixty years, it has remained the United States government's public enemy #1.
What Is Hemp?
Often described as marijuana's misunderstood cousin, industrial hemp is from the same plant species (Cannabis sativa) that produces marijuana.
Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp has only minute amounts of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana its euphoric and medicinal properties.
An indispensable raw material throughout our nation's history (In 1640, the Governor of Connecticut declared that, "Every citizen must grow the plant."), industrial hemp is acknowledged as one of nature's strongest and most versatile agricultural crops.
Various parts of the plant can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, and animal feed.
In France, where approximately 10,000 tons of industrial hemp are harvested annually, companies even use coated hemp hurds to restore and build houses.
Besides its spectrum of commercial uses, hemp offers other advantages as well. It produces a much higher yield per acre than do common substitutes such as cotton and requires virtually no pesticides.
In addition, hemp has an average growing cycle of only 100 days and leaves the soil virtually weed-free for the next planting.
Currently, hemp is grown legally throughout much of Europe and Asia and is being cultivated successfully in test plots in both Australia and Canada.
Despite America's bureaucratic moratorium on industrial hemp cultivation, overwhelming evidence in favor of hemp production continues to emerge from this growing, international industry.
Domestic sales of imported hemp products raked in an estimated $25 million dollars in sales in 1994 alone and the American Farm Bureau Federation recently called hemp "one of the most promising crops in half a century."
Fashion giants Adidas, Ralph Loren, and Calvin Klein recently added hempen goods to their clothing lines and Klein also has predicted that hemp would become "the fiber of choice" for the home furnishing industry.
The number of outlet stores selling hemp products has exploded in recent years and the amount of American manufacturers producing a variety of hemp-based goods ranging from socks to skin care is now estimated to stand at over 1,000. In addition, many nutritionists and health professionals are now singing the praises of the hemp seed, noting that it is second only to soy in protein and contains the highest concentration of essential amino and fatty acids found in any food.
Most importantly, none of the countries that currently cultivate hemp for industrial purposes have reported experiencing rates of rising marijuana use because of their position regarding hemp.
History of Hemp
Researchers trace hemp's history as an industrial crop back some 10,000 years when the fiber was first utilized by the Chinese to make ropes and eventually paper.
Hemp's wide array of industrial uses first rose to prominence in America during the colonial era when many of the founding fathers espoused its versatility.
Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were strong advocates for a hemp-based economy and both cultivated the crop for its fiber content.
Most of the sails and ropes on colonial ships were made from hemp as were many of the colonists' bibles and maps.
The early settlers also used hemp seeds as a source for lamp oil and some colonies made hemp cultivation compulsory, calling it's production necessary for the "wealth and protection of the country."
Hemp continued to be cultivated in America until 1937 when Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act outlawing marijuana.
Although not a bill specifically aimed at industrial hemp production, legal limitations posed by the legislation quickly put an end to the once prominent industry.
Hemp production briefly re-emerged in 1942 when the federal government encouraged hundreds of American farmers to cultivate hemp for the war effort.
Armed with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) film entitled "Hemp for Victory," thousands of farmers grew hundreds of thousands of acres of hemp for wartime needs.
Unfortunately, when World War II ended, so did the government's allowance of hemp cultivation.
By 1957, prohibitionists had reasserted a total ban on hemp production. That federal ban remains in effect today.
Although the federal government refuses to waver on hemp prohibition, the popularity and knowledge surrounding the numerous advantages hemp production holds for American industry and the environment is rising dramatically.
Not surprisingly, even some politicians are beginning to catch on.
In 1996, politicians in four states introduced legislation allowing for domestic hemp cultivation and by legislative session's end, both Hawaii and Vermont had passed measures promoting industrial hemp research.
It's sometimes hard to believe, but just a few years ago there existed no such thing as a hemp industry in America.
Today, hemp importers, retailers, and manufacturers, and products are springing up everywhere.
Similarly, in 1995 only one state politician introduced legislation pertaining to hemp cultivation; it was defeated soundly.
Just one year later, politicians in four different states proposed such legislation and garnered significant support.
Where Does The DEA Stand On This Issue?
Despite hemp's growing emergence as a worldwide economic industry, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) remains firmly opposed to any notion of revising the federal law to allow for its domestic cultivation.
Currently, only the DEA has the power to license farmers to legally grow hemp.
Not surprisingly, the DEA has continued to deny every permit for large-scale hemp farming within America's borders for the last forty years.
Recently, the DEA reaffirmed their opposition to hemp in a 1995 USDA "White Paper" regarding the economic viability of alternative crops.
In it, the DEA stated that the agency is "opposed to any consideration of hemp as a legitimate fiber or pulp product."
The paper further stated that current policy mandates any USDA researcher who wishes to explore the issue of hemp cultivation and research must first be briefed by White house anti-drug officials.
In addition, DEA officials have stonewalled several state efforts to enact hemp cultivation and research bills by threatening to arrest any farmers contracted to grow the crop.
What Can You Do Right Now to Support Hemp?
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is the oldest and largest national organization dedicated solely to marijuana law reform.
Since 1970, NORML has educated the public and national media, litigated, and lobbied for hemp reform.
Composed of a staff of dedicated individuals in Washington, D.C., a legal committee that includes hundreds of skilled attorneys nationwide who specialize in marijuana law, and a Board of Directors that features a variety of distinguished scientists, researchers, physicians, lawyers, and reform activists, NORML serves as a national voice for the millions of Americans who believe it is both counter-productive and unjust to deny individuals the right to cultivate hemp as an industrial resource.
Learn about the benefits of hemp and educate those around you, including your community and political leaders.
Purchase and read such informative guides as Chris Conrad's book Hemp: Lifeline to the Future and HEMPTECH's Industrial Hemp.
Donate copies to your local library and/or send copies to your elected officials along with a letter informing them of the many practical uses for hemp.
During this year's hearings regarding industrial hemp legislation in Vermont, hemp proponents in the House of Representatives both cited and distributed copies of Industrial Hemp to members of the state legislature.
Many legislators were positively influenced by the booklet. Buy hemp products: Support the growing hemp market by purchasing hemp goods and frequenting retail outlets that distribute hemp products.
As hemp becomes more common in the marketplace, it will become harder to stigmatize.
In the past six years, American sales of hemp products have grown from less than a $1 million to an estimated $50 million.
Let your political leaders and manufacturers know that the hemp market is a legitimate and growing industry and not just a passing fad.
Encourage local retail outlets to carry hemp-based products.
The most effective way for a community to learn and appreciate the value of hemp is to become familiarized with its various products and practical uses in daily life.
The retail community and the consumer can make this a reality.
Teach farmers about the value of hemp:
Even though the sale of American hemp products are on the rise, federal prohibition of industrial hemp cultivation continues to effectively shut out the American farmer from this booming market.
Educate the farmers in your area of the value of hemp as a vital agricultural resource and make them aware of the need to end hemp prohibition.
In the wake of declining tobacco sales, many farmers are actively searching for an economically viable, low maintenance alternative crop.
Explain to them that hemp is the answer.
Encourage farm organizations to endorse hemp cultivation:
The American farm industry is one of America's most influential lobbies on both the national and state level.
For example, two chief backers of Colorado's hemp proposal were the Colorado Farm Bureau and the Colorado State Grange.
Encourage local farm organizations in your state to become involved in the movement to end hemp prohibition and actively lobby for reform.
In addition, contact the American Farm Bureau
(call 202-457-3600 or write to: 600 Maryland Ave., SW, #800, Washington, DC 20024) and tell them that you support their 1996 resolution endorsing domestic hemp production.
Request that they become more active and vocal in their support for industrial hemp on the fede level.
Target the media
People in general and the media specifically are receptive to hearing about new job and business opportunities that will also benefit the environment.
Encourage your local media to feature articles on industrial hemp by writing letters to the editor, Op-eds, and/or sending correspondents weekly NORML press releases (Call for more details).
Recent articles in such publications as Wired, Vegetarian Times, New Age Journal, E! The Environmental Magazine, and the Washington Post have provided needed publicity to the blossoming hemp movement and have heightened national awareness of hemp's industrial value.
Encourage additional media outlets to cover the latest hemp-related stories such as the recent planting that took place on American Indian soil and learn the truth about hemp.
Write your representatives:
Write a letter to your local representatives and members of Congress informing them that, as a voter, the issue of industrial hemp is important to you.
Elaborate on the many uses of industrial hemp and explain why you support repealing its prohibition.
Be sure to stress hemp's ecological and economic benefits, including the creation of jobs. (It is very difficult for a politician to argue against an issue that is good for both the environment and the economy.)
Request that they introduce legislation that would amend the federal and/or state law to allow research to take place on the viability of domestic hemp cultivation.
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