Reefer Madness: The curious ban on hemp
A few years ago, while walking through Boston Common, I was buoyed by the sight of thousands of college-aged and twenty-somethings flooding into the Common for a protest of some sort or another. Waxing nostalgic for my own college years, I smiled benevolently on the kids I passed, making the small assumption that they were demonstrating about global warming and the environment.
A once-familiar smell wafting from the assembled protesters told me that it wasn't exactly the environment that the young folks were so agitated about.
I had, in fact, stumbled into HempFest, an organized protest against marijuana laws.
Little did I know that it's not just the reefers that the U.S. government bans. It is, for better or worse, the entire American hemp farming industry.
Or so I was told by an article in the June 32rd issue of The Economist.
Despite the fact that industrial hemp contains only a trace concentration of the THC that makes marijuana marijuana, it's growth has been heavily regulated since the 1930's.
A truce was called during World War II so that farmers could grow hemp needed for ropes used by the Navy, but since then the DEA requires farmers to apply for rarely-issued permits if they want to grow hemp. The anti-hemp lobby, composed of nylon-makers and those who believe that legalizing industrial hemp will turn us on to the harder stuff. A hemp sweater today can surely lead to tomorrow's heroin coat. (Personally, if hemp-made clothing has any of the properties of ramie-made clothing - or if, in fact, ramie is hemp - the regulators have nothing to fear. I always check a sweater's fabric label for TDR (the dreaded ramie). Not only does it wear poorly, growing "hair" after the first washing, but anything made out of ramie takes forever to dry.)
In any case, the U.S. has to import the hemp used in many products - including "food, lotions, clothing, [and] paper".
Demand for hemp hemp is growing. The founder of Nutiva, which sells the ghastly-sounding "hemp bars, shakes and oils," believes that "hemp is the next soy."
Well, if that doesn't convince you that demand for hemp is getting high, there's also the prospect of hemp-fueled cars. ("Don't bogart that joint, my friend, pass it over to me" so I can stub it out and toss it in my gas tank.)
Some American farmers want to grow hemp, and they have their supporters, including Ron Paul, the Libertarian congressman who's running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Doesn't seem to be much reason to stand in the industrial hemp farmers way, now does it? Sometimes a little deregulation can make a lot of sense.