Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Story of Industrial Hemp in the U.S. Part 2 of 3

Summer from Envirotextiles is the Vice-President and a member of the Board of Directors for the Hemp Industrial Association (HIA), and she gave us an update on the battle to legalize its production. The HIA is just one of a growing number of people and organizations that support the legalization of hemp production in the U.S. Others include a diverse cross section of society ranging from pro-marijuana groups, farmers from around the country, and a number of politicians including former Presidential candidate Ron Paul.

With consumers becoming increasingly exposed to and aware of the use industrial hemp in a variety of products, it is surprising how many people are not aware that it is currently illegal to grow industrial hemp in the United States without a special DEA permit. As it is virtually impossible to get a permit, the growing of hemp is effectively illegal. The history of how and why hemp was controlled dates back to the 1930’s, and involves some of the most powerful people and companies in America. And like so many things in this country, it is all about money. As the story of hemp has been told many times and in great detail, I will only give the short version here. However, I urge you to learn more and there is an excellent series of articles available online at: www.hempnowbook.com.

From the early 1600’s and up until the 1930’s, hemp was grown freely in the U.S., and was prized for its incredible array of uses. An article from the 1930’s extolled the virtues of hemp and stated that there were over 20,000 potential industrial uses for the crop. By that time, it was being made into a huge variety of products including rope, paper, textiles, and food products. Today it is believed that we could use hemp in over 50,000 products, and the list has grown to include many items that are made from petroleum based materials including plastics.

But somewhere along the way, the powers that be decided that the products that were being made from hemp would be better made from the raw materials that they controlled like oil and timber. With the development of natural fiber substitutes made from petroleum and the vast tracts of western timber to feed the paper mills, several powerful lobbies including the DuPont and Hearst companies pushed through the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. This began the effective illegalization of hemp by making it prohibitively expensive to produce. Working closely with William Randolph Hearst who had permits from the federal government to log large tracts of federal land to supply paper to his newspaper empire, they began a smear campaign to convince the public of the evils of Marijuana. This was accomplished through a tabloid type campaign conducted by Hearst’s newspapers that blurred the lines between “pot” that contains the psychoactive ingredient THC, and industrial hemp, which does not. The classic film “Reefer Madness” to which many of us were subjected in school is representative of these efforts. Having scared the crap out of the public, Andrew Mellon who was not only the banker for the DuPont family as well as Secretary of Treasury, had Harry Ansligner who was married to Mellon’s niece appointed as head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics which would later become the DEA. Together they helped pushed through the tax stamp legislation that resulted in the demise of the hemp industry in this country.

And the powers that be are still at work. Having spent the last couple of weeks driving the back roads through the heartland of America, past miles and miles of genetically modified corn and soy, for which the seeds, fertilizers and pesticides are supplied by companies such as DuPont and Monsanto, we were reminded daily of the clout these companies hold. As Hemp requires no pesticides or fertilizer and very little water to grow the production of hemp threatened these interests in every way, and this fact alone doomed its commercial production in the U.S.

In the 1930’s DuPont had developed an “improved” process for making paper from trees that used of course the chemicals supplied by DuPont. Also being developed were many new plastics and natural fiber substitutes, which were taking advantage of the cheap oil that the large corporations like Gulf Oil (Secretary Mellon was a major shareholder) had begun pumping out of the ground. The potential use of hemp as a source of fuel for the growing automobile industry was particularly threatening to them. As many of the richest Americans were making their fortunes from oil and timber, they made sure that hemp would be eliminated from the list of raw materials available to American industry. They were hugely successful in this, and the ban is still in place after over 70 years despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of its growth.

The more one reads about hemp, and I hope you will, the more one realizes that is nearly the perfect crop. Every part of the plant can be used in one form or another, and it is very beneficial for the environment. As of this date, 11 States have approved for their farmers to grow hemp under close regulation. However,the Federal Government continues to ban its production. Each year the DEA spends millions of dollars eliminating hemp, which grows wild in many parts of the U.S., despite the fact that it has no intoxicating effects. Until such time as the grassroots efforts (no pun intended!) combined with the growing number of States that realize both the ecological and economic benefits that growing hemp can bring, becomes stronger than the “big boys” efforts to squash it, it will no doubt remain illegal. You can do your part to end this travesty by learning more about hemp, and writing your Congressman and Senator to let them know where you stand on this issue.

Next-The Future of Hemp Production Part 3 of 3

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