Why Can’t We Grow Hemp?
Why can’t an American farmer grow hemp?
In 1618 all of the settlers in Jamestown were required to grow hemp. Other colonies also had laws requiring hemp cultivation. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers. It was Kentucky’s largest cash crop until the 1930s.
The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, and all American paper money was printed on hemp until the 1930s.
Henry Ford even built a car with a body made entirely of hemp, and Willie Nelson fueled a car on hemp oil.
The U. S. S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, was powered by hemp sails the word “hemp” comes from the Dutch word for canvas) and ropes, miles of hemp rope. In World War II, the government encouraged farmers to grow hemp for defense uses. It even produced Hemp for Victory, a film promoting the cultivation of hemp, in 1943.
But the story of hemp is not just history. It is a vigorous part of today’s economy as well. Every city has stores carrying hemp clothing, some of them devoted only to hemp products. Almost all health-food stores and upper-market supermarkets carry a wide variety of foods containing hemp oil or hemp seed. One who read the labels carefully will find numerous cosmetics containing hemp oils as well. In parts of the developed world hemp is used as a building material. Hemp could be a good source of fuel, the seed for bio-diesel and the rest of the plant for cellulose ethanol.
All of the hemp in these shirts, lipsticks, and salad dressing is imported. None is grown by American farmers. Instead it provides a cash crop for Canada, Western Europe, China, and other nations. Agriculture in this country is reduced to a group of excluded on-lookers.
Why don’t American farmers grow hemp? The plant is very tolerant of variations in soil and climate. A native of Central Asia, it is grown from North Africa to the Canadian prairies, from Alaska to Indonesia, from Southeast Asia to Kentucky. Hemp requires comparatively little water or fertilizer and is naturally pest-resistant. With best planting methods, minimal tillage is needed. Compared to rice, cotton, or corn hemp is a cheap, easy crop to grow.
American farmers don’t grow hemp because an ill-conceived law forbids it. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 made marijuana a Schedule I drug, meaning that it cannot be distributed or possessed by anyone in the United States. But it then defined marijuana as being any part of the plant Cannabis sativa (interpreted by the courts to mean any plant of the genus Cannabis, including both C. sativa and C. indicia). Hemp is a cultivar of C. sativa that is almost totally lacking in the primary intoxicant of marijuana. The old joke is that one would have to smoke a hemp cigarette as big as a telephone pole in order to get high.
Looking at an imaginary statute will demonstrate the flaw in this law. Imagine a statute that banned milk because some people are lactose intolerant and because milk fat contributes to obesity. It then goes on to forbid a rancher from raising beef because both Angus and Jersey cattle are members of the same species: Bos genius. (actually, this imaginary ban on beef cattle makes more sense than the ban on hemp does because even an Angus cow produces some milk.)
The federal government, albeit grudgingly, has recognized the value of hemp. When the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was being considered, paint manufacturers complained that, for fine paints, linseed oil was not an adequate substitute for hempseed oil; and bird seed manufacturers explained that caged canaries would not sing unless their food contained hempseed. At their request, the Act was written to allow the import of sterile hemp seeds. The later laws also allowed importation of processed hemp fiber. Only American hemp was banned.
Some American farmers have tried to grow hemp. For several years Native American farmers in the Dakotas have planted hemp, arguing that federal law does not apply on their reservations. Each year the DEA has plowed their crops under. Several state legislatures have looked at hemp but have felt stymied by the federal law. At least one state passed legislation, but conditioned it on federal approval that was not forthcoming.
So wake up and hop out of bed. Shower with hemp soap and shampoo. Eat your breakfast toast spread with hemp oil oleo and put on your hemp shirt and hempen jeans. Get into your hemp-fueled car and drive to the office of your congressional representative. When you get there, demand that the law be changed so that American farmers can participate in the wonderful market for hemp.