Friday, November 30, 2007

MFC - Evidence mounts: It's time to end U.S. hemp ban

As you tally up your blessings this holiday season, don't forget to include a little thank you for the most profitable, versatile, nutritious and environmentally beneficial crop on the planet: hemp.

It's understandable why you might overlook such an important point of thanks. American farmers have been banned from growing hemp for 50 years. But it's never too late for a country to come to its collective senses.

No longer just celebrated by hippies, hemp products have firmly hit the mainstream market. The "Today Show" has called hemp "one of the hottest food trends for 2007." A recent issue of Prevention magazine called hemp "the latest heart superfood."

Last month, The Oregonian newspaper devoted the entire front page of its Sunday Life, Arts and Books section and two full inside pages to the feature article "Hemp: The Little Weed That Could."

Reporter Steve Woodward wrote: "Hemp seems too good to be true. But there's no denying its seemingly endless possibilities."

In 1938, Popular Mechanics magazine famously declared that hemp "can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane."

Woodward highlighted seven Oregon businesses that use hemp under the headline "Entrepreneurs constantly expand the list of hemp products."

And they are just the tip of the iceberg. According to Woodward, hemp is used in clothing made by Adidas, Armani, Calvin Klein, Esprit, Walt Disney and Vans. It's in cosmetics made by The Body Shop and Revlon. It's in door panels, dashboards, trunks and other automobile parts used by Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Saturn, BMW, Honda and Mercedes.

The one thing that all of these companies have in common besides their use of hemp is the fact that they must import hemp. The United States is the only industrial country with a ban on hemp production, and hemp is the only crop that is illegal to grow but legal to import into America.

How can U.S. farmers compete in the global marketplace with both hands tied behind their backs this way? How can we expect food, textiles, automotive and other manufacturing sectors to stay strong in America when this highly popular raw material is only produced elsewhere?

Lest you think there might be some actual legitimacy to America's ban on hemp farming, let's review the facts. Hemp is usually legally defined as varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant with less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol - THC, the psychoactive ingredient responsible for marijuana's high. It is impossible to get high on hemp by its very definition.

What's more, marijuana can't "hide" in hemp fields because the two are not compatible growing partners. Hemp chokes out other plants and kills the potency of marijuana.

Just about the only argument the federal government has left to stand on is the dubious claim that legalizing hemp would send the wrong message to kids. But don't we teach children that owning up to your mistakes is the right thing to do? When all the facts about hemp are in, young people might conclude that America's drug policies are confused at best.

In reality, the ban on hemp farming is deeply hypocritical and misguided. Besides having nearly endless uses, hemp is the most nutritionally complete food known to man. It's also a farmer's best friend. Hemp does not require herbicides or pesticides. Its long roots make it a good rotation crop. It has a growing season of just four months. One acre of hemp produces as much pulp as four or more acres of timber. And hemp can be used to make either ethanol or biodiesel.

Nonetheless, the ban on hemp farming remains steadfast despite dozens of bills introduced in 28 state legislatures since 1995. Fifteen states have passed favorable hemp legislation; seven states have removed barriers to production and research. But the feds just won't have it.

It may be easier for farmers just to avoid thinking about hemp than to be driven mad lamenting this lost opportunity. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

No, I'm not speaking of HR1009, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007 introduced in Congress. That bill might not even get a hearing. Instead, hemp could finally get its day in court. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland will soon decide whether to hear a hemp case in North Dakota. That state has been the most active in passing hemp legislation.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture "supports revision to the federal rules and regulations authorizing commercial production of industrial hemp." The National Conference of State Legislatures has also passed a pro-hemp resolution.

It's past time that America stop looking this gift horse in the mouth and give hemp a chance. In my mind, the ban on hemp farming is nothing less than a national sin.

This holiday season, please join me in prayer for the right to grow hemp.