Despite a recent snub by California farmers, the future of industrial hemp looks bright.
Thursday, December 16, 1999
To Sam Clauder, it seemed like a no-brainer. As director of the Coalition for Agricultural and Industrial Renewal, Clauder saw little reason why California farmers wouldn''t want to join his group''s campaign to re-legalize the growing of industrial hemp--you know, the stuff on which the Declaration of Independence was printed and with which Christopher Columbus outfitted his ships.
The California State Assembly had just endorsed the idea. So did the California Democratic Party. As did the state farm bureaus of Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin--like California, heavily agricultural-dependent states with much to gain by diversifying its croplands.
Plus, despite a federal ban dating to the 1950s, nine states this year ordered the production or study of industrial hemp, with Hawaii this past Tuesday embarking on the first officially sanctioned planting of the crop in more than three decades. And, trade in industrial hemp is formally recognized by NAFTA and GATT; growing the crop is legal in more than 35 countries, including Canada, England, France, and Germany.
But when it came time for the California Farm Bureau Federation to weigh in on the matter, Clauder got the cold shoulder. At its annual meeting held in Monterey last week, the federation wouldn''t even let Clauder''s foot in the door. Rules are rules, says federation spokesperson Bob Krauter, who said Clauder didn''t get enough support to bring his pro-hemp resolution to the floor.
Fear is fear, says Clauder. "I was told it was too controversial," says Clauder, whose Orange County-based group sponsored an unsuccessful effort to get a hemp-legalization measure on the ballot last year. "Unfortunately, nothing happened in Monterey."
Nothing may have happened last week, but some day, perhaps some day soon, Salinas Valley farmland--real estate now being eyed by country-club developers and wine-grape prospectors--may very well sprout hemp as far as the eye can see.
By the looks of things, with more and more states (22 and counting) recognizing the profits to be reaped from industrial hemp, California farmers had better get their butts in gear, lest they''ll fall behind in what could be nothing short of an agricultural revolution. Or, actually, a re-revolution.
Hemp was first domesticated some 10,000 years ago, in central Asia between Siberia and the Himalayas. In 1619, farmers in Jamestown were legally required to grow it. It was accepted as cash from 1631 into the early 19th century. George Washington grew it. So did Thomas Jefferson. By the mid-1700s it was the world''s No. 1 crop. Since World War II, however, federal officials haven''t issued a single permit to grow hemp, with the last field being planted--legally, anyway--in Wisconsin in 1957.
Today, a combination of forces is chipping away at what many in the ag biz are calling the U.S. government''s irrational opposition to the cultivation of hemp, which, when smoked, elicits little more than a bad headache. (The stuff contains less than 1 percent THC, as compared to marijuana, which contains 5 to 20 percent.)
Hemp could be big business, just as it was before the War on Drugs. Worldwide sales have blossomed from several million in 1993 to $75 million in 1997, with the figure expected to reach the billions by the end of next year.
Uses and markets have greatly expanded, too. Far beyond the hemp-fest placard slogan of "Food, Fuel, Fiber," industrial hemp could find a home in more than 25,000 products, from beer and hair-care products (which you may already be using) to carpet, building materials, car parts, and reinforced plastics.
Leading the re-legalization campaign along with Clauder is Erwin Sholts, a state of Wisconsin agriculture official and founder of the North American Industrial Hemp Council of Madison. Sholts recently hired none other than James Woolsey, CIA director under President Bush (whose life was saved during World War II by a hemp-hewn parachute), to lobby on his organization''s behalf. "Corn and soybean rotation won''t last forever. Industrial hemp is good for sustainability," says Sholts, whose nickname, "Bud," is unrelated to his work. "We are going to make this happen."
For more information on industrial hemp, visit the Web sites of the North American Industrial Hemp Council (naihc.org) and the Coalition for Agricultural and Industrial Renewal (www.cair.net).