Pubdate: Thu, 13 Sep 2001
Source: Missoula Independent (MT)
Copyright: 2001 Missoula Independent
Author:  Nick Davis


State Opens Door For Industrial Hemp But Waits On Feds.

Though often accused of being backward or behind the times, the 2001 
Montana Legislature placed Montana among a group of forward-thinking states 
and organizations with the passage last April of Senate Bill 261, which 
could free the growth of industrial hemp from the auspices of the federal 
Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed by Congress in 1970.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. B.F. "Chris" Christiaens (D-Great 
Falls) and in the House by Rep. Christopher Harris (D-Bozeman), legalizes 
the growth and sale of "industrial hemp"--that is, "all parts and varieties 
of the plant Cannabis sativa L. containing no greater than 0.3 percent 
tetrahydrocannabinol"--within Montana's borders. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or 
THC, is the chemical that produces the high sought by users of marijuana.

"Any THC level of one percent or less is generally regarded as useless in 
the effort to get high," says John Masterson, director of the Montana 
chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) 
and a co-organizer of the Sixth Annual Missoula Hempfest, to be held in 
Caras Park Saturday, Sept. 8 from noon until 11 p.m.

Supporters of the effort to legalize industrial hemp point to the 
prevalence of hemp as a wonder plant of sorts before the Marihuana Tax Act 
of 1937 effectively ended its viability as a cash crop. According to The 
Emperor Wears No Clothes, the so-called "hemp bible" written by Jack Herer 
in 1985 and currently in its eleventh edition, "hemp is, by far, Earth's 
premier, renewable natural resource."

For years the fiber derived from hemp plants was essential to a boggling 
number of industries: shipping (Herer estimates that the U.S.S. 
Constitution--"Old Ironsides"--held at least 60 tons of hemp in rigging, 
sails, etc.); textiles and fabrics (80 percent of all clothing, tents, 
sheets, linens, etc. were made from hemp until the 1820s); fiber and pulp 
paper (75 to 90 percent of all paper in the world was made from hemp until 
1883); paints and varnishes; lighting oil and various medicines, to name 
but a few.

In the early 1900s, hemp's potential as a cash crop was limited by the 
relatively labor- and time-intensive process needed to extract the fiber 
from the plant. By the time harvester technology caught up to the plant, 
the Tax Act of 1937 had nipped a potential star crop in the bud. However, 
enough of a gap between efficient processing and taxation existed for 
magazines such as Popular Mechanics and Mechanical Engineering to trumpet 
hemp as a savior for the American farmer.

A 1938 article from Popular Mechanics entitled "New Billion-Dollar Crop" 
hailed hemp as "a new cash crop with an annual value of several hundred 
million dollars, all because a machine has been invented which solves a 
problem 6,000 years old." The article goes on to say that "hemp is the 
standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and 
durability=85and can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging 
from dynamite to Cellophane."

As for the farmer, hemp must have been seen as a miracle plant: "Hemp is an 
easy crop to grow and will yield from three to six tons per acre on any 
land that will grow corn, wheat or oats," the article reads. "It has a 
short growing season, so that it can be planted after other crops are in. 
It can be grown in any state of the union. The long roots penetrate and 
break the soil to leave it in perfect condition for next year's crop. The 
dense shock of leaves, eight to twelve feet above the ground, chokes out 
weeds. Two successive crops are enough to reclaim land that has been 

Additionally, Herer claims that hemp's potential as a biomass fuel, when 
converted to methane, methanol, or gasoline, could end acid rain, 
sulfur-based smog and actually reverse the greenhouse effect.

The reasons behind the Tax Act of 1937 are numerous, but hemp supporters 
believe that racial paranoia and corporate greed were primary to the 
anti-hemp cause. The prevalence of pot smoking among black jazz musicians 
and Mexican laborers led to a Reefer Madness hysteria that identified 
marijuana as the cause for Mexicans' perceived laziness and the desire 
among blacks to rape white women. Additionally, the man who pushed the Tax 
Act through Congress, Federal Bureau of Narcotics Chief Harry Anslinger, 
was the nephew-in-law of Andrew Mellon, a head banker for the DuPont 
Company. DuPont had just patented a process for creating plastics from oil 
and coal as well as the chemical process for making paper from wood pulp.

The Missoula Hempfest will showcase the versatility of the plant, with 
booths displaying crafts and goods as well as food products and herbal 
remedies made from hemp. Live music and educational speakers round out the 
day's events. Included in the speakers' lineup is Dr. Ethan Russo, a 
Missoula neurologist who authored the Missoula Chronic Clinical Cannabis 
Use Study, a report that examined the health of six of the eight remaining 
patients eligible for low-grade, federally-provided marijuana. Nora 
Callahan, head of the anti-drug war November Coalition, and Sen. 
Christiaens are also slated to speak.

Despite the Legislature's action and the innumerable arguments for 
promoting industrial hemp, it is unlikely we will be seeing the leafy crop 
dotting the Montana landscape anytime soon. The state Department of 
Agriculture, as required by the new law, recently petitioned the Drug 
Enforcement Agency (DEA) for an exemption to the CSA that would allow state 
farmers to grow hemp. The DEA responded with a request for more 
information, but ominously included an agency letter, addressed to a 
coalition of groups that had petitioned for industrial hemp in 1998, that 
categorically denies any interest on the DEA's part to consider such 
requests. Since the DEA makes no legal distinction between industrial hemp 
and wacky weed, only an act of Congress will wrest control of hemp from the 

Should that occur, the Montana Department of Agriculture will be ready. 
Department spokesman Mike Sullivan says that although the state will not 
act against the wishes of the federal government, "We do believe that 
industrial hemp has the potential to be a significant cash crop in this state."
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