Pubdate: Wed, 5 Aug 2009
Source: Fort Worth Weekly (TX)
Copyright: 2009 Fort Worth Weekly
Author: Peter Gorman


Quick: What single plant can you use to build, insulate, and heat a 
house; help build and run cars; turn into the finest textiles; use to 
make tortillas, cheese, veggie burgers, perfumes, skin creams, and 
suntan lotions - and also to get stoned?

Gotcha. The answer is none. But if you leave out the stoned part, 
you're talking about hemp, the non-smokable variety of cannabis 
sativa, botanical cousin of the cannabis that gets you high. It's 
currently grown legally in 30 industrial nations, has a history that 
dates back to the earliest days of man, was touted by George 
Washington and Benjamin Franklin, was probably used to make the first 
American flag, and - if given the chance - might help bring Texas 
farmers out of troubled times.

Unfortunately, industrial hemp's association with pot has made it 
illegal to produce here in the United States for the last seven 
decades, forcing U.S. manufacturers to import it from China, Eastern 
Europe, and Canada. For a while during the 1990s it was illegal to 
import it any form but finished textiles. And even that was suspect 
under Bill Clinton's drug czar, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, 
who, in trying to ban hemp importation, once famously announced to a 
group of high-ranking Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. 
Customs officials that "kids are boiling down their hemp shirts and 
mixing the essence with alcohol to make marijuana."

That would be a pretty wacky comment coming from anyone, but to have 
national policy hinge on such impossible wrong-headedness set back 
hemp's future in this country a long way.

Nobody's using that rhetoric now, but the unease persists in many 
places, including at the Texas Farm Bureau. Spokesman Gene Hall told 
Fort Worth Weekly that while "hemp has come up as a possible 
agricultural crop for Texas, it's been a controversial subject." Hall 
said that neither the Texas Farm Bureau, a nonprofit organization of 
farmers, ranchers, and rural families, nor the National Farm Bureau 
have supported industrial hemp as an ag crop "because there are 
concerns with the farm bureau supporting the raising of a crop that 
could be used for illicit drug use."

But times are changing, even in Texas, and not everyone sees it the 
way Hall and the Farm Bureau do. This week, Oregon became the 16th 
state to pass some form of industrial hemp legislation, in hopes of 
making it possible for farmers to grow, own, and sell the nonsmokable 
but otherwise highly useful forms of hemp, the kinds with very low 
quantities of THC, the chemical in pot that gets you high.

State laws can't trump the federal statute, which currently lists 
cannabis sativa as a controlled substance and prevent its 
cultivation. But U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a Libertarian-leaning Republican 
from Lake Jackson, Texas, is trying to change that. He's filed a bill 
to require the federal government to respect state laws on industrial 
hemp production. Paul has tried and failed at this before, and even 
he thinks the bill isn't likely to pass this time either. But he's 
gaining some support among his fellow House members and hoping for a 
friendlier attitude in the White House.

Individually, there are plenty of Texas farmers who are happy to hear 
about a potential new cash crop.

"If you tell me that there is a crop out there that could earn $400 
an acre" - which is what Canadian farmers can earn with hemp - "well, 
I would have no problem growing it," said Ralph Snyder, a farmer in 
North Central Texas. "Farmers would be lined up to grow it."

Dan Brown, a North Texas leader of the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), figures hemp could thrive easily in 
Texas. "Remember that it's one of the fastest, most aggressive- 
growing biomasses in the world," he said. "It isn't called a weed for nothing."

Hemp wasn't always a banned crop. In colonial America its cultivation 
was mandated by British law. Back then it was used to make ropes and 
sails for ships, in fine art canvas, in paint and varnishes, as lamp 
oil, to make paper, and in some foods.

But the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 that effectively outlawed smoking 
cannabis also essentially outlawed industrial hemp. The act was 
passed after publisher William Randolph Hearst's newspapers waged a 
protracted and vociferous campaign against "marijuana" - a term he 
introduced to the American public. He ran stories that suggested that 
white women who smoked it couldn't resist the lure of "negroes," that 
it would bring out the devil in people and could cause otherwise 
normal people to become violent to the point of murder. Hollywood 
jumped on the campaign, releasing films such as Reefer Madness and 
Marijuana, Assassin of Youth, which showed previously virtuous young 
women jumping out of windows and becoming prostitutes after their 
first exposure to the evil weed.

Some saw Hearst's campaign as a disguise for his real purpose - the 
elimination of industrial hemp, which was just coming into its own as 
a major modern crop, thanks to new machinery that allowed the hemp to 
be harvested and cleaned mechanically, rather than by hand. In 1933, 
Popular Mechanics magazine called industrial hemp "a billion-dollar 
crop" and suggested that with mechanization it would be used in 
making more than 25,000 products, including plastics, nylon, and paper.

At about the same time, Hearst had invested in millions of acres of 
trees for paper pulp, and Dupont, the chemical company, had just 
received patents for making nylon from coal and plastic from oil. 
Competition from hemp products might have cost both Hearst and Dupont 
genuine fortunes. According to Industrial Hemp Now, an organization 
working to legalize hemp, "As a model of deception and orchestrated 
media manipulation, the anti-hemp crusade constitutes one of the 
greatest hoaxes ever perpetuated on the American people. Few public 
relations campaigns in history can match its success in eradicating 
competition while transforming citizens into unknowing pawns of big 
business." Those claims have been echoed by dozens of others.

World War II changed the federal attitude temporarily. Cut off from 
vital natural-fiber supplies by the war, the federal government was 
forced to ask farmers to grow hemp to aid the war effort, even 
producing the film Hemp For Victory. Afterward, it was back to 
hemp-is-banned business as usual - except for the millions of 
leftover wild hemp plants that still grow along roads and highways 
throughout the Midwest and are the focus of the Drug Enforcement 
Administration's "marijuana" eradication efforts, despite the fact 
that none of the plants have the ability to get anyone high.

In 1970, the newly created DEA developed the Controlled Substances 
Schedule, which placed drugs in categories according to their medical 
value and propensity for being abused. Morphine and cocaine, for 
instance, are in Schedule 2 because they have medical value but are 
highly likely to be abused. Cannabis, including industrial hemp, was 
placed in Schedule 1, meaning it has no recognized medical value and 
is highly likely to be abused. It can't, under any circumstances, be 
prescribed by doctors.

The DEA later made an exception for industrial hemp, but those 
wishing to grow it must have a DEA license. In the past 20 years 
they've given out only a small handful of permits, and the 
restrictions - including round-the-clock guards on trial plots, 
exorbitantly expensive fencing, and regular inspections at the 
licensee's expense - make it impossible to actually grow anything 
profitably. Most farmers who have applied for a permit never even 
receive a response.

Some industrial hemp promoters see a glimmer of hope with the Obama 
administration in place. "Little birdies have told me that Obama is 
going to treat hemp as a state's right, just as his administration is 
doing with medical marijuana," said a hemp product manufacturer who 
asked not to be named. "And if that's the case, then it's 'all 
systems go' in a number of states."

The Obama administration has made enforcement of laws against the 
medical uses of marijuana the lowest priority for the Department of 
Justice in states that have passed legislation allowing such use. 
Farmers in states with laws permitting industrial hemp production are 
hoping he'll do at least that much for them. Still, until federal law 
is changed, farmers are going to be wary about turning over land to a 
crop that might get pulled out from under them.

Ron Paul, the Houston-area congressman, introduced the Industrial 
Hemp Farming Act in April, which would require the federal government 
to respect state laws with regards to hemp production. The bill has 
11 co-sponsors.

In introducing the proposal, he noted, "Federal law concedes the 
safety of industrial hemp by allowing it to be legally imported for 
use as food." He also said that the United States is the "only 
industrialized nation that prohibits industrial hemp cultivation." 
Stores in this country already sell hemp seeds, oil, and food 
products, he pointed out, as well as paper, cloth, cosmetics, and 
carpet containing hemp. It has been used as an alternative fuel for 
cars, he said, and, most recently, in the door frames of about 1.5 
million cars.

Paul said Tuesday that he holds out little hope for his bill. "If we 
could bring it to the floor and discuss it and teach people what it 
is, well, I think it would be passed overwhelmingly," he said. "But 
right now, unfortunately, you still have a lot of people who think 
it's a drug. And as long as they're that uninformed, they're not 
going to see the real issue."

Creating a viable hemp industry in this country would take more than 
legislation, of course. Public awareness of, and demand for, hemp 
products would have to grow considerably before enough quantities 
would be needed to make it a profitable crop for large numbers of farmers.

When his country began allowing the production of industrial hemp 10 
years ago, said Canadian crop specialist Harry Brook, farmers 
initially misjudged the market and overproduced. "Our farmers began 
growing hemp for fiber, and unfortunately, we didn't have the 
facilities in place to convert that to paper and textiles and such, 
and so essentially it was a bust."

But the farmers switched to growing it for seed, used to make oil and 
food products. "Now that's where they found a market," Brook said. 
"And now there's talk about reviving the fiber industry because 
[hemp] grows so fast and tall and produces so much fiber. But that 
simply won't get off the ground until someone decides to make the 
investment in the factories that can utilize it."

In ideal conditions, he said, hemp can produce about 5 tons of dried 
biomass per acre in 100 days - considerably more than any other crop. 
And with its varied uses, its potential is unlimited.

Gordon Scheifele is a retired certified plant breeder with the 
Canadian Ministry of Agriculture who is currently researching hemp. 
The stumbling block right now, he said, is that there isn't a single 
commercial processor in North America that can produce the fibers in 
sufficient quantities to sustain various industries.

"We know we can produce it in Canada. We already are [doing so]," he 
said. "But the next step requires vision, will, determination, and 
effort. That includes the capital to make it all go."

In this country, groups such as Hemp Industries of America and estimate the current annual sales of hemp products in 
2008 totalled about $360 million. Designers such as Donatella 
Versace, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein have produced 
everything from hemp-and-cotton-blend jersey knits to 
hemp-and-silk-blend clothing. Wal-Mart carries a line of hemp suntan 
lotion and skin creams; Whole Foods and Central Market carry several 
products from hemp bread and granola to frozen desserts. The Body 
Shop carries a line of skin-care products.

In San Marcos, Hemp Town Rock - The Hemp Store, has been operating 
since 1992. And near McKinney, sells a line of hemp 
diapers. But it's all still just a drop in the bucket compared to 
what would happen if the crop were legalized.

"What's being sold now and what can be sold when American farmers are 
given the green light to produce hemp are worlds apart," said Oregon 
State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, who introduced that state's industrial 
hemp bill. "We've got a hemp food company in Portland, Living 
Harvest, that currently has $20 million in annual revenues, but they 
project that in five years they will have revenues of over $100 
million annually. That's exponential growth. And imagine what it 
could be if they could get their raw products closer to their 
production sites instead of having to import their seed and oil from 
Canada? If you bring your prices down, and you've got a good product, 
well, sales climb.

"We're at a stage now where a lot of the American public recognizes 
that we were hoodwinked by the DEA and others into demonizing 
industrial hemp," he said.

Lawrence Serbin, former national director for the Business Alliance 
for Commerce in Hemp and owner of Hemp Traders, a Los Angeles-based 
company, said this country is "really in a Catch-22" regarding hemp. 
"The reality is that hemp won't become more popular in the U.S. until 
the price goes down, and the price won't go down until it gets more 
popular. And the only way to make that price go down is to have us 
produce our own hemp."

Serbin's company sells a range of hemp products, from textiles to 
paper, but what he's really concentrating on is fiberboard, which he 
makes from the hurds, the inner woody part of the hemp stalk left 
after the fiber has been removed. Typically, hurds are burned or left 
on the ground as mulch after harvest. He has to go to China to get them.

Beginning in 1999, he said, "We came in and collected the hurds and 
brought them to a factory and had them make up some medium-density 
fiberboards with it." It's taken him several years to come up with 
the product he's just put on the market, a hemp fiberboard bound with 
a product derived from eucalyptus bark.

The advantage to his fiberboard, he said, is that it's made without 
wood pulp and doesn't use formaldehyde, a standard, inexpensive 
binder that is carcinogenic. The disadvantage is the price: His 
half-inch-thick, 4'-by-8' boards go for about $28, nearly double what 
similar wood composite and particle boards go for in places like the 
Home Depot. His primary cost, he said, is transportation. The factory 
in China where part of the manufacturing takes place is far away from 
where the hemp is grown. And both hurds and boards are bulky, 
increasing the transit costs.

He hopes to solve part of the problem by building a factory next to 
the hemp fields in China, which he said could make his fiberboards 
"instantly competitive with regular wood boards." If he could get the 
hurds from U.S. farmers, he said, he could sell his boards far more 
cheaply than what's currently on the market.

Hemp boards, he said, could have "a huge impact on the housing market 
here in the U.S. ... The effect on our forests would be immediate; 
new home prices would drop, and your house wouldn't be full of 
formaldehyde." He too is hoping that the Obama administration will 
tell federal law enforcement agencies to "leave it [hemp enforcement] 
to the states and then leave the states alone."

Dave Seber, owner of Oregon's Fibre Alternatives, believes industrial 
hemp is a "critical component" in saving both the economy and the 
environment in the United States.

"How are we going to stop carbon accumulation if we keep taking the 
trees down?" he asked. "We can't, unless we grow hemp." Hemp 
products, he said, could reduce the cost of building materials by 30 
to 50 percent. "And that's what we need to get the building industry, 
and therefore the economy, back on its feet." He believes hemp could 
be used for furniture-quality boards. And he's seen it used in Europe 
as a base for concrete, as a replacement for fiberglass insulation, 
and for plastics for everything from countertops to car parts.

Many countries in the European Union have begun levying fines on 
automakers and car sellers if their vehicles are not made of 
recyclable materials. That led European car manufacturers to begin 
replacing traditional plastic parts with parts made from hemp, flax, 
and other natural fibers. In 2007 Lotus introduced its Hemp Eco 
Elise, a high-end car with a body largely made from hemp fiberglass 
and seats and other interior parts made largely from hemp/wool/flax materials.

"You've got to look at the big picture," Seber said. "The food and 
textile industries, as well as paper and such, can definitely benefit 
from hemp products ... but I think you have to look at the major 
industries if you really want to make the environmental and economic 
changes that this country and the whole world desperately need. Those 
are the housing industry, the biofuel industries, the plastics 
industries, and the automobile industries."

Thus far, however, that potential revolution is passing Texas by.

Calls to a dozen legislators and agricultural committee members 
around Texas produced very little feedback and even less knowledge 
about hemp-based industries. A spokesman for State Rep. Charles 
Anderson of Waco, vice-chair of the Texas House Agriculture and 
Livestock Committee, said he'd never heard the issue discussed. The 
Texas Agricultural Policy Council didn't respond to e-mail queries. 
Brian Black, assistant to the commissioner for the Texas Department 
of Agriculture, said, "I've not heard of any discussion of industrial 
hemp in the agriculture industry in Texas." Calls to the office of 
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who sits on the Senate 
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry - three areas that 
would be affected by hemp production - were not returned.

Even a member of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, 
who asked not to be named, laughed at the notion of hemp being grown 
in Texas. "We can't even get Texas interested in organic food 
research, so I doubt very much you're going to find many politicians 
in Texas willing to discuss hemp research. That's just not how people 
think here."

"We in Texas would go along with hemp if there were a change in the 
national policy," said Hall, of the Texas Farm Bureau. "There are 
very legitimate uses for hemp in industry. But because of the 
controversy with illegal drug use, we simply don't have a position on 
hemp at this time."

Right now, there seems to be only one real hemp store left in Texas, 
out of the healthy crop that flourished here in hippier-dippier 
times. Rose Phillips' Hemp Town Rock is still going strong. When she 
opened the store in 1992, Phillips said, she sold only products made 
from hemp - clothing, food, paper, twines, and such.

"Unfortunately," she said, "I've had to add other products over the 
years because hemp is just plain expensive, what with all of it 
having to be imported. Now if we could grow it here, that would be 
different. You bring the price down, and everybody would buy hemp 
because it's such a nice material and so durable. But as it is, well, 
with the economy down, except for Christmastime I don't put out a lot 
of my better hemp clothes."

She still carries hemp purses, wallets, t-shirts, and other products 
but admits they aren't enough by themselves to keep her in business.

"There's a big market" for hemp products," she said. "But most people 
would rather just order it from a web page that can sell it cheaper 
than I can, what with store overhead. And then every major chain 
store carries some hemp products, so a store like mine isn't the only 
place to get those things anymore."

One of the local online stores that sells a lot of hemp products is Based in Anna, just north of McKinney, the cloth diaper 
company has nearly 50 hemp-blend products for sale. Jessica Land, a 
DiaperCo manager, said the products sell well. "A lot of what we sell 
are hemp inserts - hemp cloth that goes inside pouches in the diaper. 
And everybody loves them because the hemp is so absorbent."

Her client base is interested in environmentally friendly, natural 
products that are reusable, she said. "And what fits that description 
better than hemp?"

Has she ever had any clients decide not to buy hemp because of its 
connection with marijuana? She laughed. "I've never heard anyone say 
that, but our client base is pretty well informed," she said. "I 
imagine there would be some people who would think that, though."

Even if federal law were changed to allow unimpeded hemp production, 
Scheifele said he's not sure whether Texas would be a prime growing area.

"Hemp requires moisture. The rule of thumb is that wherever you can 
grow corn you can grow good hemp," he said. (Texas now ranks 12th 
among U.S. states in corn production.) Hemp is drought resistant, 
though, and winter crops probably would work here, Scheifele said. 
Beyond that, if it became a legal crop, he said, researchers would 
develop strains adaptable to a wide variety of conditions. In 
Australia, he said, scientists report they have developed a more 
drought-tolerant variety.

Don Wirtshafter, a lawyer and pioneer in the hemp movement who spent 
years researching hemp varieties in southeast Asia, said he thinks 
he's already got seed stock that would work well in much of Texas 
without irrigation. His stock, brought over from Asia some years ago, 
is being kept alive in Canada, waiting a change in hemp's legal 
status in this country, before he can try test plots all over the state.

He pointed out that in China, hemp is relegated to poorer-quality 
farmland. "If you're growing for seed, you definitely need good 
nutrition, good soil," he said. "But if you're growing for fiber you 
can grow it almost anywhere."

Wirtshafter called it an "agricultural tragedy" that thousands of 
varieties of hemp seed were lost when laws outlawing hemp cultivation 
were passed in this country and copied by much of the world.

Brown, the assistant director of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of 
NORML, said that growing industrial hemp in Texas is a no-brainer. 
"Look at East Texas. There's plenty of moisture there. It's ideally 
suited for hemp cultivation. But with some irrigation you could grow 
hemp anywhere in the state."

He pointed to the arid landscape of northern Mexico, home to tens of 
thousands of acres of low-grade marijuana. "If you can grow marijuana 
in those near-desert conditions, you could certainly grow hemp in 
southern Texas," he said. "And with the ethanol craze going on and 
our focus on growing our own fuel stocks, it would be entirely 
possible to grow industrial hemp in quantities to replace American 
dependence on foreign oil. Hemp produces more than twice the biomass 
per acre that corn does, so it would be a natural for fuel, and we 
could grow a lot of it on land not currently utilized for 
agriculture, rather than using good soil to grow corn for ethanol."

In fact, he said, traditionally independent Texas farmers could come 
to see hemp-growing as a right they're being denied. "Texans don't 
like their personal rights abridged," he said. "And once they 
understand the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp, your 
average Texas farmer would probably demand the right to grow it.

Daniel Leshiker, who farms near Ralph Snyder in North Central Texas, 
agreed with Snyder that hemp sounds intriguing.

"We already need another crop, that's for certain. I just planted 200 
acres of sunflowers for their seed for the first time," he said. "So 
while I don't know much about hemp except they used to make rope with 
it, well, you tell me I could make money with it, and I'll grow it. 
That's what we are in the business to do." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake