Pubdate: September 1999
Source: E Magazine
Contact:  (c) 1999 Earth Action Network
Address: P.O. Box 2047 Marion, OH 43305-2047
Phone: (815) 734-1242
Author: Mari Kane
note: Mari Kane was the publisher of the now-defunct HempWorld. She 
continues to produce Hemp Pages, the first international hemp directory.
Related: the Hemp Industries Association has a website at and the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative has a site 


After 60 years as a pariah plant, sprayed into oblivion by federal agents 
wherever it appeared, the versatile fiber known as industrial hemp appears 
to be making a dramatic comeback, with legalization movements in 14 states, 
and, in North Dakota, an outright victory. Will hemp, the fiber that helped 
win World War II, finally emerge from the dark shadow of its close 
relative, marijuana?

Growing hemp was by no means always illegal in the United States. In the 
18th century, hemp was such a valued commodity, in shipping and other 
industries, that Thomas Jefferson, then ambassador to France, smuggled 
illegally obtained Chinese hemp seeds to the colonies. Those same seeds 
were eventually hybridized to create the famous Kentucky Hemp strain. 
George Washington even said, in a letter to his farm manager, "make the 
most you can of the Indian hemp seed. Sow it everywhere."


It's true that hemp and marijuana come from the same plant--cannabis sativa 
L. It's not true that the plants are the same. The biological difference 
between them is demonstrated by their respective levels of THC, the plant's 
psychoactive ingredient. For industrial hemp, the generally accepted THC 
level is one percent or less; for recreational marijuana, the THC level is 
at least three percent. The physical differences between the two plants are 
readily apparent. Hemp grows lean and tall with flowers on the canopy; 
marijuana branches widely with resinous buds on all sides.

Until the early 1900s, cannabis hemp was treated like any other farm crop 
and its cultivation required no special regulations or licenses. Hundreds 
of thousands of acres of hemp grew in Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa, Nebraska, 
South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.

Then, in 1931, the nation's first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, was appointed 
to head the newly reorganized Federal Bureau of Narcotic and Dangerous 
Drugs by his future uncle-in-law and the Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew 
Mellon. At the time, the Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh was the chief financial 
backer for DuPont, the munitions and plastics maker, a company which viewed 
recent technological advances in hemp processing as a threat.

Anslinger took his job very seriously and molded himself after J. Edgar 
Hoover of the FBI. He hired ex-G-men, newly unemployed after Prohibition 
ended in 1929, and created an army of officers to fight the nation's first 
Drug War. In only a few years, public vice number one went from being 
alcohol to cannabis. The drug's role as "Assassin of Youth" was reflected 
in period films like the camp classic Reefer Madness.

In 1937, Popular Mechanics declared hemp to be the "New Billion Dollar 
Crop" because of new developments in fiber technology. Also in 1937, the 
ever-fervent Harry Anslinger introduced the Marijuana Prohibitive Tax Act, 
proposing an excise tax on dealers and a transfer tax on sales. After 
hearing Anslinger testify under oath that "marijuana is the most 
violence-causing drug in the history of mankind," and against the protests 
of the American Medical Association, the National Oilseed Institute and the 
birdseed industry, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed by congress. Anslinger 
assured the legislators that farmers "could go on growing hemp much as they 
always have."

Hemp farmers lined up for licenses and received $1 Special Tax Stamps. Now 
hemp was regulated by the Treasury Department and, in some states, the 
farmers were harassed by federal agents. Eventually, and in spite of the 
brief World War II "Hemp for Victory" campaign, hemp fell out of vogue in 
the domestic market, and 1957 saw the last American hemp harvest. Stands of 
wild hemp that still grow across the plains states serve as gentle 
reminders of America's once-vital hemp culture.

Although hemp cultivation is not technically illegal, farmers need a 
license to grow it. But if the agency in charge of licensing refuses to 
issue a permit, you could be prosecuted for growing hemp. When the federal 
government began issuing Marijuana Tax Stamps in 1938, jurisdiction over 
both hemp and marijuana fell into the hands of the Federal Bureau of 
Narcotics, now the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which lumped both into 
Schedule One of the federal list of controlled substances. By the agency's 
rules, hemp has "a high potential for abuse."


Despite its outlaw status, hemp is slowly climbing back into favor as a 
base for a huge variety of consumer products, from clothing to ice cream. 
Thousands of hemp businesses have risen (and sometimes fallen) since 1993. 
Estimates of national and international sales of hemp goods in 1997 range 
from $50 million to $100 million. After a decade of public re-education, 
most people know the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana.

Currently, 99.9 percent of industrial hemp used in the United States is 
imported from Eastern Europe, China and Canada. Goods made from imported 
raw materials are expensive, and most experts acknowledge that for the 
American hemp industry to succeed financially, there must be a domestic, 
bioregional source of hemp seed and fiber. Sixty years after the Marijuana 
Tax Act, though, the domestic hemp industry's growth is still stymied by 
drug war politics. Bill Clinton, the self-acknowledged pot-smoking 
president, has actually increased the federal drug budget to an 
unprecedented $18 billion per year, primarily to fight marijuana production.

In 1996, the anti-drug community woke up to the growing interest in 
industrial hemp. That year, then-drug czar Lee Brown attempted to publicly 
shame shoemaking giant Adidas out of naming its tennis shoe "The Hemp." But 
1996 was also the year Californians voted in favor of Prop 215, virtually 
decriminalizing use of marijuana for medical purposes. The feds, worried 
about the growing legitimization of all forms of the hemp plant, threatened 
to pull the DEA licenses of doctors who recommended cannabis to patients, 
thus disabling them from prescribing medications. The White House Office of 
National Drug Policy announced that "hemp sends the wrong messages to 
children." Other standard lines: "law enforcement officers can't tell the 
difference between hemp and marijuana" or, despite obvious physical 
differences between the two plants, "marijuana could be hidden in a hemp 

The hemp industry's response to hemp field marijuana is that it's not 
practical, because the process by which industrial hemp plants shed pollen 
means that any nearby marijuana plant would lose quality. Theoretically, 
fields of industrial hemp could be the best marijuana eradication device 
ever conceived. Still, money earmarked for cannabis suppression is being 
used to destroy wild hemp. The Vermont legislature's 1998 study of the $500 
million DEA Cannabis Eradication and Suppression Program showed that 99.28 
percent of the 422,716,526 hemp plants confiscated were actually wild hemp, 
descendants of a bygone industrial era.


The altruistic, right-livelihood "Hemp Movement" is ailing. Replacing the 
hippie hempsters is a corporate culture that includes venture capital and 
public trading. Nobody works for "the cause" anymore. One might suppose 
that with an adversary as large and parochial as Uncle Sam, the hemp 
industry would work to be as united as possible, but that's not the case. 
Industrial hemp offers the lure of financial gain, and this has turned some 
would-be entrepreneurs against each other.

North America's hemp industry today is composed of basically two sets of 
interests: the hempsters, the visionaries who turned a cottage industry 
into a major business, and who have maintained a 300-member trade 
organization called the Hemp Industries Association (HIA); and the "hemp 
suits," a loose affiliation of bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, academics and 
farmers who plan to take the industry into the future. They have formed a 
60-member association called the North American Industrial Hemp Alliance 

Conflicts between the hemp groups have sometimes led to political 
stalemates. One glaring example is the situation in California, the first 
state to decriminalize medical use of marijuana, and the place where the 
hemp industry was born. A fledgling organization, Californians for 
Industrial Renewal (CAIR) is the only group working to legalize hemp on the 
state level. CAIR got its start with an unsuccessful referendum to 
decriminalize hemp in 1998. NAIHC stayed away. NAIHC Secretary John Roulac 
says CAIR miscalculated by allowing only a few months to gather the 
required voter signatures. "It was too little, too late," he says.

One year later, the big money is still not betting on legalization, despite 
the fact that, last March, the state assembly adopted a pro-hemp 
resolution. CAIR founder Sam Clauter of Orange County has been able to 
raise only a few thousand dollars toward a legislative campaign, and has 
had a variety of doors slammed in his face. "The hemp people can only 
donate some of their products, the farmers think I'm into drug policy 
reform and the foundation people think I don't push drug policy reform 
enough!" Clauter says with some exasperation. He is spending his own money 
on the campaign, which averages $1,000 a month in expenses.

One would think that Hollywood money would flow for this cause. But hemp's 
favorite son, California resident Woody Harrelson, has for the past four 
years invested his money not in California, but in Kentucky, the home state 
of his friend, Joe Hickey.

Hickey is the executive director of the Kentucky Hemp Growers Collective, a 
co-op consisting of tobacco farmers whose fathers and grandfathers once 
grew hemp. Harrelson very publicly planted four hemp seeds in a Kentucky 
field to challenge what he called an overly broad state ban covering all 
parts of the hemp plant. Harrelson's case has been won, appealed, and now 
is being considered by Kentucky's Supreme Court. The legal costs have run 
into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. "It's too bad I can't get 
funding, because the most potential for progress is here in California," 
laments Clauter. "It has the biggest agricultural base, the most political 
clout and economic influence."

The hemp camps coexist in a fragile and uneasy alliance. Six years into the 
movement, "Rope vs. Dope" remains the dominant debate. While most in the 
hemp industry agree that the issues of industrial hemp and the 
controversial medical use of marijuana should be kept strictly separate, 
there is much dissent over how far this separation should go, considering 
the politics involved. "I think the two issues should be separate, but 
let's not be hypocritical," says Carolyn Moran, founder of Living Tree 
Paper Company and HIA board member. "This kind of division is unfair to 
sick people. We need to support medical use, whether we are on the right, 
left, or in between."

Hempsters have always been pegged by policy makers as legalizers in hemp 
clothing. Some hempsters did come from backgrounds in marijuana activism, 
others from self-employment. Hemp suits must constantly be on their guard 
about fraternizing with hempsters. Any relationship can come back to haunt 
them, as it did in 1997 when a suit-wearing hemp lobbyist in Missouri was 
exposed as on the payroll of the magazine High Times, which advocates 
legalizing marijuana. As a result, former general Barry McCaffrey, head of 
the Clinton administration's Office of National Drug Policy, wrote to all 
local farm bureau presidents, encouraging them to oppose hemp. That 
prompted the Missouri Farm Bureau to drop its hemp endorsement and, one 
month later, the American Farm Bureau followed suit. It was an embarrassing 

The NAIHC was created as a counterculture-free zone for tobacco farmers and 
other mainstream hemp advocates. The chairman of the NAIHC board, "Bud" 
Sholts, is a former official at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, 
and he recently brought ex-CIA Director James Woolsey on board as a 
consultant. Sholts says that Woolsey "supports the NAIHC for educational 
and information purposes and went with us in April to meet with McCaffrey." 
At that meeting, Sholts says that McCaffrey finally "got it" about the 
differences between hemp and marijuana. But, as a 501(c)(3) organization, 
Sholts insists, "the NAIHC doesn't do lobbying."


After three years of research cultivation, Canada is now in its second year 
of commercial growing. Its main market is the United States, where a 
plethora of manufacturers eagerly await arrivals of fresh seed and fiber 
from contractors north of the border. Unlike the European Union, Canada 
offers no subsidies to hemp farmers, but does require a labyrinthian 
application process described by last year's farmers as "a nightmare." 
American hemp farmers are similarly not expecting to receive subsidies for 
a crop they've had to fight so hard to grow.

Reaching a consensus on industrial hemp's profitability is difficult, but 
some figures do exist. In 1997, Kentucky hemp farmers commissioned a study 
of the hemp market by the Department of Business and Economics at the 
University of Kentucky. It concluded that a crop of hemp seed, or grain, 
and straw could bring a return of as much as $319.51 per acre, compared 
with $135.84 per acre for white corn.

Inevitably though, the price of raw hemp will plummet once processing 
technology gets up to speed and when the supply meets demand. The question 
of the day is: how far can farm prices drop while still being profitable 
and attractive to farmers? Already, the cost of imported hemp is two to 
three times more than the substances it replaces. Although, as a premium 
fiber, hemp should not be compared with cotton and wood pulp, manufacturers 
will still need a 20 to 40 percent reduction to be able to sell mass 
quantities of food, body care products, paper and clothes at affordable 
price points.

Despite these variables, many tobacco farmers are clamoring to grow hemp. 
The reason, says Kentucky farmer Andy Graves, is that "tobacco is a 
shrinking market, and it's a dying industry. Every time the price of a pack 
of cigarettes goes up, more people quit."

Along with the Community Farm Alliance in Kentucky, Dorothy Robertson is 
investigating hemp as a supplement or alternative to tobacco crops across 
the South. "One of the beautiful things about hemp is that you don't need 
pesticides or herbicides," Robertson says. "The plant grows so close 
together that it shades out all of the weeds. It's a great rotation crop 
because after one year you could come back with another crop and you 
wouldn't have the weed problem."

Hemp may actually raise the yields of succeeding crops, such as corn or 
soybeans, thanks to its rich leaf mold, which is 50 percent nitrogen, and 
its long fibrous tap roots, which aerate the soil, improve water balance 
and add nutrients. In the Netherlands, winter wheat yields went up 10 
percent after a hemp rotation. And hemp can be grown naturally almost 
anywhere--including all 50 states. Less fertilizer, less agricultural 
chemicals, higher yields and a burgeoning market, all add up to potentially 
higher net incomes for farmers.

Unfortunately, hemp production would be a boon to corporate seed producers 
as well, such as Monsanto and Cargill, since hemp regulation will require 
the use of certified low-THC hemp seeds. These soon-to-be patented seeds 
are expected to be bio-engineered with THC chemicals removed, and 
"terminator" components added so that farmers cannot reproduce it year 
after year.

Requirements for extremely low THC levels in hemp may also lead to the 
monopolization of the seed market by federally-sanctioned producers, as is 
the case in France. Another uncertainty is whether farmers will suffer 
confiscation of the resulting crop or prosecution if the plant shows THC 
levels higher than the 0.3 percent that is likely to be adopted. Welcome to 
the brave new world of hemp growing.


Getting hemp laws changed has been long and slow coming. First, there was 
the Colorado Hemp Initiative of 1995, sponsored by Colorado Senator Lloyd 
Casey. That bill, as well as the 1996 and 1997 bills, failed due to law 
enforcement opposition. The Colorado efforts called for commercial 
production of hemp and defined low-THC cannabis as it was originally 
intended in the 1937 Tax Act. This laid the foundation for all the other 
hemp legislation.

Senator Casey retired from office in 1998 and was disappointed when fellow 
Senator Kay Alexander refused to sponsor the bill in his absence. "Kay told 
me the reason she backed off was that several sheriffs in her district 
threatened to pull support of her," says Casey. Although Colorado did not 
push hemp legislation in 1998, a handful of other states did, and some laws 
were passed. However, those bills called for feasibility studies rather 
than field tests or commercial production.

In 1999, hemp legislation was introduced in 14 states: Hawaii, Illinois, 
Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North 
Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. So far, seven 
states have successfully passed some kind of hemp legislation: North 
Dakota, Hawaii, Illinois, Virginia, New Mexico, and Minnesota. However, 
only the laws in North Dakota, Minnesota and Hawaii call for hemp to 
actually be put in the ground.

In a stunning landslide, North Dakota passed its bill, which was motivated 
primarily by farmers, not activists. The wording of House Bill 1428, 
sponsored by Rep. Monson, simply states: "Any person in this state may 
plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell, and buy industrial hemp." How 
did North Dakota pull it off? "Maybe it's just some karma coming together," 
jokes Clare Carlson, the Agricultural Policies Director and Legislative 
Liaison at the governor's office. "Manitoba, to the North, is ahead of us 
with hemp and there might be some cross-pollination going on." Carlson says 
that no hemp will be planted this year, because federal law still 
supersedes state law. "It's up to others to change federal policy, and we 
advocate using state law to leverage the feds," he says.

Hawaii's House Bill 32 authorizes privately funded industrial hemp seed 
variety trials in Hawaii once the state and DEA permits are issued. This 
program will include any entity with the cash to spend. In a letter to 
Hawaii Representative Cynthia Thielen, DEA Chief of Operations Gregory 
Williams said that "...DEA will consider setting the level of THC content 
for Cannabis sativa L., hemp that may be grown for industrial purposes." 
Thielen enthuses, "This is bureaucratese for saying they are working on 
changing their regulations so industrial hemp can be grown again in the U.S.A."

One would expect that anything to do with hemp in Minnesota would be 
quickly signed into law by Jesse "the pro-hemp governor" Ventura. Minnesota 
House File 1238, which authorized the commissioner of agriculture to permit 
experimental plots of industrial hemp, was, however, killed in committee. 
But as part of an appropriations bill signed by Ventura on May 25, the 
state will submit an application for federal permits needed to authorize 
the growing of experimental hemp plots. "It was an uphill battle, but in 
the end I was able to persuade my colleagues to include this provision in 
the bill," says Representative Phyllis Kahn. "The bill that Governor 
Ventura signed into law is the first step toward the legalization of hemp."

Other bills either demand a federal change or call for paper studies:

Illinois Senate Resolution 49 and House Resolution 168 create the 
Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force, consisting of the 
Director of Agriculture or a designee and 12 committee members.

New Mexico's House Bill 104, sponsored by Representative Pauline K. Gubbel, 
calls for an appropriation of $50,000 for New Mexico State University to 
study industrial hemp as a commercial crop.

  Montana's House Resolution 2 is somewhat more assertive by requesting 
that the federal government officially define "hemp" as having less than 
one percent THC. The bill also calls for hemp to be regulated by the 
Department of Agriculture.

  Similarly, Virginia's House Joint Resolution 94 "memorializes" the 
Secretary of Agriculture, the Director of the Drug Enforcement 
Administration, and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control 
Policy to permit the controlled, experimental cultivation of industrial 
hemp in Virginia.


On the federal side, a petition filed by Ralph Nader's Resource 
Conservation Alliance (RCA) and the NAIHC attempts to force the DEA to 
remove hemp from its list of federally controlled substances. The agency is 
required to respond within a reasonable amount of time, but had not done so 
after 18 months. If DEA does not comply, the matter is bound for the 
courts. RCA's Ned Day believes that the DEA is dragging its feet out of 
fear. "I think they are very worried about what the states are doing," he 
says. "They don't want middle America coming after them, especially soccer 
moms. It might be that they'll wait until the pressure dies down and if 
they feel they have cover, they might act."

Native Americans should technically be able to grow hemp since their 
reservations are sovereign nations--a theory which is now being tested. 
Since 1997, the Lakota Sioux at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota have 
been passing ordinances and resolutions to grow hemp. This year, the tribe 
planted approximately two acres next to a field of wild hemp growing along 
a creek. So far, there's been no reaction from the DEA.

The Lakota are also planning construction of homes made from hemp bricks. 
The tribe is hoping to use part of the $5 million in federal funds it's 
receiving to replace 25 homes recently destroyed by tornadoes for hemp 
buildings. "The whole housing scene is in flux here," says tribal spokesman 
Tom Cook. "With all these houses going down, hemp is the only thing going up."

Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau now has no official policy on hemp. 
Dave Kelly, the bureau's assistant director of news services, says, "Hemp 
is an issue our delegates have determined they want to be neutral on; not 
for it, not against it."


Will the legalizing states get away with growing a crop that the federal 
government still considers a Schedule One restricted substance? In the 
DEA's letter to Hawaii's Thielen, Williams noted "that public and 
commercial interest may be better served if the cultivation of Cannabis 
sativa L. hemp is authorized by the appropriate Federal and State entities."

In line with the DEA, the White House drug czar, General McCaffrey, appears 
to be softening his stance. "If people believe that hemp fiber can be sold 
in the marketplace for a profit, and aren't actually trying to normalize 
the growing of marijuana around America, to the extent you want to grow 
hemp fiber we'd be glad to work with you," he said in April. "[But as a 
profitable crop] I think it's going nowhere." A growing hemp industry, 
poised for legalization, might disagree.


Agricultural Hemp Association
PO Box 8671
Denver, CO 80201
Tel: (303) 298-9414

Californians for Industrial Renewal
12922 Harbor Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Tel: (714) 542-2224

Hemp Industries Association
PO Box 1080
Occidental, CA 95465
Tel: (707) 874-3648

Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative
PO Box 4114
Lexington, KY 40544
Tel: (606) 252-8954

North American Industrial Hemp Council
PO Box 259329
Madison, WI 53725-9329
Tel: (608) 258-0243

Tribal Hemp Enterprises
PO Box 941
Pine Ridge, SD 57770
Tel: (605) 867-5242

MARI KANE was the publisher of the now-defunct HempWorld. She continues to 
produce Hemp Pages, the first international hemp directory. 
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