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Dar Williams

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Hemp: Republicans to the Rescue!

Posted: 05/05/11 04:43 PM ET

Happy Hemp History Week! Hemp should be an all-American success story. The enormous value of hemp is that it can do just about everything... except get you high. But it is the identical twin of marijuana, and for that reason alone it's illegal to grow hemp in this country. Sound crazy? It is, and finally some Republicans have had enough of this nonsense.

I always thought that like some Shakespearian prophecy fulfilled, hemp would become legal when conservatives came to the cause. It seemed so essential and yet as improbable as Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane for a Republican to venture into the Hempen Forest. And then...

Imagine my surprise to see that for the last five years, Congressman Ron Paul (R, Texas) had actually been sponsoring HR 1866, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act. Last year it was introduced with twenty-five co-sponsors, five of whom were Republicans.

The bill calls "to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana" and allow states to regulate hemp laws.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R, California) ticked off an impressive list of hemp's benefits, including more self-reliance for farmers, adding "To restrict our society's use of hemp for these very valuable attributes in order to prevent people from smoking marijuana in their backyards; it makes no sense."


He's right. Here's a non-exhaustive list of hemp's contributions to society:

1. Hemp is a fiber crop that doesn't require any pesticides or herbicides (cotton gets the third largest dose of pesticides in this country).

2. Hemp is a helpful rotation crop. North Dakotan farmers think hemp could help break the hold of Fusarium Head Blight on their wheat.

3. The stalk can be used for bio-fuel, and it's not a food product (unlike corn or soy, which incidentally are #1 and #2 in pesticide use). Hemp seeds can make fuel, too, but these days the seeds are prohibitively expensive, because...

4. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein, and they are a preferred ingredient in many health products and cosmetics.

5. The long fibers of hemp can be mixed with recycled paper (whose fibers weaken with repeated recycling) to strengthen the paper and the recycled paper industry.

6. Efficient dual-use factories can harvest seeds and stalks for use as food, fuel and fiber. Every part of the plant is important.

Eric Steenstra, eloquent president of Vote Hemp and Hemp Industries Association, also points out that it's best to produce hemp biofuel locally. Every state that encourages hemp farming could also benefit from its industries.

The recession has created a forge-ahead attitude for hemp. It's as if there's no time for the old arguments. No pointing fingers, just helpful figures. I heard no mention of pot as the gateway drug so dangerous we mustn't confuse DEA eradicators with a look-alike.

Rep. Rohrabacher says that Republicans who think they're doing what the public wants by keeping hemp illegal "are living in the wrong decade."

This week I'm heading to the restaurant Candle 79 in New York for a hemp-infused luncheon to celebrate Hemp History Week. Doubtless I'll be steeped in the radiant glo-hemia of health-conscious progressives and familiar friends, but I'll be thinking about Republicans...

I'll be thinking of Rep. Rohrabacher on his surfboard (yes, really), getting ready to talk sense to his capitol peers, and I'll be picturing all the Republican state legislators (described by both Rohrabacher and Steenstra) who have championed hemp laws to make way for a federal go-ahead.

Steenstra told me that he and his colleagues have been working with a Democratic senator on a Senate hemp bill, and I'll be wondering which Republican will stand at his or her side.

Will it be Sen. John Hoeven? He facilitated and signed North Dakota's hemp bill when he was governor. As a junior senator, he might be afraid that the word "hemp" makes people think of a guy playing hacky sack in a court jester hat. That would be too bad, especially since pot itself is an issue clad in business suits and lab coats these days.

Then there's Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who's building a reputation for aligning with his blue state's values when it makes sense. And he would make a charismatic spokesperson in a heather gray hemp-fleece pullover.

Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski could score big points with no downside. She looks like a zero-tolerance school principal. No thinking she's in it for the weed. Also, they're growing hemp in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Alaska could benefit from another cash crop.

Businessman Sen. Ron Johnson, rock star Sen. Orrin Hatch, and the conveniently-named Sen. Chuck Grassley also come to mind, and if all else fails, memo to Sen. Rand Paul: call your dad.