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Eric Steenstra

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The Obama Administration Is Wrong to Deny American Farmers a Profitable Crop

Posted: 05/03/2012 11:57 am

Last week, White House officials finally responded to a popular petition, filed in September of 2011 on the "We the People" Web site, in support of allowing U.S. farmers to once again grow non-drug industrial hemp. The petition quickly gained signatures, passing the 5,000 mark needed to achieve a response in just 25 hours. Despite this, it took over seven months for the Obama Administration to respond, outraging and bewildering the hemp industry.

Rather than addressing the farming of non-drug hemp, the Obama Administration issued the same response they have issued to petitions advocating for legalizing marijuana, and repeated the same old tired Drug War lies that conflate non-drug industrial hemp, the oilseed and fiber varieties of cannabis, with marijuana.

Industrial hemp is cultivated around the world for its strong fiber and nutritious seed, including the EU, Canada and even China. These countries all recognize the obvious fact that industrial hemp is an agricultural crop, not marijuana. The fiber is used in everything from clothing to construction materials to composite car parts, while the seed contains a complete protein, second only to soy, with high amounts of Omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA), in which the American diet is chronically deficient.

I work on behalf of hundreds of businesses which produce hemp products, all from imported Canadian, European and Chinese hemp seed and fiber. The U.S. hemp industry is in the unique position of having to advocate for a change in federal law that would allow our members to source their raw materials from U.S. rather than foreign farmers. Hemp food, body care and fiber products accounted for over $419 million in U.S. retail sales in 2010. Despite growing consumer demand for these eco-friendly and healthy products, the U.S. remains the only industrialized nation in the world that allows the importation and sale of hemp raw materials and finished goods, but bans its farmers from growing the crop.

Gil Kerlikowske crafted the White House response on behalf of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), ignoring the petition and arguably ignoring his agency's own published quality guidelines. I have met with senior ONDCP officials, and they have made clear they understand that industrial hemp is a non-drug crop, not marijuana. The administration should know that one cannot use hemp for drug purposes any more than one can use a poppy seed bagel even though it contains trace opiates. The response proves beyond any doubt that ideological interests and predetermined prohibition of hemp trump science and reason in the Obama White House.

European, Canadian, and Chinese hemp farmers are laughing all the way to the bank as their largest market, the United States, maintains the regressive policy that hands them a captive market in which American farmers cannot participate nor compete. Canadian farmers net $200 per acre on average, and the majority of their harvest is exported to the U.S. Our farmers are denied a profitable rotation crop and our manufacturers are forced to import raw materials, increasing their production costs along with the U.S. trade deficit. In a struggling economy, where our leaders constantly speak of the need for creating green jobs, the misguided federal ban on hemp farming perpetuates a massive lost opportunity.

To date 17 states have passed legislation encouraging hemp farming, and nine states have actually removed barriers to its production or research. The National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Grange have both passed resolutions urging the resumption of domestic hemp farming. In North Dakota, farmers and state officials, including then Gov. Hoeven, have made significant efforts to work with the Obama Justice Department in order to implement their state's hemp farming laws, but to no avail. The Obama Administration's pattern of reiterating tired rhetoric conflating hemp with marijuana and refusing to work with the states on this issue needs to end now. In fact, they could fix the problem tomorrow with the simple stroke of a regulatory pen -- no congressional involvement needed, as Attorney General Holder acknowledged recently to the Huffington Post.

President Obama came into office promising "change" in the way our government does business and an "unprecedented level of openness in government," where policy would be based on sound science, not politics. Where is the rationality, transparency and public participation President Obama promised? Sadly, this petition response and the administrations refusal to meet with state officials only further proves that President Obama and his administration are not willing to live up to that promise. Indeed the legions of hemp proponents who supported Obama in 2008 may very well be holding thousands of angry protest signs this time around.

 

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