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Obama Wants More Green Jobs? Let's Start with Hemp

Hemp could bring back sorely needed employment in the American heartland. But the drug warriors stand in the way.
 
 
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This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

Though Obama has frequently spoken of the need for more “green jobs,” he has failed to acknowledge the inherent environmental advantages associated with a curious plant called hemp.  One of the earliest domesticated crops, hemp is incredibly versatile and can be utilized for everything from food, clothing, rope, paper and plastic to even car parts.  In an era of high unemployment, hemp could provide welcome relief to the states and help to spur the transition from antiquated and polluting manufacturing jobs to the new green economy. What is more, in lieu of our warming world and climate change, the need for environmentally sustainable industries like hemp has never been greater.  Given all of these benefits, why have Obama and the political establishment chosen to remain silent? 

 The explanation has to do with retrograde and backward beliefs which have been hindering environmental progress for a generation.  A biological cousin of marijuana, hemp contains minute amounts of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive chemical.  Even though advocates say one would have to smoke huge amounts of hemp to get high, the plant occupies a highly dubious legal status in the U.S.   During the 1970s, Congress declared hemp a “Schedule I” drug under the Controlled Substances Act, ridiculously lopping the plant in the same category as heroin.  Though the authorities allow farmers to petition the federal government to grow hemp, the Drug Enforcement Administration or D.E.A. has proven incredibly resistant to such licenses and for all intents and purposes the crop has remained illegal [ironically enough, however, the U.S. imports many hemp-related products from abroad].

Tide Beginning to Turn

On the other hand, tectonic political and cultural change may provide some reason for optimism.  Last fall, Washington state and Colorado legalized marijuana which has in turn exerted pressure on the Obama administration.  As I discuss in a  recent article, surprisingly diverse social constituencies supported the ballot initiatives, which suggests that the political tides may be turning [in  Latin America, too,public sentiment seems to have soured on Washington’s unpopular drug war]. 

In moving to legalize marijuana, Colorado also passed hemp legalization though the D.E.A. must still grant permission to farm the crop.  Colorado joins a growing number of states which are moving on hemp legislation, though such measures are hardly uniform.  Some states have authorized the study of industrial hemp as an industry, while others have simply asked the Feds to relax draconian drug laws.  Some, however, have legalized hemp production just like Colorado. 

This in turn raises the question of whether the Obama administration might actually conduct raids on local farms in an effort to crack down on the crop.  Perhaps, such a scenario will never come to pass since change has even come to Capitol Hill: recently, a bipartisan group ranging from liberal Democrat to right-wing Republican reintroduced legislation which would require the federal government to respect state laws allowing for the cultivation of hemp. 

Creating New Green Jobs in the American Heartland?

Could hemp help to bring back sorely needed employment in the American heartland?  That is the hope in Kentucky, which had a booming hemp industry as recently as World War II.  Somewhat outlandishly, Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell no less has remarked “the utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real, and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times, that sounds like a good thing to me.”

In Colorado meanwhile, hemp boosters are hoping that the once taboo crop could help the local economy.  Indeed, hemp production might provide the state with new jobs and tax revenue.  Colorado farmers believe that their state could lead the way in this new, innovative field and some even hope to turn their crop into edible oil.  Trendy food markets in Boulder are already carrying a number of products made out of hemp ranging from soaps to lotions and even protein powders. Perhaps, Colorado farmers will one day turn out “Hemp Hearts,” a new product made out of the partially shelled seed of the plant.  Boosters say Hemp Hearts, which don’t have an overly assertive taste, can be spread over cereal or yogurt.

 
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