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Hemp Is Not Pot: It's the Economic Stimulus and Green Jobs Solution We Need

We can make over 25,000 things with it. Farmers love it. Environmentalists love it. You can't get high from it. So why is it still illegal?

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However, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the DEA's predecessor, said its agents couldn't differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana, a stance the DEA maintains today, so fewer farmers were willing to grow it. The exception came during World War II, when the armed forces experienced a severe fiber shortage and the government launched an aggressive campaign to grow hemp.

But after the war, hemp production faded away, and the last legal crop was harvested in 1957. Marijuana's propaganda-fuelled history, one filled with lurid stories, one-sided information, slander and corporate profiteerism, is too lengthy to address here, but hemp has never managed to remain unscathed.

Considering today's economic crisis and the combined threats of peak oil and global warming, there is increasing pressure to move toward sustainable resources before everything goes up in smoke. If there was any time to revisit hemp, it's now.

"Industrial hemp is the best gift a farmer could have. It's the ideal alternative crop," says Gale Glenn, on the board of the North American Industrial Hemp Council. Glenn, now retired, owned and managed a 300-acre Kentucky farm producing burley tobacco, and she immediately launches into hemp's benefits: It's environmentally friendly, requiring no pesticides or herbicides, it's the perfect rotation crop because it detoxifies and regenerates the soil, and it's low labor.

"You just plant the seed, close the farm gate and four months later, cut it and bale it," she says.

And there's more. As a food, hemp is rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids; the plant's cellulose level, roughly three times that of wood, creates paper that yields four times as much pulp as trees; hemp is an ideal raw material for plant-based plastics, used to make everything from diapers to dashboards.

In fact, Germany's DaimlerChrysler Corp. has equipped its Mercedes-Benz C-class vehicles with natural-fiber-reinforced materials, including hemp, for years. Even Henry Ford himself manufactured a car from hemp-based plastic in 1941, archival footage of which can be found on YouTube, and the car ran on clean-burning hemp-based ethanol fuel.

This leads to the most compelling argument for hemp: fuel. Hemp seeds are ideal for making ethanol, the cleanest-burning liquid bio-alternative to gasoline, and when grown as an energy crop, hemp actually offsets carbon emissions because it absorbs more carbon dioxide than any other plant.

As the world rapidly depletes its reserves of petroleum, America needs to create a renewable, homegrown energy source to become energy independent. Luckily, unlike petrol, hemp is renewable, unless we run out of soil.

"As a farmer, it's frustrating not being able to grow this incredible crop," says Glenn. But if Glenn did try to grow it, the American government would consider her a felon guilty of trafficking, and she would face a fine of up to $4 million and a prison sentence of 5 to 40 years. Because no matter how low its THC content, hemp is still considered a Schedule I substance, grouped alongside heroin.

It's exactly this war-on-drugs logic that has kept serious discussion of hemp off the table.

"I've met with senators over the last 13 years, and I've been to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) four times, and I'm always amazed by what they tell us -- that industrial hemp is by far one of the most superior fibers known to man, but since it's a green plant with a five-point leaf, you'll never grow it in America," says Bud Sholts chairman of the the North American Industrial Hemp Council and former economist for Wisconsin's State Department of Agriculture.

Sholts' research into sustainable agriculture convinced him of industrial hemp's value, and he has been lobbying for it ever since. "We're overlooking something huge."

 
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