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It's a Safe Health-Food Wonder, Agricultural Dream and Economic Jackpot: It's Time to End our Government's Insane Hemp Prohibition

If it's legal to use in soaps – and even to eat – then why is it illegal to grow here?

David Bronner was recently arrested for attempting to eat a healthy breakfast. Does that sound stupid? Even once you know the details, it should sound stupid:  Bronner's food of choice was bread spread with hemp seed oil he pressed himself from industrial hemp plants, which he did in front of the White House under a banner reading: “Dear Mr. President Let U.S. Farmers Grow Hemp."

Bronner's company, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, spends over $100,000 to buy over 20 tons of hemp seed oil from Canada each year to use in its soaps. Bronner wants to give that money to American farmers instead.

If it's legal to use in soaps – and even to eat – then why is it illegal to grow here? Because according to the government, hemp is a drug. Specifically, it's considered identical to its close cousin, marijuana. But Bronner says it is no more a drug than a poppyseed bagel. The plants he gathered seed from to press his oil in front of the White House had been tested to confirm they contained less than 0.3 percent THC, which means it would be “impossible to get a high of any kind” even from smoking extremely large quantities of it. A more likely result from smoking that much industrial hemp would be a bad headache or perhaps a sore throat.

Bronner explains that his protest was “the culmination of a lot of frustration,” saying, “We're just sick and tired of this policy. It basically hands the world's largest market for industrial hemp seed and fiber products to the Canadians, Europeans, and Chinese, who are laughing at us all the way to the bank.”

He and others have lobbied to legalize growing industrial hemp in the U.S. for more than a decade. The environmentally friendly soap company appreciates that hemp can be grown without toxic agrochemicals, but it's the high omega-3 fatty acid content that really draws him to eating it and using it in his soaps. Bronner finds that the omega-3 content of hemp seed oil “makes the soap a lot smoother and emollient and less drying.” As a food, it has the “ideal ratio” of omega-6 to omega-3, about three to one.

Over the last half century, Americans have systematically removed omega 3 fatty acids from their diets, replacing them instead with omega 6 fatty acids. Within the human body, the two essential fatty acids “compete,” making the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 more important than the absolute quantity one eats of either one on its own. The 3:1 ratio of hemp seed oil is ideal, but most Americans eat 14 to 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3, causing a range of health problems.

Bronner and other hemp advocates were hopeful that Obama, who voted in favor of hemp cultivation twice as an Illinois state senator, would follow what they call a “rational science-based approach to hemp policy.” In addition to its use as a food and as a cosmetic, the plant offers uses as a fiber to make clothing or paper. Historically, Americans grew hemp until 1957, and during World War II, the government even encouraged farmers to grow it. The U.S. ships had hemp sails and the pioneers' covered wagons were covered in -- what else? -- hemp. Over the past three years, hemp advocates have aimed to introduce Americans to this part of our history by holding an annual Hemp History Week.

Bronner's protest action, which he undertook inside a specially designed cage that was difficult for the police to open or move, was held in conjunction with this year's Hemp History Week. “As silly as this action is,” he says, “It's 1/1000 as silly as this policy that's forcing us to year after year after year send our money to Canada.” This is not his first protest either – he's also been arrested for planting hemp on the lawn of the Drug Enforcement Agency headquarters in 2009.

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