Drugs

Hemp Hemp Hooray

Five states -- Hawaii, Montana, Kentucky, West Virginia and North Dakota -- currently have laws that legalize and regulate hemp farming; similar legislation is pending in California, Oregon and New Hampshire.
Patients and advocates filled the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee room on April 5 to testify in favor of HB 658, which would offer medical marijuana patients an affirmative defense against prosecution for pot possession.

The bill, filed by Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, and co-sponsored by Reps. Terry Keel, R-Austin, and Suzanna Gratia Hupp, R-Lampasas, would offer the defense for patients using marijuana on a doctor's recommendation for the treatment of a bona fide medical condition. It would also prohibit law enforcement from investigating doctors on the grounds that they'd discussed marijuana with their patients.

Twenty-six states have already recognized the benefits of medical marijuana -- including 10 which have legalized medi-pot and two, Florida and Idaho, which have passed laws creating a "medical necessity" defense to prosecution, akin to Naishtat's current proposal. "This is an issue of compassion, and [of] the right to effective health care treatments," Texans for Medical Marijuana Executive Director Noelle Davis told the committee. The bill is still pending in committee.

Redefining Hemp

In other news, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, intends to file legislation this spring that would redefine industrial hemp under the Controlled Substances Act, removing the de facto federal ban on agricultural hemp production. "This is an industrial product," said Paul spokesman Jeff Deist. "This would essentially eliminate the federal roadblocks to industrial hemp production."

According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not have an established hemp crop. And the demand for hemp products -- from textiles to auto parts to foods -- continues to grow, meaning U.S. companies must import hemp products for sale in the states.

Hemp farming used to be an agricultural staple -- the government actually encouraged production during World War II -- until changes to the Controlled Substances Act made continued production untenable. The CSA drug-war era revisions eliminated the distinction between breeds of marijuana, thus placing hemp regulation under the authority of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is charged with approving, denying, or just ignoring hemp farming license applications. (The DEA has only ever issued one license, which has now expired, to hemp growers in Hawaii.)

Nonetheless, five states -- Hawaii, Montana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and North Dakota -- currently have laws that legalize and regulate hemp farming; similar legislation is pending in California, Oregon, and New Hampshire. Deist said that the government's broad definition of marijuana, which includes industrial hemp as a Schedule I narcotic, is "preposterous."

"Hemp doesn't fall under the same category [as illegal marijuana] and it is silly that it does," he said. "This is an industrial product." The ban on hemp is merely an "off-shoot of this mentality from a war on drugs, and is not based on reason or fact. There is no rational policy right now." Deist said Paul expects to file the legislation in late May or early June.

Evil-Weed Rhetoric

Speaking of irrational, federal drug czar John Walters, head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, whipped out his hysterical evil-weed rhetoric last week during a visit to Cincinnati, claiming, again, that marijuana is a hard drug and is now the primary reason for admission to drug treatment facilities, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Walters' pot protestations have become somewhat tiresome -- along with the dubious drug treatment stats, Walters also likes to claim that today's pot is super potent, with THC levels up to 20 percent and higher -- but the man is nothing if not persistent. During his Cinci speech, Walters said it's "crucial" to target preteens with an anti-pot message, since "studies show" that people are less likely to become dependent on drugs after age 19. Marijuana abuse, he said, is a "pediatric-onset disease."
Jordan Smith is a staff writer at the Austin Chronicle.
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