Sunday, January 31, 2016

Here's how we can glean prosperity from hemp production


Thank you for the editorial titled “Prosperity from hemp.” The phobias about marijuana should be put aside once people realize that hemp (aka, industrial hemp) is not a drug-related crop. The hemp plant has an astonishing number of uses, but giving pot smokers a buzz isn’t one of them. Hemp offers enormous economic potential for Kansas, particularly for our farm families and rural communities.
Hemp is a poor cousin to marijuana. The leaves of hemp and marijuana look alike, but the plants are different. Marijuana plants are short and bushy. Hemp is tall and fibrous. Marijuana contains enough of the psychoactive agent THC to give pot smokers a buzz. Hemp does not. Henry Ford probably never smoked pot, but in 1941 (after 12 years of research), Ford produced a strong and lightweight car body made only of hemp fibers and other natural materials.
Hemp is used in thousands of products, many of which you can buy on eBay, and increasingly in local stores. Hemp is an alternative to cotton and synthetic fibers for clothes and trees for paper. It grows fast and crowds out weeds. Unlike cotton, it does not need large doses of pesticides and herbicides.
It can grow on marginal land and needs little if any fertilizer. Trees must grow for years before being harvested for paper, but hemp can be harvested in a few months and make four times as much paper over a few decades. Much less chemicals are needed to make paper from hemp than from trees.
Why has our federal government lumped hemp in with marijuana? In the 1985 book, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” author Jack Herer states that DuPont played a key role in the criminalization of hemp. By stopping the growth of hemp, DuPont would have a monopoly on producing plastic and paper under its recently patented processes that used coal, oil and wood pulp. You can figure that other petrochemical, wood and paper product companies such as Koch Industries (based in Wichita and owner of Georgia Pacific) also would like for the growing of hemp to remain illegal.
The U.S. is the only developed country where it is illegal to grow hemp. Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, Canada, Australia, Austria, Spain, India and at least 20 other countries all grow hemp. Some states have laws allowing restricted growth of hemp (mostly for research) but must receive permission from the DEA to do so. Kansas is not one of those states.
For more than 100 years, my family has owned a quarter-section of land in Ellsworth County — pastureland with a winding creek. For as long as I can remember, hemp has been the most successful “weed” to grow there.
Back when I lived in Salina, the author of a book that promoted legalizing the growing of hemp spoke at an event in Lindsborg.
Soon afterward, I arranged for this author to meet with Saline County Sheriff Glen Kochanowski, a representative from the Salina Police Deptment and a Saline County commissioner. As I recall, the sheriff thought the author’s proposition was technically strong but politically impossible. I had to agree.
That was almost 20 years ago. Attitudes and ideas are changing, and so is Kansas. I believe the federal government will legalize the growing of hemp in the not-too-distant future, and the effect will be huge. Kansas should be preparing for this to happen and working to make it happen.
Our state Legislature could work as other states have done to open doors for industrial hemp. This would be good for our state, our farmers and rural communities. Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and Rep. Tim Huelskamp could, I hope, lend their support.
See the YouTube video, “Why Kentucky farmers are quitting tobacco and turning to hemp.”
— David Criswell, of Wilson, served as the Saline County administrator from 1994 to 2001.

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