Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kick-start the hemp industry


On Earth Day last week, a writer on the USA Today opinion page argued for the use of paper in classrooms because studies show students learn better when reading and writing on paper, as opposed to using electronic screens. (A belief apparently not shared by New York City public schools, which just signed a $30 million contract with Amazon to provide e-books for students.) The benefits of paper to students outweigh the environmental cost to trees, wrote Tal Gross, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
A lot of evidence makes a strong argument for paper: Working on paper makes us more productive, receptive and attentive, Gross writes. In one experiment, a team of Norwegian researchers randomly assigned 72 students to read either a passage on paper or on a computer screen. Those who read the passage on paper scored much better on a comprehension test. Another study found that students who take notes on paper learn more from lectures than students who take notes with a laptop; other research has found that people who doodle during lectures or meetings do better on memory tests.
We agree completely about the importance of paper, and offer an easy solution to the concern about trees: Hemp. Industrial hemp. Make paper out of hemp, the way our founding fathers did. Thousands of products can be made from hemp — paper is one of the more well known ones. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Hemp can be made into paper more easily, and with fewer chemicals than wood. The paper itself is stronger and longer-lasting.
Commercially grown industrial hemp would provide a big boost to our economy, as it did until the 1950s when it was effectively banned by high taxes. In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of legal hemp products, up from $1.4 million in 2000. Most of that growth was seen in hemp seed, which is used in food. American farmers and industry are being shut out of a lucrative market as more than 30 countries, including Canada, grow hemp as an agricultural commodity.
And now we hit the really crazy part: While cannabis — the psychoactive cousin to the non-psychoactive hemp plant — has been legalized by many states and Washington, D.C. for medical and recreational purposes, growing agricultural hemp for clothing, food and other products remains mired in the “research” phase. What's to research? Let the would-be growers and sellers do their own research, since it's being grown all over the world, except here.
Even crazier — the federal government is actually ahead of the Evergreen State on this one: In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress approved research and pilot programs in states that have approved their own bills allowing hemp research and pilot programs. (Maddeningly, the federal action was, in part, “intended to determine whether commercial production of hemp would be beneficial for American farmers and businesses.” The answer is yes.)
Against this backdrop, the Washington Legislature this year finally passed its own industrial hemp bill, “in accordance with the agricultural act of 2014.” So in other words, more research, more pilot projects. Round and round we go. In a state where medical and recreational cannabis are legal.
It shouldn't be this difficult for a farmer or entrepreneur to enter a time-proven industry. Hemp has been grown for more than 12,000 years. It cannot make a person “high.” It does make better paper than trees. Both Washingtons need to remove any restrictions for growing hemp, for the love of George Washington, who grew the crop without the benefit of governmental research and pilot programs.

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