My blog is dedicated to the exploration of industrial hemp in America including the rich history of all forms of cannabis, the evolving law and politics of hemp and marijuana, the many products made from cannabis and the capacity, real or imagined, of hemp to re-industrialize rural America and revitalize the American family farm.
Americans farmers want to explore growing hemp as a money making crop.
All hemp products manufactured for sale in the United States are made from hemp grown on foreign soil.
Americans are used to steeping in the irrational juices of their haphazard legal culture. A vintage crock is simmering over the issue of hemp cultivation.
Begin with a good stock of muddy history, throw a revitalized back-to-the-land ethos permeating the mainstream, and you have the base for the policy dish that is “industrial hemp.”
What is at stake is not whether there will be a commerce in hemp products in the United States. That is already happening.
The question is whether American farmers will participate in growing hemp as a money making crop.
Hemp advocates and people who work with it extol the long, strong fibers of the plant, the many uses to which its various parts can be put after processing, and its prolific growth relative to other plants used for similar purposes.
Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Adidas already proffer hemp products, as do Land’s End and J. Peterman catalogues.
Since the early ’90s the number of hemp-oriented businesses in the U.S. has gone from estimates of about 20 near the beginning of 1992 to upwards of 300 and possibly closer to 500 today.
A lot of these companies are fairly small outfits, though others are notching attention-fetching numbers, such as Sharon’s Finest, a vegetarian foods company ranked 238 on Business Magazine Inc.’s 500 list.
Hemp’s bucking ride into the mainstream American marketplace is driven more by economic and cultural factors—an emergent interest in natural fibers, for instance—than in any changes in law or new discoveries or inventions that alter the economic picture.
At the same time, hemp products bolster and are bolstered by a worldwide renaissance in the development of hemp machines from specially-designed mowers to pulpers that can be fed the entire stock of plant.
Chris Conrad, who in 1989 presciently founded the Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp, a consortium of hemp product companies banded together to foster a more hospitable climate for trading in hemp goods, says, “The political-environmental shift is really what’s driving it.”
The hitch is, all hemp products manufactured for sale in the United States are made from hemp grown on foreign soil, in countries where it is legal to cultivate the crop.
It is estimated that the cultivation of the fiber on U.S. soil would trim the price by 75 percent, while adding to the array of cash crops farmers could choose from.
Across the republic, farm organizations including the the 4.5-million member American Farm Bureau, are calling to legalize industrial hemp farming.
Several states have passed laws in favor of hemp cultivation.
They have generally taken the form of providing for state-run test plots or allowing individual farmers to register as growers with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). And the DEA has gone out of its way to prevent the crop from being cultivated.
The agency won’t say how many applications it has turned down, nor even how many it has received. In at least two states, special agents have actively opposed legislation allowing for hemp cultivation.
The sponsor of a Colorado bill felt an eleventh-hour letter from the DEA, delivered less than three hours before the assembly vote, killed the legislation.
The European Community has allowed the growing of hemp for years. The process requires that growers only use seed that is psychoactively inert.
Cannabis horticulturalists measure the plant’s drug potency in terms of a percentage of the plant’s THC content. Levels below one percent THC, the psychoactive compound of primary interest to government regulators, are regarded as the industrial variety of the cannabis plant.
All cannabis grown legally in Europe comes from seeds certified to be industrial grade, rather than pharmaceutical grade.
Recently Canada and Jamaica have opened the door to hemp cultivation, joining a growing list of trading partners including Germany, England, France, China, The Netherlands and the Ukraine.
Put simply, hemp is not marijuana and can’t be transformed into marijuana any more readily than pure heroin can be extracted from garden poppies.
The linking of hemp and marijuana has more to do with old habits of the drug war than a reasoned concern for the public welfare.
Britain boasts 10,000 acres of the sweet-smelling crop, nestled in various secret locations throughout the balmy northern isle. (British officials don’t want the crop growing out in the open and tempting misguided potheads who would steal the plants.)
Jamaica is looking to the off-troublesome plant to revive its textile industry (In a twist on the usual cannabis-export relationship, an Atlanta-based company Alternative Import and Export, will reportedly advise the Kingston government on the fine points of raising the precious weed.)
Domestic commerce in hemp will continue to grow with or without a US. crop, says Ken Friedman, president of the nation’s biggest hemp business, American Hemp Mercantile, Inc.. Valued at an estimated $75 million for 1995 and projected at $600 million by 2001, hemp commerce involves everything from lip balm and fanny packs to soaps, twine and clothing.
American Mercantile sells mostly twine, all of it grown and processed in Hungary.
The largest trafficker in hemp goods with almost $2 million in gross sales last year, American Hemp has tripled its sales volume in the course of two years and may issue a public stock offering in 1998.
“It’s not so much that we need [U.S. grown hemp] for the existing hemp industry but for rural economic development,” says Friedman. ”
The people losing out are farmers,” and the people in their communities who would enjoy the benefits to local manufacturing.
By the time a domestic supply could become available, Friedman thinks he would have tapped out his Hungarian suppliers who may then be persuaded to share their methods with Americans just starting out.
He sees a time frame of from one to two years before initial growing efforts get under way here, and perhaps five years before companies like his are relying on it as a commodity.
Though in the next year one may watch the legal front for five or ten states to pass laws to grow hemp or study its prospects.
In fact, this is a process already underway. “What we’re really waiting for is something out of D.C. to take it out of DEAs hands,” he says.
Mari Kane, editor and publisher of the trade magazine HempWorld, founded in 1993, concurs.
Over the next year, says Kane, “There will be a lot of activity in the state legislatures, but unfortunately it’s not gonna do us much good when the federal government steps in and says, `No, we’re not gonna let you grow it: ”
The backlash against hemp sometimes takes amusing forms.
In Omaha, the executive director of anti-drug group Pride Omaha Inc. complained, “We’re seeing more and more promotions of hemp and we’re very much opposed to it.”
An employee at an Omaha bank laid claim to the illegal practice of removing dollar bills from circulation because many were turning up with the graffiti message scrawled by George Washington’s mouth: “I grew hemp.” (Though in Washington’s day hemp cultivation was akin to growing cotton, his planting diaries reflect that he also grew a little of the plant for its drug properties, as was also common in his time.)
Feckless drug czar Lee Brown, in a gaseous outgoing moment, upbraided Adidas for marketing a shoe called, “The Hemp,” labeling it a “cynical marketing game” and an attempt “to capitalize on the drug culture.”
Adidas president Steve Wynne replied: “I don’t believe you will encounter anyone smoking our shoes anytime soon.”
The company has since renamed the shoe “Gazelle Natural,” and it sells with a label declaring its hemp composition.
As it happens, the commercial and agricultural breakthrough will be one and the same for hemp when the time comes.
Northern California stationer John Stahl of the Evanescent Press has been applying for the legal grower’s permit for more than three years, complying with every one of what he calls the “insane regulations” just because he really wants “to crack this nut open.”
There may be some encouraging news in his saga (his last government communication appears to give him the go ahead to plant a small amount of hemp), but he seems determined to keep at the authorities as long as it takes for him to get his permit.
Of course, the same laws are blocking him from growing hemp for paper as block any other North American paper company from getting into cannabis.
“You can make lip balm all you want but that’s not gonna change the world,” says Stahl, characterizing most hemp trade in the U.S. as “all nickel and dime, little fanny packs. Once we start making paper out of hemp it will put everything else in the shade.”
HempWorld’s Kane echoes his sentiment: “Hemp commerce can move forward without growing it . . . the clothing, the fashion, the novelty items those will definitely continue, and those companies will never get rich, but it will continue definitely.”
Fortune 500 companies don’t come blazing down the hillside trumpeting for all the world to know they have become advocates of social change.
But International Paper’s membership in the North American Industrial Hemp Council places it among those who are working to legalize the growing of psychoactively inert cannabis.
In response to economic and environmental concerns, the company is evaluating the potential of hemp and other natural fibers for making paper. (The company already operates a mill in Colombia using begasse, a fibrous South American plant.)
Hemp stocks would never supplant wood pulp altogether, points out International Paper spokesperson Neal Lincoln. But it won’t supplant anything if it can’t be grown legally.
Does the world’s largest paper manufacturer intend to shape policy? ”
Our involvement in the North American Industrial Hemp Council is right now the way we’re attempting to influence policy on the issue.
That’s a group that’s interested in legalizing the growing of industrial hemp. To the extent we can help in that, we will,” says Lincoln. International Paper uses 50 million tons of wood fiber a year and employs more than 50,000 people just in the U.S.
If the company finds that hemp is where it’s at, access to a domestically-grown supply is “important,” says Lincoln.
In its information-gathering efforts, International Paper wants to learn, “What does it take to grow and harvest and use hemp? We know how to do that with wood; we have to learn with hemp,” says Lincoln.
“All paper companies in North America are looking for fibers other than wood,” says Patrick Girouard, economic analyst with Resource Efficient Agricultural Production (REAP)-Canada.
Though agricultural subsidies of other fiber crops like cotton economically militate against hemp for certain applications, it can find a niche in the short term replacing soft woods for paper pulp.
“Over the next 20 years the world demand for paper products will double, especially in Asia,” says Girouard. He too sees cultural factors drawing attention to hemp.
“When you talk about hemp it’s catchy. Just because it’s illegal, people show more interest in the beginning.”
This, coupled with a global movement to remove price supports from agricultural commodities should augur well for hemp’s prospects.
Within a few years programs in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario will begin to yield the data to run bona fide economic analyses, he says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson calls hemp a good fiber, but “institutional constraints” pose “overwhelming” obstacles to studying it.
USDA’s Jeffrey Gain, chairman of the board of the Alternative Agriculture Research and Commercialization Corp., has said, “Anybody who comes to the conclusion that hemp is not viable is probably not fully aware . . . ”