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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Celebrating Hemp History Week

National effort aims to educate the public on once-lauded crop

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Ten hours after Pearl Harbor burned and more than 2,000 Americans perished, the Japanese launched a debilitating aerial attack and subsequent ground assault on the Philippines that would leave U.S.-Philippine forces outnumbered and outmaneuvered. On Jan. 2, 1942, when the Japanese captured the city of Manila, they also assumed control of the city's invaluable supply of Manila hemp. American forces relied on Manila hemp, a cordage fiber produced from the abaca plant, to manufacture essential military and naval supplies. Confronted with an imminent shortage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in collaboration with War Hemp Industries Inc., instituted an emergency program to develop domestic hemp cultivation and launched a national campaign to gain the support and soil of American farmers.

Hemp for Victory, a 1942 government film produced and circulated by the Agriculture Department to promote the effort, depicted hemp as a viable, adaptable crop that could be planted in compatible soils across the country, whether it was the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky or the more temperate climate of central Wisconsin. The film emphasized historical instances of American hemp use, extolled hemp's versatility and celebrated the "patriotic farmers" who harvested the "pioneer crop." But perhaps most remarkably, Hemp for Victory was released a mere five years after Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Spurred by terrified "social reformers" and modeled after their misguided ideas, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 defined Cannabis sativa as a narcotic drug, regardless of plant variety or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content. The classification, or—more accurately—misclassification, guaranteed that struggling hemp farmers were subject to the same rules and regulations as marijuana growers.

If the Marijuana Tax Act was considered the beginning of the end of American hemp production, then the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was the industry's certain demise. To avoid prosecution, prospective hemp farmers must acquire permits from the DEA. Although technically obtainable, the permits are extraordinarily difficult to secure due to hemp's status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Industrial hemp's continued inclusion in the "War on Drugs," despite having a THC level below 1%, is indicative of the misconceptions surrounding the crop and the bureaucratic barriers that must be broken down in order for American farmers to sow hemp seed once again.

Hemp History Week (June 4-10), an ambitious grassroots marketing and public education effort, is attempting to challenge such misunderstandings through a seven-day, nationwide celebration of America's hemp past, present and future. The third annual Hemp History Week will feature more than 800 celebrations and promotions around the country, including across Wisconsin, which was once the nation's second-largest producer of industrial hemp, according to Christina Volgyesi, Hemp History Week project coordinator.

Organized by the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Vote Hemp, a national single-issue lobbying organization, the campaign strives to educate consumers about the environmental advantages and nutritional benefits of hemp products. Additionally, Hemp History Week is advocating for a change in federal policy, explains Volgyesi, who believes that even with "pro-hemp legislation" stalling at the national level, American farmers are just two or three years away from joining the rest of the industrialized world.

Throughout his 30-year career, Rep. Ron Paul has been hailed as a hero and a kook, but the 12-term Texas congressman has rarely been accused of behaving inconsistently. In 2011, Paul introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 1831) for the fourth time since 2005. The bill died in the House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Had H.R. 1831 passed, it would have eliminated industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and allowed the combined 25 states that have either authorized hemp farming or removed production restrictions to move forward. But while the 2011 Industrial Hemp Farming Act failed to become law, it succeeded in generating bipartisan interest and support.

A Senate companion bill to H.R. 1831 is on the horizon and the hunt is well under way for a Republican co-signer to join Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Volgyesi insists that maintaining a bipartisan approach is imperative to any forward movement. "We want to have the same approach as we did in the House (of Representatives) in 2009, when we had Ron Paul and Barney Frank. We want it to remain a nonpartisan issue," she says. "Hemp farming is not political. It is an issue of economics, it is an issue of farmers' rights and it is an issue of missed opportunities."

For more information on Hemp History Week 2012 or for a full list of Wisconsin promotions and events, visit www.hemphistoryweek.com.