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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Celebrating Hemp History Week

Legalization slowly gains momentum

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For centuries, hemp was grown on American soil. The viable, adaptable crop was essential to the growth of industry. Thomas Jefferson endorsed it, declaring, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” During World War II, the U.S. government instituted a program to supply material for military equipment by contracting with farmers to grow hemp. The “Hemp for Victory” effort made sense, but politically the timing was a bit perplexing, considering that a mere five years earlier, Congress had passed the Marijuana Tax Act.

A veritable kaleidoscope of misinformation and misguided policymaking, the Marijuana Tax Act defined Cannabis sativa as a narcotic drug, regardless of plant variety or THC content. The law effectively made hemp, which has no narcotic value, guilty by association. As destructive as the Marijuana Tax Act was to American hemp farming, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 put the nail in the proverbial coffin.

While the rest of the industrialized world continues to grow industrial hemp and benefit from the plant’s nutritional content and environmental advantages, American farmers must wait patiently on the sidelines and watch the increasing popularity of hemp products that could have been grown and produced domestically. Hemp History Week (June 3-9) is a nationwide grassroots marketing and public education effort to inform the public on the potential of hemp as an economic stimulant and to encourage positive legislative changes. Organized by the Hemp Industries Association and Vote Hemp, the 4th Annual Hemp History Week celebration promises hundreds of promotions and events, including the Hemp History Week college campus road show, a premiere screening of the documentary Bringing it Home, and an online letter-writing drive to encourage legislators and President Obama to support hemp farming legislation.

A year ago I spoke with Hemp History Week project coordinator Christina Volgyesi about the future of American hemp production. Volgyesi stated that American farmers were on track to join the rest of the hemp-producing industrialized world. One year later, Volgyesi’s prediction remains somewhat fantastical because hemp-farming legislation cannot be signed into law without the approval of policymakers who have demonstrated a deep dislike for forward-thinking initiatives. So despite hemp’s increasing popularity and mounting legislative successes, it will remain illegal under federal law, inspiring proponents of legalization to work even harder and motivating their detractors to invest in more misinformation campaigns.   

Negative press aside, there have been some exciting developments in the fight for hemp legalization. Earlier this month, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced an amendment to the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 that would allow American farmers to grow industrial hemp. One of hemp farming’s most outspoken supporters, Wyden also introduced a Senate companion bill to the Rep. Ron Paul-sponsored 2011 Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 1831). This time around, Wyden has the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul who serve as cosponsors of the amendment.

The Kentucky twosome has continued to make the bluegrass state proud (at least in regards to hemp production), by supporting Kentucky Senate Bill 50, which will institute hemp-farming regulations at a state level. Kentucky now joins the ranks of eight other hemp-loving states that have passed legislation categorizing hemp as “distinct,” according to a report compiled by Vote Hemp. Lawmakers in Wisconsin are also expected to introduce “pro-hemp” measures within the 2013 legislative season, though the specifics of the possible amendment are presently unknown.

For more information on hemp history and legislation, visit votehemp.com. To learn more about Hemp History Week 2013, visit hemphistoryweek.com.

Emily Patti writes about food and culture for the Shepherd Express.