Legalize Hemp — It’s Long Overdue

By Ralph Nader

A bipartisan legislative movement toward legalizing the growing of industrial hemp is finally on the rise. Last week, the Vermont General Assembly voted to lift a state statute that banned the growing of industrial hemp. While this, if enacted, would allow Vermont farmers to grow hemp under state law, it is still illegal under federal law. This last hurdle could be confronted, as some Congressional lawmakers are about to introduce legislation legalizing the growing of industrial hemp.


Hemp is an amazingly versatile plant with thousands of uses — none of which are remotely mind-altering. It can be used in paper, food, carpeting, home furnishings, construction materials, auto parts, textiles and even as an alternative fuel source.


The production of industrial hemp has been wrongly maligned for far too long. Often closely associated with marijuana because of its familial ties to cannabis, growing industrial hemp has been banned in the United States since as early as 1937, when it was first defined as a “narcotic” by Congress. The much overlooked fact is that industrial hemp only contains an insignificant — less than 1 percent — trace of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that produces the psychoactive “buzz” effect of that recreational drug.


Notably, industrial hemp production was permitted and encouraged during World War II, as per the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to produce items such as rope, twine, shoelaces, parachute webbing and rigging for ships and more. One reason for this demand for industrial hemp was the fact that the hemp plant matures in three to four months. Consider that trees can take years to grow to the point where they can be harvested. The benefits of increased hemp production are obvious. Hemp can yield four times as much paper per acre as trees. It is little surprise that the need to supply our military for World War trumped any perceived connection with marijuana. Watch this enlightening government film — created by the USDA, which notably denied its existence for many years — called “Hemp for Victory”.


Now, as the United States economy suffers, isn’t it time once again to let our farmers take advantage of this unique and adaptable crop?


Eight states, including North Dakota, Colorado, Oregon and now Vermont have passed laws enabling the licensing and growing of industrial hemp, but farmers are still banned from planting seeds by order of the rigid Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). (Yet companies are free to import hemp and hemp-based materials from abroad.)


The notion of hemp as a narcotic is an outdated and highly debunked myth, fueled by a blind devotion by law enforcement officials to the war-on-drugs narrative. Under federal law, there is no distinction between hemp and marijuana. At a recent hearing in Frankfort, Kentucky, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey said: “The specter of people getting high on industrial hemp is pretty much exactly like saying you can get drunk on O’Doul’s.”


Another benefit to consider is the fact that industrial hemp is an environmentally-friendly cash crop. A range of studies have shown its many benefits. Hemp can thrive with minimal herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, it reinvigorates the soil, and it requires much less water than other crops.


The majority of the hemp sold in U.S. today is imported from China or Canada. The United States is the only remaining developed, industrialized nation where the cultivation of industrial hemp is illegal. Consider the potential economic stimulus possible by legalizing the growing of industrial hemp. The United States is not only missing out on a sizable global market, but also limiting the livelihoods of farmers, processors and fabricators by continuing to deny common sense in favor of costly drug enforcement agendas. Our economy could use the revenue, and unemployed Americans could benefit from a fresh, emerging industry. Many companies here in the United States that sell hemp-based products would reap the benefits, as well. According to the Washington Post, the United States is the leading consumer of hemp products. While there is no definitive data on the total annual sales of hemp-based products, the Hemp Industries Association estimates it to be as high as $500 million.


During their administrations, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were both presented with petitions signed by a large number of leading agricultural, business and civic groups, including ours, urging them to take industrial hemp off the DEA narcotics list. These requests were flatly denied. (See those petitions here.)


Perhaps now — finally — better judgment can win the day, as some elected officials on both sides of the aisle are beginning to see the value of supporting the legalization of industrial hemp farming.