Hemp: the real reason pot is illegal

California ballot Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, will be on the November 2, 2010 California statewide ballot. According to Wikipedia, It legalizes various marijuana-related activities, allows local governments to regulate these activities, permits local governments to impose and collect marijuana-related fees and taxes, and authorizes various criminal and civil penalties. It requires a simple majority in order to pass, and would take effect the day after the election.

Proponents of Proposition 19 argue that it would help with California’s budget shortfall by taxing marijuana, cutting off funding to violent drug cartels, and redirecting law enforcement resources to more serious crime.

Hemp could be the big winner if Prop 19 passes

According to Harvey Wasserman in a recent article on Alternet, with legal marijuana comes legal hemp, another form of the cannabis plant that has very little THC— the substance in marijuana that produces a high. He says Prop 19 would result in the “opening up of the Golden State to a multi-billion-dollar crop that has been a staple of human agriculture for thousands of years, and that could save the farms of thousands of American families.”

Hemp may be illegal in the U.S., but it is legal in Canada, Germany, Holland, Rumania, Japan and China, among many other countries. Hemp is a crop that has many uses. It can be made into paper clothing, textiles, rope, sails, fuel and food, and, since ancient times, it has been a core crop in many parts of the world. Because it is easy to plant, grow and harvest, it was the main cash crop on virtually all American family farms from the colonial era on. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers. And if it were legal today it could bring much needed prosperity to American farmers.

Wasserman explains that hemp may be the real reason marijuana is illegal.

In the 1930s, the Hearst family set out to protect their vast timber holdings, much of which, were being used to make paper. But hemp produces five times as much paper per acre as do trees. Hemp paper is stronger and easier to make. The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, and one of Benjamin Franklin’s primary paper mills ran on it.

But the Hearsts used their newspapers to incite enough reefer madness to get marijuana banned in 1937. With that ban came complex laws that killed off the growing of hemp. The ecological devastation that’s followed with continued use of trees for paper has been epic.

As canvass, hemp has long been essential for shoes, clothing, rope, sails, textiles, building materials and much more. It’s far more durable than cotton and ecologically benign compared to virtually any other industrial crop. Hemp needs no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers, and can grow well without much water.

Hemp’s use for rope was so critical to the US war effort that in the 1940s, the US military lifted the bans and blanketed virtually the entire state of Kansas with it. The War Department’s “Hemp for Victory” is the core film on how to grow it.

Today, Canadian produced hemp milkhemp ice cream and other products are showing up at Whole Foods and other heath oriented grocery store. Hemp powder from hemp seeds, an alternative to soy powder, is extremely high in protein and in omega-3 oils. Wasserman says hemp could be the key to better bio-fuels because growing food crops like corn and soy to make ethanol and diesel is extremely inefficient, expensive and takes food away from hungry people. Hemp seeds produce a far superior bio-diesel than soy.

The economic interests opposing legalizing marijuana are the alcohol and tobacco industries, pharmaceutical and privatized law enforcement and prison industries that make money when people are imprisoned for smoking pot. But their opposition also keeps hemp from being legal, a crop that could provide tremendous economic relief for the U.S. According to Wasserman, “the industrial production of hemp would also transform the industries for paper, cotton, textiles, plastics, fuel, fish oil and more. The economic, ecological and employment benefits would be incalculable.”

When Californians go to the polls November 2, they may end marijuana prohibition but they will also decide whether California, and the rest of the U.S., will resume production of hemp, a crop that could be central to our economic, ecological and agricultural revival.

If you want to learn more about hemp and it’s relationship to marijuana, David P. West, Ph.D, of the North American Industrial Hemp Council, offers extensive information about the difference between hemp and marijuana at his website: Hemp and Marijuana: Myths & Realities.