It's the latest in a flurry of attempts to legalize hemp cultivation. And it has forged a bizarre "joint" effort among longhaired pot legalization activists and shorthaired farmers.
Hemp is the look-alike cousin of marijuana with one important difference: it's "non-narcotic."As hemp advocates like to point out, you'd have to smoke a hemp joint the size of a telegraph pole to get high. But as far as the U.S. government is concerned, anyone who wants to grow hemp is - in the words of the National Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey - engaged in a subterfuge for the pot legalization movement.
Everybody agrees hemp is certainly no drug. But police think that if hemp growing were legalized, they would have the added hassle of having to try to find pot fields among the look-alike hemp groves. They just don't have the manpower and they definitely don't want the headache. So the police lobby wants to keep hemp on the illicit substance list.
The irony is that the whole debate appears to be the product of historic accident. In World War II, the government literally begged farmers to grow hemp for parachutes. After the war, Congress outlawed marijuana. But the law used the word "Cannabis," which technically included harmless, non-narcotic hemp, too. Nobody cared too much at the time; hemp growing was on the decline. There were many other crops to sow.
But today, hemp has re-emerged on a global scale. Worldwide, it's in everything from car parts, plastics, carpets and clothes to hair care products and nutritional supplements. It's environmentally friendly since it grows easily without pesticides. And for farmers, it's a rotation crop that can diversify their livelihoods, especially for those attempting the painful transition away from tobacco.
For those struggling farmers, there's insult on top of injury: It's always been legal to import hemp. Canada's growing it. Great Britain's growing it. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that's not. So everybody except American farmers are cashing in.
Hawaii, Minnesota, North Dakota, Kentucky and New Hampshire are among the states fighting the hemp battle for their farmers. The case being heard in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston seeks to reverse DEA policy that treats hemp as marijuana.
Actor Woody Harrelson has teamed up with conservative farmers in a Hemp court challenge in Kentuck - he even took his mother to the trial dressed in hemp clothes and carrying a hemp purse (the mother, not Woody).
And next week, after a tedious and contentious DEA permit process, Hawaii will plant the first industrial hemp seeds in U.S. soil since WW II.
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