Long-time hemp and animal activist Jesse Silverman recently
attended the World Hemp Expo in Amsterdam and found that the hemp issue
barely ranks as a controversy in Europe. This is his report on the Expo
and the current status of hemp.
Activists concerned with environmental and health issues must examine
their priorities from time to time, as there are many important areas
of concern. Learning the facts about hemp may perhaps be more important
than any other single issue apart from promoting a vegan lifestyle.
There are unique properties of hemp seed foods that are too important
to be ignored. In his eye-opening book Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill
(Alive Books, 1993), Dr. Udo Erasmus compares the health benefits and
hazards of different oils. Hemp seed is believed to have an ideal composition
in terms of its essential fatty acid components.
While most Americans waste time and energy worrying about the non-issue
of protein (hemp seed is one of many excellent vegan sources), more
and more are coming to realize that the specifics of our fat intake
are more likely to be affecting our immediate and long term health.
This may eventually prove to be one of the most important of the long-neglected
uses of hemp, especially for those hoping to reduce our nation’s
health care costs by improving our diets.
The Hemp Expo in Amsterdam was a revelation. While not everything offered
for sale was vegan, as some clothing items contained silk or leather
and a few food items contained honey, there was a sense of positive
energy and hope for change that were inspirational. In addition to
delicious vegan hemp pesto and the fruit-sweetened hemp treats I brought
home from the Hemp Expo in Amsterdam, there were innumerable other
ranging from all items of clothing and building materials, to tree-free
paper, being demonstrated and sold. I found more useful, tasty and
animal- and petrochemical-free products than anywhere since I’d
left the Vegan Festival in San Diego earlier in 1995. And most of these
products are available in the U.S. In fact, one vegan non-hemp-aware
friend from Amsterdam couldn’t believe how many people felt the
need to cross the ocean to attend!
Recent Activity on the Hemp Front
Indeed, a healthy sense of humor is required to deal with the hemp
issue. U.S. laws were intended to stop hemp’s recreational and religious
uses, while allowing manufacture of food and fiber products. They have
had anything but the desired effect. Arrests for possession of therapeutically-active
"marijuana" for purposes of medicine, religious ritual, and
recreation have skyrocketed over the last few years, with as many as
500,000 arrests in 1995.
In a recent Sunday morning television debate on the future of the tobacco
industry, an apologist for farmers of America’s number one crop
used the phrase "most profitable crop that [we] can legally grow"
at least a dozen times. Neither any of the journalists nor any other
participant dared mention the "controversial" hemp crop by
Some other governments and media are not so coy. As the New York Times
reported on November 12, 1995: "The German government announced
this week that it is lifting its ban on the cultivation of hemp, a fibrous
plant used to make food, textiles, fuel, soap, lubricating oils, cosmetics,
building materials and other products.... Other European countries already
permit the growing of hemp, and Germany is joining an industry that
is regarded as so unremarkable that the European Union offers subsidies
to growers." The ban was lifted, according to German Minister of
Health Horst Seehofer because, "We now have strains of hemp which
contain such small amounts of the drug THC that they cannot be used
for drug production. The principal argument against a continuing ban
on hemp cultivation is therefore no longer valid." Germany’s
principal farmers’ association lobbied to get the ban lifted,
and was joined by both textile companies and printing industry representatives,
as well as veterans of the hippie and alternative movements (whom some
would have us believe are the only people interested in hemp).
Back in the USA
Meanwhile, back in this country, things are looking up, sort of. The
American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farming organization in
the nation with over four and a half million members, recently passed
a resolution unanimously at its 77th annual convention in Reno, Nevada
which reads: "We recommend that the American Farm Bureau Federation
encourage research into the viability and economic potential of industrial
hemp production in the United States. We further recommend that such
research includes planting test plots in the United States using modern
agricultural techniques." Should American farmers have their hands
tied, or shouldn’t they be encouraged to consider all environmental
and economic factors in order to compete in the global marketplace?
Hemp is probably the largest cash crop in up to 26 different states
by U.S. Department of Agriculture and Drug Enforcement Agency estimates.
Yet virtually all of the hemp in our legal hemp products is currently
imported from China and Eastern Europe.
In an article entitled, "World’s Oldest Fabric is Now Its
Newest" (6/25/95), the New York Times seemed quite confident that
new days are upon us. "I believe that hemp is going to be the fiber
of choice in both home furnishings and fashion industries," Calvin
Klein is quoted as saying. "I love the fabric," he enthused.
"The plan for us is to eventually introduce 100 percent hemp products."
What next? There is still a long way to go. Historically, it was the
timber and petrochemical industries which supported hemp repression.
Today it is predominantly the pharmaceutical industry, with smaller
contributions from the alcohol industry. One look at the staggering
costs of synthetic alternatives to medical hemp such as Marinol shows
how the scene today has changed. Marinol is a copy of just one of the
active ingredients in medicinal hemp that many, if not most, medical
users find vastly inferior. And it retails for $8 a pill!
In California, activists who planted hemp as a protest against prohibition
argued three points in a defense that resulted in an acquittal. First,
they had their First Amendment right to protest by inviting the press
to a felonious seed-planting. Secondly, because the hemp industry is
covered by international trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT, the
government couldn’t allow an unfair trade advantage to other nations
that cultivate industrial hemp. Thirdly, they argued that America’s
national defense interests were at stake. Executive Order 12919 signed
by President Clinton last June — like every such executive order
since 1941 — lists hemp as an item vital to America’s emergency
preparedness. Clearly, the idea of encouraging domestic hemp production
is not just novel but long overdue.
On May 15 last year, Newsday noted that "the pro-hemp camp is split
on whether to align itself with the legalize-marijuana proponents."
The Clinton administration may decide this one for us. Lee Brown, former
Drug Czar, tried to stop Adidas from marketing a line of hemp sneakers
named "The Hemp," believing that talking about and promoting
hemp leads to usage of all kinds of illegal drugs by young people.
this attitude prevails, everyone must weigh the benefits of beginning
a legal hemp industry here against the dubious merits of our nearly
60 year record of hemp prohibition.
Jesse V. Silverman is a computer programmer living
in Queens. He is actively involved in the vegan, animal rights, environmental
and hemp movements.