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April 1996
Hemp: Fun Fad for Today or Food, Fiber and Fuel for Tomorrow

By Jesse V. Silverman


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 the delicious vegan hemp pesto and the fruit-sweetened hemp treats I brought home from the Hemp Expo in Amsterdam, there were innumerable other products ranging from all items of clothing and building materials, to tree-free paper, being demonstrated and sold. I found more useful, tasty and nutritious 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 name.

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. If 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.


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