Harris Sherline: The Case for Hemp
By continuing to treat the harmless plant as a drug, the United States has handed over the profitable market to other nations
For reasons I don’t fully understand, Americans seem to have lost the common sense that has always been a hallmark of our culture. Once again, we seem to be routinely shooting ourselves in the foot by adopting public policies that run counter to our own best interests. A good example is outlawing the use of hemp, one of the most beneficial crops in the history of the world, by burdening it with unnecessary and restrictive regulation in the name of fighting the so-called war on drugs.
Hemp is a harmless plant that is the source of an almost endless list of benefits. Wikipedia notes that it can be used in everything from food products to clothes as well as having multiple industrial or commercial uses, such as “paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel.”
China, France and Canada are all major producers of hemp and, although more hemp is exported to the United States than to any other country, our government generally does not distinguish between marijuana and a type of hemp that is used only for industrial and commercial purposes.
The North American Industrial Hemp Council says, “The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classifies all C. sativa varieties (of hemp) as ‘marijuana.’ While it is theoretically possible to get permission from the government to grow hemp, DEA would require that the field be secured by a fence, razor wire, dogs, guards and lights, making it cost-prohibitive.”
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 “placed an extremely high tax on marijuana and made it effectively impossible to grow industrial hemp ... (and) the Federal Bureau of Narcotics lumped industrial hemp with marijuana, as its successor, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, does to this day.” As Groucho Marx famously quipped, “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.”
Other facts about hemp offered by NAIHC include:
» “Hemp has been grown for at least the last 12,000 years for fiber (textiles and paper) and food.”
» “Much of the bird seed sold in the United States has hemp seed (it’s sterilized before importation), the hulls of which contain about 25 percent protein.”
» “Rudolf Diesel designed his engine to run on hemp oil.”
» “Construction products such as medium-density fiber board, oriented strand board and even beams, studs and posts could be made out of hemp. Because of hemp’s long fibers, the products will be stronger and/or lighter than those made from wood.”
» “More than 25,000 products can be made from hemp.”
» “To receive a standard psychoactive dose (of hemp) would require a person to power-smoke 10 to 12 hemp cigarettes over an extremely short period of time. The large volume and high temperature of vapor, gas and smoke would be almost impossible for a person to withstand.”
» “Hemp fibers are longer, stronger, more absorbent and more mildew-resistant than cotton.”
» “Fabrics made of at least one-half hemp block the sun’s UV rays more effectively than other fabrics.”
» “Hemp can be made into a variety of fabrics, including linen quality.”
» “Hemp grows well in a variety of climates and soil types. It is naturally resistant to most pests, precluding the need for pesticides. It grows tightly spaced, out-competing any weeds, so herbicides are not necessary. It also leaves a weed-free field for a following crop.”
» “Hemp can yield 3 to 8 tons of fiber per acre. This is four times what an average forest can yield.”
The bottom line is that by treating hemp as a drug, the United States has effectively shut down one of the most profitable and useful crops in history and has once again essentially abandoned the market to other nations that have a more realistic attitude.
We are preventing our farmers from growing a crop that has almost unlimited uses. It’s cheap and easy to plant and cultivate, and could potentially rejuvenate the small farming industry in the United States. While spending billions of dollars in what has been an almost fruitless effort to keep small farmers on the farm, we also have been unwilling to simply let them do it for themselves by allowing them to cultivate perhaps the best cash crop they could grow.
By stubbornly refusing to change or adapt our thinking, we are once again preventing one of our own industries from producing an important product and leaving a major market to our competition.
— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.
on 08.09.09 @ 06:25 AM
I can’t believe that I agree with most of a Harris Sherline op-ed. Thank you, Mr. Sherline, for providing insightful and helpful statistics on a no-brainer that is costing this country beaucoup bucks. Of course, the same could be said about other areas of government policy that are utterly self defeating, but let’s leave it at that - the one-subject rule is a good thing some times.
on 08.09.09 @ 07:33 AM
HEMP - We are talking billions of dollars in the USA.
Over 30,000 items are now produced from Hemp.
Many books and much research has been done:
The Great Book of Hemp By Rowan Robinson
Hemp for Health By Chris Conrad
Cannabis in Medical Practice By Mary Lynn Mathre
Understanding Marijuana By Mitch Earleywine
Cannabis Use and Dependence By Wayne Hall, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula
Popular Mechanics magazine (1938) touted hemp as “the new billion dollar crop,” stating that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.” The principal products for which the species is cultivated in Europe, all of which happen to be based on fiber. This presentation stresses the products that hold the most promise for North America, which also include a considerable range of oilseed applications.
Composites for autos
Long bark fiber
Woody stem core
Female floral (perigonal) bract
Confectionary, baked goods
Essential oil (for flavor & perfume)
Body care cosmetics
Construction plaster board
Seeds for birds
Presscake for livestock
Biodegradable landscape matting
Plant culture products
Gamma-linolenic acid dietary supplements
Coarse textiles (carpets, upholstery)
Specialty industrial oils
Art and Gifts
Baby Hemp Products
Bags and Luggage
Hemp Paper Products
Pet Care Products
on 08.09.09 @ 09:00 AM
Most of the time, I don’t even bother reading a Harris Sherline op-ed because his opinions are so far out of what I consider to be rational thought about the world. This time he is spot-on in pinpointing a meaningless and costly government policy. Congratulations on getting it right this time!
on 08.09.09 @ 09:49 AM
Since I usually challenge Mr. Sherline’s comments on the grounds of illogically viewing current problems it is only fair that I congratulate him on a sensible commentary.
The comments regarding hemp are sensible and worth considering. The temptation to make further comment are being resisted.
on 08.09.09 @ 10:19 AM
The only thing I can say is I sure could’ve used Mr. Sherline in my campaign for third district supervisor. For those who followed that campaign closely you may recall that one of my platform planks was to add Santa Barbara County to a list of four other counties, in a bill in the California state legislature ,where hemp could be experimentally grown in a bill .The state legislature wanted to experiment with legalization of hemp but the governor vetoed that bill. He seems to changing his toon with his recent trial ballooon to discuss legallizing and taxing cannabis and hemp.
Hemp is legal to grow in over thirty countries in the world including Canada. Two North Dakota farmers(where the state says it’s legal to grow hemp but the federal government says not under their rules)one of whom is a Republican state legisltor,are sueing the federal government to be allowed to legally grow hemp. Their arguement is straight forward enough; just a few miles away in Canada ,farmers are growing hemp and making money. We’re farmers. We grow stuff to make money. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to grow this stuff.
As Mr. Sherline points out the answer can be traced to the Marijuana Tax act of 1937. Testimony by the AMA demonstrates that the law was not about cannabis as is often thought. No it was about hemp. Calling it the “marijuana” tax act was a red herring. It was almost all about marginallizing hemp for use in industrial products.
Dupont was concerned about competion from biodiesel which can easily be made from hemp hurds( the waste left over when used for other industrial purposes),about it’s use as a natural fiber and the ability to make synthetic fibers from hemp, and the fact that only one fourth as much toxic chemicals are needed to make paper from hemp then from wood pulp. Dupont made the now banned petroleum additive,tetraethyl lead. They were inventing nylon and had just purchased the rights to Rayon from German munitions maker and chemical giant, I.M. Farbin. They also were the principle manufacturer of the chemicals used to make paper. They had a lot to lose.
In fact it is reported that Lamont Dupont lobbied the top attorney in the Department of the Treasury,Thomas Oliphant to draft the so-called Marijuana Tax Act. The competitive need for this act was that a new improved decorticator, a better, more efficient way of harvestibg hemp ,it stood to be a very fierce competitor to many of the synthetics Dupont produced.Other industries in the fiber,petrochemical, and paper industries stood to lose billions(which was a lot of money in those days)as well.
With all the demonization of marijuana it is hard to remember that in 1937 we had a rebounding hemp industry. Hemp had once been a mainstay of American agriculture. Most school children are aware that Washington and Jefferson grew it. The first draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. Cannabis had been in the United States Pharmacopia since 1854. Many pharmacuetical companies including Eli Lily,Squibb, Merck, and Parke Davis produced cannabis containing pharmacueticals.
Hemp was poised to once again rise to being one of the most profitable agricultural crops in the world. In the late 1930s Henry Ford built a car almost entirely out of hemp and it ran on biomass fuel made from hemp. In early 1938 Popular Mechanics ran an article proclaiming hemp the next billion dollar crop.
The AMA addressed several of these issues in their testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.. They were highly critical of the name of the act. Very few Anglos were familiar with the term marijuana. They knew it as cannabis or hemp. They AMA accused the Congress of pandering to racist fears and trying to mislead vthe American public.
The AMA pointed out that they had checked with several governmental departments dealing with health,mental health and prisons and there were no facts,no data not a scintilla of federal evidence to back up the outrageous claims being made by the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs,Harry Anslinger. The AMA testified that all Anslinger had for evidence was a fist full of newspaper clippings. The AMA went on to say that the AMA knew of NO dangers from the medicinal use of cannabis.
I could go on because there is much more detail to this story. But for more you can get my book ” Demons , Discrimination and Dollars: A Brief History of the Origins of American Drug Policy”. It is available on Amazon,through my website http://www.davidbearmamd.com or at my office.In about six months I will be coming out with a larger unabridged version of this book.
I want to thank Noozhawk and Mr’ Sherline for addressing this issue. Hemp would be good for Santa Barbara County,good for California and the US. It will clearly stimulate the economy,create jobs and generate tax dollars. It will be good for the environment by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy from hemp hurds, and decrease the amount of toxic chemicals used to make paper.
Indeed we have created an unnecessary mess. Governor Schwartzenegger is right. It is time to start the process to legalize. Actually he is a little behind the curve on this issue. It is time to allow American farmers to join the farmers from over thirty other countries and make a profit from the commercial sale of hemp.
on 08.09.09 @ 12:11 PM
Convincing article - Outlawing hemp is almost as stupid a government policy as outlawing oil drilling. Of course, many that agree that legalizing hemp would be useful are the same ones who would never dream or agree that increasing oil production would be useful. Show of hands?
on 08.09.09 @ 05:18 PM
Mr. Shoreline I must beg you to refrain from quoting facts and figures. Using real life examples of the use of hemp is just not acceptable.
Regardless I understand the message you are trying to convey. I am sure you have the best intentions but our society has no time for facts.
We live in a purpetual bubble of political entitlement and spiritual righteousness that sets “us” aside from the common man(woman). Truth??? WE CANT HANDLE THE TRUTH…
on 08.10.09 @ 10:48 AM
Okay, who are you, and what have you done with the real Harris Sherline?
on 08.10.09 @ 11:20 AM
Nice to see some sanity concerning hemp and its products.
And for the rest of the story- medical cannabis- please run a search on “Granny Storm Crow’s list- July 2009”. The list is just a short introduction followed by hundreds of links to scientific studies and articles on the medical uses of cannabis. Among the sources are PubMed, MedScape and WebMD- the same sources your doctor uses. Please educate yourself by learning the facts. The real crime is that cannabis is illegal! Thank you.
on 08.10.09 @ 04:00 PM
Marijuana laws are about as dumb as you can get. We learned nothing from prohibition except that it is a great tool for developing organized crime. Legalize hemp and be done with it. Legalize all other marijuana products and regulate the psychoactive components as you do alcohol. You have no moral imperative when you criminalize one substance while allowing for more dangerous ones to be legal and social (you know like base jumping, motor cycle riding, commuting to work on the 405, oh and alcohol and tobacco). And to you partisan hacks out there you would be very surprised to know that most tried and true conservatives, though opposed to drug use, also are opposed to government having a say in it. And no, it’s not the same as abortion.
on 08.10.09 @ 05:33 PM
Very informative. And the comments from the readers are helpful, as well. How can we get this turned around? The comments regarding the weight of the DuPont lobby in favor of the 1937 bill confirm what we all know, and not by instinct, but by observation: special interests and their money talk, politicians listen with their hands out palms up, and good sound policy be damned….
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