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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.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

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.

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