Reps Paul, Frank introduce bill to legalize industrial hemp
Stephen C. Webster
Published: Friday April 3, 2009

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University: In 2007, hemp products accounted for at least $350 million in sales nation-wide

One of the earliest plants domesticated by man may be on the verge of a resurgence in popular production across the United States.

Industrial hemp, a non-drug variety of the cannabis plan, used for centuries for its versatile fibers, is the subject of a new bill filed by Congressmen Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA). They and eight cosponsors, both Republican and Democrat, hope to legalize the plant so American farmers can begin supplying fibers for a wide array of products, with the overreaching goal of opening a new sector in American agriculture.

To view the bill's status, full text and list of sponsors, or to follow new developments, visit

"It is unfortunate that the federal government has stood in the way of American farmers, including many who are struggling to make ends meet, from competing in the global industrial hemp market," said Representative Ron Paul during his introduction of the bill and in a media advisory issued by advocacy group VoteHemp.

"Indeed, the founders of our nation, some of whom grew hemp, would surely find that federal restrictions on farmers growing a safe and profitable crop on their own land are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of a limited, restrained federal government. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to stand up for American farmers and co-sponsor the Industrial Hemp Farming Act."

"There is strong support among key national organizations for a change in the federal government's position on hemp," the release said. "The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) 'supports revisions to the federal rules and regulations authorizing commercial production of industrial hemp.'"

The legislation, if passed by the House and Senate, would amend the Controlled Substances act and overturn a portion of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act which decimated America's industrial hemp industry by simply lumping the plant in with its high-inducing counterpart, marijuana.

But hemp wasn't always illegal following the Marihuana Tax Act. Just four years later, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States government launched a "Grow Hemp for Victory" campaign that aimed to reclaim the precious fibers lost when the Philippines fell under Axis control.

"Approximately 20,000 farmers in the Midwestern states were registered under the federally funded War Hemp Industries Corporation to cultivate over 30,000 acres of cannabis, producing 42,000 tons of fiber and 180 tons of seed annually throughout the war years," wrote Martin Booth in his 2005 book Cannabis.

"Whereas, in 1940, cannabis had all but been eradicated so that, amongst other things, children could not be contaminated by it, in 1942, school children in rural areas were being encouraged to grow it to aid the war effort."

During that time, the United States government even produced a film encouraging rural corn farmers to grow the plant to help the war effort.

"The THC levels in Industrial Hemp are so low that no one could get high from smoking it. Moreover, hemp contains a relatively high percentage of another cannabinoid, CBD, that actually blocks the marijuana high. Hemp, it turns out, is not only not marijuana; it could be called 'anti-marijuana,'" wrote David P. West, Ph.D., for the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

"Feral hemp, or ditchweed, is a remnant of the Industrial Hemp once grown on more than 400,000 acres by US farmers. It contains extremely low levels of THC, as low as .05 percent," he continued. "It has no drug value, but does offer important environmental benefits as a nesting habitat for birds. About 99 percent of the 'marijuana' being eradicated by the federal government-at great public expense-is this harmless ditchweed. Might it be that the drug enforcement agencies want to convince us that ditchweed is hemp in order to protect their large eradication budgets?"

"As a fiber source, hemp is undergoing rapid growth as a natural fiber in everything from clothing and textiles to automotive composites. The fiber is also gaining popularity as insulation," reported Iowa State University's agricultural marketing resource center

"A conservative estimate of the total retail value of hemp products sold in the United States in 2007 is $350 million. The current annual U.S. market for hemp yarn and fabric is estimated to be in the $15 million range. The Hemp Industries Association estimates that the North American retail market for hemp textiles and fabrics exceeded $100 million in 2007 and is growing around 10 percent per year. The retail health care market, including lotions and oils, is estimated to sell over $30 million worth of hemp products in the United States annually."

"Numerous individual states have expressed interest in and support for industrial hemp as well," states Paul and Frank's press release. "Sixteen states have passed pro-hemp legislation, and eight states (Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia) have removed barriers to its production or research. North Dakota has been issuing state licenses to farmers for two years now. The new bill will remove federal barriers and allow laws in these states regulating the growing and processing of hemp to take effect."

"With so much discussion lately in the media about drug policy, it is surprising that the tragedy of American hemp farming hasn't come up as a 'no-brainer' for reform," said Vote Hemp President, Eric Steenstra, in the advisory. "Hemp is a versatile, environmentally-friendly crop that has not been grown here for over fifty years because of a politicized interpretation of the nation's drug laws by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). President Obama should direct the DEA to stop confusing industrial hemp with its genetically distinct cousin, marijuana. While the new bill in Congress is a welcome step, the hemp industry is hopeful that President Obama's administration will prioritize hemp's benefits to farmers. Jobs would be created overnight, as there are numerous U.S. companies that now have no choice but to import hemp raw materials worth many millions of dollars per year."

"U.S. companies that manufacture or sell products made with hemp include Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, a California company who manufactures the number-one-selling natural soap, and FlexForm Technologies, an Indiana company whose natural fiber materials are used in over two million cars on the road today," the release said. "Hemp food manufacturers, such as French Meadow Bakery, Hempzels, Living Harvest, Nature's Path and Nutiva, now make their products from Canadian hemp. Although hemp now grows wild across the U.S., a vestige of centuries of hemp farming here, the hemp for these products must be imported. Hemp clothing is made around the world by well-known brands such as Patagonia, Bono's Edun and Giorgio Armani."

An original version of this story carried a comment from a press release which incorrectly claimed the National Conference of State Legislatures had passed a pro-hemp resolution.

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