1.15.2008

Mr. Rogers for President. Part III: Monopoly

Part I
Part II

So I started poking around, learning about hemp. Now there's an awful lot intensity and hyperbole floating around the topic, so I had to filter through an awful lot of contradictory, emotionally charged 'information.' But here's the part of the story that everyone seems to agree on:

Hemp has been around for a long time, as a staple food crop, as a fiber crop (paper, cloth, rope, etc.) and yes, as a hallucinogenic drug.

Even though they come from the same species, though, fiber hemp and drug hemp are different plants. Plants bred for high THC content yield lower-quality fibers, while plants bred for their long, strong fibers contain much less THC. In other parts of the world, where industrial hemp has been re-legalized, they have developed strains with only trace amounts of THC, but heavy amounts of CBD and other cannaboids with decidedly different effects. Smoke that stuff, and you may well get a nasty headache accompanied by severe nausea, but you won't get high. So hemp is distinct from marijuana, but inextricable related.

Anyway, fiber hemp was a very important crop in pre-industrial America. In fact, our founding fathers were hemp farmers. But as important inventions such as the cotton gin made other fibers easier to process, hemp remained extremely labor intensive, and fell by the wayside.

And here's where it gets a little more complicated and controversial. Among the numerous events of the early 20th century, the hemp decorticator was invented, bringing the hemp into the industrial age, the alcohol prohibition came and went, a process was developed for converting wood into paper pulp, and also for converting petroleum into synthetic fibers and plastics. And it was in this context that the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, and decimated the hemp industry.

Conspiracy theories abound. Was Anslinger motivated by a desire for a healthy drug-free society, or by his ties to the DuPont family? Did William Randolph Hearst publish Reefer Madness, et al (fabulous MST3K fodder, btw, though definitely not kid-appropriate) out of love for sensational stories, or in an attempt to protect his timber profits?

Who knows... and there's a sense in which it doesn't really matter. Whatever the intent, the result was to further concentrate the ability to produce wealth into the hands of the wealthy. Anyone can grow hemp. All you need is soil and sunshine, and you can produce food, fiber, and fuel. But with hemp out of the picture, if you want rope, or inexpensive durable cloth, or plastic, you are utterly dependent upon those who control the world's limited petroleum resources.

This is a troubling side effect domestically, but on a global level it was much, much worse.
After all, we don't rely on hemp as a food source. Under pressure from the US, nations such as Nepal sent their military in to destroy the crops of their poor farmers. In the mountainous regions, it is impossible to grow rice, or other staple grains--the people have always relied on hemp to provide food for their children.

We have pressured nations into slaughtering their own people.

I really don't care how well-meaning our intention... this is very bad indeed.

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