American Hemp Farming Poised for Resurgence Despite US Prohibition

This month Ryan Loflin, along with a group of volunteers, completed on his Colorado farm the first public hemp harvest in the US since Colorado voters approved legalizing the farming and distribution of both marijuana and hemp last November. The Loflin farm harvest is one of several recent developments that suggest American hemp farming that has been suppressed by the US government for decades may soon enjoy a resurgence.

While the Colorado government says legal hemp farming is on hold until regulations are enacted, Loflin jumped the gun, growing his hemp the old fashioned way—without a government permit. As reported in the New York Times in August, Loflin ordered fertile hemp seeds through the mail from suppliers in countries in which the plant is legally grown. He then planted the seeds on his farm.

Despite the fact that hemp is legally included in products from building materials to cloths to food, the US government deems illegal the possession of fertile hemp seeds and the cultivation of hemp. The Times article relates that Loflin, who was upfront about his hemp farming plans and told the neighbors of his farm about his intentions, half-expected US Drug Enforcement Administration agents to race down the highway to his farm and burn his crops before harvest.

Loflin’s concern about DEA interference is warranted. Hemp is a variation of cannabis sativa L., as is marijuana. Though hemp is distinguished from marijuana by hemp’s tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content being so low that it is impossible to use hemp to alter one’s psychological state, the US government views hemp farming as prohibited under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act that defines all cannabis sativa L. as marijuana.

Other individuals who have dared to publicly grow hemp in the US during the national prohibition have faced punishment and the destruction of their plants. Mother Jones writer Leora Broydo relates the overpowering SWAT reaction of multiple federal agencies when some people attempted in the summer of 2000 to farm less than two acres of hemp in a South Dakota reservation in accord with the tribal government’s laws:

Alex White Plume called it his “field of dreams”: an acre and a half of plants so tall and strong they seemed to touch the sky; a crop representing hope for a new and self-sufficient life for his family, residents of the desperately impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

But on Aug. 24, 2000 at sunrise, just four days before White Plume and his neighbors planned to harvest their bounty, White Plume awoke to the sounds of helicopters. He looked out the window and saw a convoy of vehicles heading for his field.

He raced down to investigate, and was met by a slew of black-clad and heavily armed figures — 36 agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the US Marshal’s office.

When White Plume rolled down the window of his pick-up to ask what was going on, he says, one US marshal pointed a gun in his face. Meanwhile, the other agents chopped down each plant near the roots and hauled them away.

Twelve years later, David Bronner locked himself and a few hemp plants in a cage in front of the White House in Washington, DC. Bronner then proceeded to harvest the plants as well as process hemp oil from them in an effort to publicize the need to end the US prohibition on hemp farming—until police broke into his cage and took him away in handcuffs.

Bronner’s advocacy for American hemp farming is buttressed by his business experience as the CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. Bronner explains in an interview with KPBS television that his company spends yearly over $100,000 importing 20 tons of hemp seed oil from Canada. As Bronner says in a 2012 Reason interview, “We want to give our money to American farmers. And, in a recession, why are we continuing to hand it to Canadians?”

Other American business leaders are likely asking similar questions. Among other considerations, moving hemp farming closer to American production facilities can lower costs by significantly decreasing transportation distances compared to importing hemp from hemp producing countries such as Canada, China, and Hungary. Further, so long as hemp cannot be grown legally in the US, an American business may decide it makes the most economic sense to locate hemp-related production oversees near the legal hemp farms.

Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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