The multiple, interconnected, cross-cultural evils of the ban on hemp

When I saw the title of this piece, I thought maybe it had to do with the fact that when I used to smoke marijuana, I sometimes coughed. But no, besides being a primer on the myriad virtues of growing hemp, it actually concerns the promise and perils of growing hemp on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This story, both heartbreaking and enlightening, will hopefully help end the stupid stupid prohibition against hemp growing by Indians and other farmers in the U.S.

Jami is one of the young permaculturists in the Bloomington, Indiana area. She blends her permaculture skills with her design and aesthetic talents — and more — at My Edible Eden.

Please pay special attention to Scholl’s warning that we must protect hemp seed from Monsanto’s clutches before it does to hemp what it did to corn and soybeans.

To preface Scholl’s post, here’s a few paragraphs from wikipedia re: hemp usage in the U.S., even after laws were passed against it.

In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed in the United States. It levied a tax on anyone who dealt commercially in cannabis, hemp, or marijuana. This law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a unanimous verdict decided in Leary v. United States, and ultimately superseded by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Hemp was used extensively by the United States during World War II. Uniforms, canvas, and rope were among the main textiles created from the hemp plant at this time.[79] Much of the hemp used was cultivated in Kentucky and the Midwest.

Historically, hemp production had made up a significant portion of antebellum Kentucky’s economy. Before the American Civil War, many slaves worked on plantations producing hemp.[80]

During World War II, the U.S. produced a short 1942 film, Hemp for Victory, promoting hemp as a necessary crop to win the war.

The Promise and Perils of Cannabis

January 10, 2013

by Jami Scholl

The wind-swept land is barren, stark and beautiful with wide expanses and long roads leading over and into the horizon. This is a land that can struggle to grow anything and everything, whether it is the economy or food. One thing it does not struggle to grow is love.

While Americans are disgusted and rankling for change in regard to the American unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation the unemployment rate has held steady at 83-85 percent. While the median American household income is slightly more than $50,000, the median income on Pine Ridge is between $2,600-$3,500 per year. All of the other statistics for Pine Ridge are equally appalling, from instances of diabetes, life expectancy, to teenage suicide rates. Homes often do not have running water, electricity, or basic telephone service.

Stereotype images may come to your mind of the “lazy” Indian, but this is not the reality. For years federal laws have forbidden the growing and sale of hemp, a relative to the marijuana plant, and one which grows in the extreme climate, weather and soil conditions of the upper Great Plains. On this land of promise and poverty, a single mother raises five children utilizing an outhouse rather than a bathroom, and a bath tub is replaced by a plastic bucket, within sight of where a few hundred families were shot while traveling to relocate to this area.

While other areas of the United States see a slow stream of funding to rebuild areas devastated by hurricanes, the people of Pine Ridge must fend for themselves as best they can. One family attempted to be economically prudent and environmentally sound, choosing to grow hemp that was destroyed by the federal government.

In 2005 the White Plume family decided to grow hemp (Cannabis genus) after other crops depleted the soil or had other problems with growing in the region. Hemp seemed a good durable product that is also used medicinally and could provide an honest income – yet the crop was destroyed by the federal government even though in original documents and given the sovereign status of the reservations, the judges, because of current law, ruled against the White Plumes. This, even in light of an Oglala Sioux Tribal ordinance and treaties from 1851 and 1868 signed by the tribe and the U.S government. Note that hemp was already being grown at the time of the signing of the treaties, which was encouraged by the U.S. government.

Although the topic of hemp growing is not as sexy for the headlines as pot, weed, or any other name given to the psychotropic cannabis drug marijuana, it has the possibility to have just as great an impact, if not more, in boosting the economy, especially on Indian lands as remote and uncompromising as Pine Ridge.

In the field of psychology, this sort of situation is called “double-bind,” where a person or people are placed in a position that would in common lingo be “between a rock and a hard place,” or “damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don’t.” On a reservation located several hours from the nearest city, and approximately the size of the state of Connecticut, people struggle to find a way to earn a livelihood that respects ties to family, community, cultural preservation and to the land itself.

For those on reservations, not only could the changing of laws regulating marijuana bring in desperately needed revenue for commodity sales in agricultural, drug and natural food markets, it could also spur a renaissance of activity and businesses since hemp is used for anything from making durable clothing, rope, and paper – which would save MANY trees.

Hemp as a natural addition to the diet provides the body with needed Omega-6, Omega-3 fatty acids, 31%-33% protein per 100 grams, as well as essential fatty acids needed to maintain good health. The biomass produced by hemp is greater than that of forests and has even been used in detoxifying nuclear waste as demonstrated at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hemp seeds do not contain relevant or traceable amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, for which the original laws were created to regulate.

The Hemp Industries Association is an organization that supports and informs those interested in the agriculture and business interests of those individuals and companies involved or interested in pursuing the growing, selling and making of consumer products from hemp. Currently, China is the largest grower of hemp that is being imported into the United States. At over $400 million dollars in annual retail sales, the issue has been brought up in the Farm Bill, although conservative groups do not support this measure because of the numerous attachments unrelated to agriculture.

Being the largest consumer of hemp in the world, to not grow and produce hemp is to the national detriment both for remote locations that need economic revitalization, to preserving the environment given that hemp does not need as nearly as much water, herbicides or pesticides as crops such as corn or cotton. Whether our use is for revitalizing cultures, spurring the national economy or cleaning up nuclear spills that may eventually become a necessity if the American people move from oil, coal and natural gas to nuclear power, hemp is needed now more than ever in history for civilizations to survive and thrive.

Yet even before we allow the growing of hemp, we need to protect the seed from current companies who make it central to business to engineer and patent genomes of some of the most useful plants to human life and livelihood. Corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, are working with researchers at Universities inside and outside of the United States, to engineer the Cannabis genus to their own desires, much like that which has happened with corn. The story of Cannabis prohibition has just begun…

References: Photo Credit: digiyesica

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