"Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?"
The United States Senate will have the opportunity to make history this week while debating the 2013 Farm Bill: a full debate on the re-legalization of industrial hemp via an expected floor amendment. The crop of our forefathers. A crop deemed so critical to our nation's future that farmers in Colonial America were under a mandate to grow the crop. The crop that made possible Ben Franklin's Colonial Free Press. The crop that clothed our early military; protected our pioneering ancestors as they crossed our vast prairies – and counted 16 million acres of production in the 1862 Census. The crop USDA deemed so critical to national defense the federal prohibition was lifted during WWII.
It was a tragic confluence of events that lead to the demise of hemp. Prohibition was in its waning days, and the federal bureaucracy built around alcohol seizure no longer had a mission – a focus on narcotics would be the lifeline for the bureaucracy. Our nation was on the cusp of launching an economy mobilized by Rockefeller's new-found 'black gold'; the synthetic clothing market and the advent of the agricultural chemical industry was in its infancy at DuPont. And media titan Randolph Hearst, the owner of significant forestry assets, had launched an all-out media war on Hispanic immigrants and marijuana.
Thus was borne the "Marihuana Tax Act of 1937"; legislation devised by Henry Anslinger and his uncle, Andrew Mellon of Mellon Banks to tax the production of industrial hemp. And with the new tax, the production of hemp became an uneconomical alternative to the newly developed energy, synthetic clothing and chemical industry derived from fossil resources controlled by titans DuPont and Rockefeller. Mellon was the banker of both DuPont and Rockefeller. It's not terribly hard to do the math. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
And with the enacting of the Marihuana Act came the demise of Henry Ford's "Iron Mountain" project where he had developed a sedan made of industrial hemp composites that was powered by ethanol fermented from hemp. He had also developed an entire line of hemp-based lubricants and industrial products.
Forward to 1970 and the birth of our nations failed 'War on Drugs'. Marijuana is defined as a Schedule 1 narcotic, on par with cocaine and heroine by the DEA, despite the fact the Congressional intent stated emphatically:
"nothing in this Act is meant to prohibit the production of hemp for industrial purposes"
In 2012 Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment, Amendment 64, which in addition to legalizing adult use of marijuana also legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp by Colorado farmers. Touting wide bi-partisan support, the amendment garnered more votes than our President. The Colorado legislature acted swiftly and by Sine Die 2013 had put in place a regulatory framework for hemp. The legislation passed third reading in both chambers with a unanimous vote.
Thus, an industry was borne. Now the conflict between Federal and State law must be resolved. And from this growing conflict between state and federal law (18 states took various legislative action on industrial hemp this year) was borne the "2013 Industrial Hemp Farming Act", known in Congress as S. 359 and H.R. 525. Both Chambers tout broad, bi-partisan support. But this legislative journey remains unclear. The Judiciary Committees were given jurisdiction in their respective chambers. In both cases, no hearings have been scheduled. It's even more unclear whether the bills will be heard at all this year, given they are in the queue behind Immigration Reform.
Is there a better, more efficient way to move this legislation on an issue that broad support from across the political spectrum? Yes – a floor amendment during the full Farm Bill debate in the Senate this week. And we need the pro-active leadership of our two Senators.
Industrial Hemp has the potential to add a new, vibrant addition to our agricultural 'horn of plenty' in Colorado. The crop requires few chemical inputs; its water requirements are minimal when compared to many traditional crops across the eastern plains and western slope. Its ability to remediate soils has at the potential to heal salt-laden agricultural soils and mitigate heavy metal contamination from old mines and superfund sites. The United States is the largest consumer market of hemp products in the world – a $400 million annual market demand met exclusively from imports. American farmers remain the only agriculturalists in the industrialized world to be prohibited from its cultivation.
And while giving Colorado farmers a crop alternative to help them meet their ever-growing water resource challenges, the crop also gives us significant environmental benefits: its ability to extract enormous amounts of atmospheric carbon from the atmosphere. Hemp extracts four times the CO2 annually per acre than does a standing forest. Annual dry biomass yields per acre range from 2-3x the amount of biomass produced by either a corn or switchgrass crop; ethanol-from-hemp reduces the greenhouse-gas-emissions by 86% when compared to transportation fuels from petroleum.
It is expected that Senator Mitch McConnell will introduce a floor amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill on Tuesday that would remove hemp as a Schedule I narcotic, legalizing its cultivation under federal law, and moving jurisdiction of the crop from DEA to USDA.
Despite recent demands on House members from the Heritage Foundation to not move on any legislation, (which also includes the Farm Bill) the action will be in the Senate on Tuesday. A unique opportunity for our Senators to lead the fight for the passage of this amendment – and stand with the 55% of their fellow Coloradans who so wisely legalized the crop six months ago.
Senators Bennet and Udall, please take a proactive role on this potentially historic event. Farmers, conservationists, the environment, our natural resources and the state economy will be the benefactors of your leadership.