Approve hemp farming

While Washington, Colorado, and the Justice Department grapple with the intricacies and implications of the states’ historic votes to legalize recreational marijuana (with medical cannabis already on the books), our Legislature has a chance to do something non-controversial and very belated on the other end of the weed spectrum: Allow the cultivation of industrial hemp.

The difference between marijuana and hemp is vast. An important but frequently ignored fact is that the hemp plant does not contain the psychoactive ingredients that produce the marijuana “high.” A person could smoke fields of hemp and only get a headache and burned lungs. Another important difference: Industrial hemp is an easy crop for farmers to grow — it is hardy and resistant. Marijuana, on the other hand, is fussy and difficult to grow, and prone to pests and mold. (A farmer would never want to grow the two varieties together, as the few remaining hemp opponents argue would happen to cover for an illegal grow, because it would weaken the properties of both plants.)

The age-old and versatile agricultural product is cultivated worldwide. Technically it’s not illegal to grow here, but it’s darn near impossible since the 1950s marijuana fears and the adoption of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, according to U.S. farmers can grow industrial hemp if the DEA issued permits for it, but they don’t. Instead, we let the rest of the world grow it and then we import an endless variety of goods made from it — from food to clothing to paper to rope to fuel.

Let’s end this non-reefer madness. No reasonable argument exists (and never did) for banning industrial hemp. The economics, science and the gosh darn common sense of it all argue strongly in favor of returning (back-to-the-future style) to a time when hemp’s potential and uses were praised, not demonized. (See the article “New Billion-Dollar Crop” in the February 1938 “Popular Mechanics Magazine,” which says the plant “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.”)

The tide has definitely turned. Nineteen states have passed pro-hemp legislation, while 31 (including us) are considering such bills. Legislation has also been introduced in Congress, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, but who knows its fate in these dark sequester days.

Here at home, Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, introduced H.B. 1888, to permit the development of an industrial hemp industry, reported. The bill would also permit Washington State University to undertake research of industrial hemp production. It’s all neat and tidy and tied with a hemp bow, awaiting its logical and better-late-than-never passage.

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