BMW Owners Show Hemp’s No Longer Just for Hippies

OK, so you haven’t used Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap since your last camping trip years ago. And you never noticed those boxes of hemp granola at Whole Foods.

But if you drive a BMW or a Mercedes Benz, or wear Armani jeans or Patagonia shirts, you could be consuming hemp.

Its fiber turns up in car door panels, insulation and clothing. Its seeds make tasty granola and frozen desserts, its oil expensive cosmetics and ecologically friendly soap.

If you use these products, you won’t be jailed for possession. But would-be hemp farmers’ fear of arrest is what keeps the U.S. importing the stuff instead of growing its own.

The problem is that federal drug law makes no distinction between hemp, which can’t get you high, and its twin, marijuana, which does. A 1970 statute outlaws substances containing “any quantity” of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that delivers the high.

Hemp contains an infinitesimal level of THC, far too little to alter anyone’s mind but enough to qualify it as a controlled substance under a strict reading of the law. That’s why industrial hemp has been lumped into the same, “high potential for abuse” category as heroin and methamphetamines.

At least, that was the position of the previous administration, which tried to kick hemp foods off grocers’ shelves only to be laughed out of court. With that, stores were again free to stock hemp protein powder, hemp milk, hemp ice cream, hemp granola, hemp seeds, hemp oil. You get the idea.

Hemp consumers are mostly Americans. Yet while 30 countries around the world cultivate it, the U.S. doesn’t.

Seeking New Policy

Now, farmers and a growing number of state lawmakers are hoping the new administration will allow this healthy, useful, planet-friendly crop to grow on American soil, as it used to.

“The market is there,” says Christina Volgyesi, co- founder of Living Harvest, a hemp foods company based in Portland, Oregon. She saw its sales jump last year as revenue at other companies lagged. Volgyesi forecasts 65 percent growth this year.

OK. Living Harvest’s annual sales are still relatively small, at $8 million. But with national food chains like Whole Foods and even the more conventional Kroger stocking hemp foods, Volgyesi sees only greater demand ahead.

She wishes she could use U.S.-grown raw material instead of importing it all from Canada. So does the Oregon legislature.

Last month Oregon became one of three states to pass laws to license hemp farmers, and the governor has signaled he will sign the bill. By regulating hemp farming, the state aims to ensure hemp cultivation doesn’t become a cover for growing pot.

Licensing Farmers

North Dakota already has such a law and has licensed two farmers to grow hemp, including a Republican state legislator. The farmers have gone to court to try to stave off federal arrest should they plant the crop.

Compare that to California, which allows marijuana to be grown and dispensed for medical purposes but whose communities have inconsistent regulations for growers.

“Many large-scale marijuana cultivators and traffickers escape state prosecution because of bogus medical marijuana claims,” according to the Justice Department.

The Drug Enforcement Administration fears the same thing could happen with industrial hemp.

You can’t tell that plant from marijuana just by looking, says DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney.

Inviting Inspection

But surely no farmer would be stupid enough to seek a state license for hemp cultivation, thus announcing himself to authorities and inviting inspection, and then grow pot instead.

And no one who expects a high out of marijuana would try to hide a pot plant within a hemp crop. Cross-pollination would rob the pot of its potency.

Thirteen states now permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Asked last year about DEA raids on those who grow it and dispense it, candidate Obama called it a poor use of federal resources to go after people who follow state law even if they violate federal law.

Then-new Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about that by reporters in February.

“What the president said during the campaign,” Holder said, “will be consistent with what we will be doing in law enforcement.”

Hemp advocates take heart in that and have reached out to the Justice Department to change its policy toward hemp cultivation.

Campaign Promises

But we now know that not everything Obama said during the campaign has become Justice Department policy. The treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay comes to mind.

Besides, Obama cautioned during that interview that he isn’t sure he would be willing to spend political capital on medical marijuana issues when there are so many more pressing and far-reaching matters.

And the DEA says that Obama’s statements weren’t inconsistent with DEA policy, anyway. Courtney says the only medical marijuana operations the agency busted were so large that they violated state and federal law.

Either way, it makes no sense to let marijuana be grown, even for legitimate medical use, while hemp, a healthy food for all which is incapable of being abused, can’t be cultivated in the U.S.

Even the lobby for legalizing marijuana has more momentum in Congress than the hemp folks.

“How ironic is that?” asks Adam Eidinger, spokesman for the advocacy group, Vote Hemp.

Allowing domestic hemp cultivation isn’t the most pressing issue around. Letting it happen probably wouldn’t dramatically alter the balance of trade.

It’s just that it makes complete sense.

– Article from Bloomberg.