Hemp fiber can be made into a number of products, including plastics, fabrics and biofuels. (Photo Credit: MCT Campus)

Hemp fiber can be made into a number of products, including plastics, fabrics and biofuels. (Photo Credit: MCT Campus)

What if I told you there is a completely natural product that can create building products, plastics, environmentally friendly biofuels, durable clothing materials and fabrics and highly nutritious products for humans and animals and, more importantly, helps fight cancer and skin conditions? What if I said that one acre of this product is equivalent to four acres of trees, in terms of paper and fiber products and only takes a few months to grow?   Shouldn’t we be grateful to have such a wonderful product readily available?

It exists. Unfortunately, even if you even wanted to get your hands on this product in its raw state, you would have to go to another industrial country like Canada, Germany, or Australia. The product I speak of is the plant cannabis. By using this plant and many of its varieties, a person could create the above products (and more). Before I get into cannabis’ defamation and criminalization, I will define my terms. Most of the problems of this ongoing debate stem from unclear definitions. Essentially, the cannabis plant creates two prominent items: hemp and marijuana products. Hemp is the fibrous stalk of this plant, and industrial hemp usually comes from low THC plant varieties. The other item, marijuana, is the bulb of the plant, which people usually smoke for its psychoactive effect. Same plant, extremely different products. This confusion is responsible for the death of the American hemp industry in the early 20th century.

If these are truly the definitions, then how could there be a debate? After some research, I have come to two issues at the source of the problem. First, lobbyists do not want to legalize cannabis because it would affect many industries: paper, fuel, clothing, pharmaceutical companies, etc. Second, most people are not aware of the difference between hemp and marijuana, primarily because of a misrepresentation in the media and a personal lack of interest in the issue. I believe both of these two factors can be seen in recent movements for marijuana, hemp, or cannabis as a whole. Both will have to be addressed appropriately if a pro-cannabis bill is to be passed.

To understand the debate now, let me paint the picture of the beginning of marijuana prohibition. In 1930, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon needed a man for the position of head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Mellon appointed Harry Anslinger, his niece’s husband. At the time, Mellon’s biggest interest was the company DuPont, which was expanding into plastics and fibers made from oil and coal. This company could not compete with the rising hemp industry, which was being made more powerful through modernized machinery. Working with the media and the inherent racism of the average American citizen, Anslinger convinced America, or at least his fellow senators, that marijuana kills and causes Mexicans and black people to commit violent crime. This attached a stigma to the entire cannabis plant. Frightened citizens called upon their representatives, and in 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act instituted a blanket ban on all cannabis including hemp, clearing the way for DuPont to make its millions.

In the years to come, we would see the War on Drugs continue. From the 1980s to today, there has been a multitude of lies spread about the nature of hemp and marijuana. Many believe they are one and the same, even though there are many varieties of hemp with such low quantities of THC that no psychoactive effects are possible. Some conservatives believe that you should keep both illegal, just in case. Some religious groups want to keep the plant illegal, even though many believe that the criminalization of cannabis infringes on personal liberty. Many do not understand what hemp can do because that information is kept quiet. Many still believe the original propaganda that marijuana is highly addictive and can cause death. Despite some myths that claim the contrary, the product has never had a single death from overdose since the beginning of recorded history, some 10,000 years ago. Why would the government put that information in public schools? The information, in this case, is power. If everyone knew what was going on, could we change the world?

Recently, there has been legislation going through the Senate and Congress to make the legalization of hemp and marijuana two separate issues, and make clear the definitions of them both. There have been a limited amount of men in charge of this, the most important being Sen. Wyden of Oregon. He saw that his state would benefit from being able to control its own agriculture, and he saw that the hemp market could help with his state’s debt. In the past few years, his bills have been straightforward. Two were the same bill: one and a half pages. In Anslinger’s bill, the definition of marijuana was changed so that it did not include industrial hemp. Both times, the bill was killed in committee, not the full Senate. Since last August, the bill has not moved past committee. I have not been able to wrap my head around why the bill was killed, except that members within the judiciary committee would stand to lose money from the pharmaceutical industry. If the people are not fighting for their liberty, what will prevent corruption?

In Wyden’s state, he proposed the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, Measure 80. The people of his state were able to vote to make the production of hemp within the state legal. Of course, it would have sparked a controversy with federal law, but I believe Wyden would have proposed his redefinition bill another time. The bill was simple: regulate licenses to grow, produce, and sell marijuana like we do alcohol. The growth and production of low-THC hemp would be less regulated. He even went as far to say that since in the Bible, God said every seed bearing plant was for us to eat, and that making hemp illegal inhibits religious freedom. Still, his state’s voting population voted 45-55; the bill failed. In this case, I believe misunderstandings and false information caused this failure. This time the people chose.

Oregon has so much to gain, as do other states. Rand Paul, Ron Paul’s son and senator of Kentucky, has backed Wyden up many times. Supposedly, another bill will be coming out of Kentucky this year. Hemp is such an amazing plant. I believe if we continue to spread the truth and treat the issue of marijuana separately from hemp, our country would prosper. Given the current state of our economy, we need this more than ever. Many European countries began growing hemp in the past few decades. The German government legalized hemp varieties with low THC levels. That was back in 1995, when they were afraid to fall behind other countries. Germany is now among some of the more financially strong countries. They never had any trouble policing the growth of the hemp plant.

We can make changes through knowledge.