Cannabis Can Combat Poverty, Pollution

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, May 13, 2002.

  1. By Talli Nauman, Columnist

    With the sixth annual mobilization of the Million Marijuana March in 160 cities worldwide this past week, the drive for legalizing production and use of cannabis sativa gained momentum. I got a chuckle out of news coverage of the event portraying the views of a couple of my old friends who are on opposite sides of the fenceline regarding the issue.
    One, the president of a state chapter of the U.S. National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), was urging people to sign a petition to put an initiative on the November ballot declaring:

    "Any person may plant, cultivate, harvest, possess, process, transport, sell or buy industrial hemp (cannabis) or any of its by-products with a tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC) content of 1 percent or less."

    The other, the coordinator of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program for her local district, called him and his kind nothing more than "wolves in hemp clothing."

    She was reflecting the opinion that the movement to legalize industrial-grade hemp is merely a front for making recreational drugs more accessible.

    Most likely, a fair share of the participants in the Million Marijuana March on May 4 would indeed support moving narcotics-grade cannabis out of the black market.

    Still, the petition submitted to state authorities a few days later with enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot, serves quite a different purpose: that of sustainable development.

    Leaving aside the wolves for the moment, let's just look at their hemp clothing.

    The more than 60,000 clothing and other products made from hemp are among the hottest items in the fair-trade market today. An internet search for them turns up no less than 79 sites, advertising everything from hemp diapers to hemp beer to Knotty Boy Dread Wax, "an all-natural beeswax/hemp-seed oil dread goop, specifically designed for starting and maintaining dreadlocks with ANY kind of hair."

    But while the specialty market and the controversy over legalizing production for it are genuinely amusing, the reason for the fight for the freedom to cultivate hemp is serious. It's the need to provide lucrative agricultural opportunities for struggling farmers while protecting the environment.

    In the United States, just as in Mexico and the rest of the world, family farms suffering from free-trade policies, could benefit from participating in the potential 500 billion-dollar world market for hemp. All they need is the same permission that's granted to growers in Canada and 30 other nations, which are now exporting hemp to the countries with prohibitions.

    In terms of environmental benefits to be reaped, hemp crops improve soil and are highly resistant to pests, making them a desirable substitute for cotton, for example, which uses more than 275 million pounds of pesticides a year in the United States alone.

    What's more, hemp is a fine source of biomass for the alternative energy production needed to shift industrial activities away from dependence on non-renewable hydrocarbon fuels that contribute to destructive global warming. Hemp-seed oil is used in making bio-diesel, a cleaner option to power vehicles.

    Hemp bales and hemp-crete blocks used in construction, as well as hemp paper products, reduce reliance on timbering. An acre of hemp produces more than four times as much pulp for paper than an acre of trees when figured on an annual basis.

    Of course, rope and twine are the best-known uses of hemp, because of its strong fibers. But it also has outstanding nutritional values. Plus, anything that can be made from wood or plastic can be made out of hemp, and it's biodegradable.

    That's why The Body Shop cosmetics company, known for corporate responsibility worldwide, has bought advertisements for its hemp beauty products stating: "What do you call farmers who grow a plant that can help solve our energy and deforestation problems? Criminals. Banning industrial hemp is affecting more than farmers -- it's affecting our future. Save hemp."

    Hemp was a conventional crop in the United States for more than 100 years until the Controlled Substances Act inaccurately categorized it as a drug despite the fact that it is not psychoactive because its THC content is at least five times less than the cannabis variety used for smoking.

    The ban on it is tantamount to outlawing the presently legal cultivation of the poppy seeds sprinkled on bagels, just because another variety of poppy seed produces opium.

    The key here is to de-satanize the noble hemp plant. When it can compete in the international commodity market on the same terms as other commodities, the economic and environmental rewards will be welcome.

    Talli Nauman is a founder and co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness, a project initiated with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1994. Her experience includes more than 25 years of photojournalism in the Americas, a master's degree in International Journalism and a bachelor's degree in Visual and Environmental Studies.

    Author: Talli Nauman, Columnist
    Published: May 11, 2002
    Copyright: 2002

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