After Prop. 19 Loss, Potheads Back To Touting Hemp as Bogus Cure-All

Categories: Marijuana
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What are you smokin'?
After losing a ballot battle to legalize marijuana, cannabis fans are back to touting the supposedly vast economic potential of industrial hemp, a non-intoxicating cousin to the plant used as a recreational drug.

The Hemp Industry Association will hold its annual convention in San Francisco Monday -- where, if their announcement is any guide, members will continue to falsely claim hemp is an economic panacea, and that its ability to revolutionize industries such as textiles, medicine, and auto manufacture has been blocked by a longstanding federal cultivation ban.

The HIA represents a fast growing and environmentally sustainable industry that is creating new jobs, with an estimated $400 million in sales in 2009, despite a federal policy that outlaws hemp farming. Business leaders of the North American hemp industry will meet in San Francisco to map out plans for bringing back hemp farming in the United States, to present updates on industry developments, and to share new data about expanding markets.

The problem with claims of "expanding markets" for hemp products is the fact that there's a highly relevant test case of what would happen if hemp were legalized in the United States. It suggests that hemp is unlikely to become an important commodity crop for U.S. farmers, even if it were made legal.

Hemp was legalized in Canada in 1998. In 1999, Canadian farmers planted 34,657 acres of the stuff, imagining it would be bought for use in fiberglass-like composites, hemp-oil-based foods and medicines, and hemp-cloth clothing. The problem was (and is) that hemp composite materials haven't taken off, in the auto industry or anywhere else. Hemp foods are a niche product targeting people with delusional views about the plant's healthfulness and curative powers. And hemp as a textile fiber produces a second-rate clothing material with a rough hand halfway between burlap and cotton. As for hemp's oft-touted historic usefulness as rope, that heyday passed in 1935, with the invention of nylon.

By 2001, the Canadian hemp speculation of 1999-2000 had largely ended. Devastated farmers had reduced their plantings by 90 percent. In 2005, I interviewed pissed off Canadian farmers, who believed they'd been sold a bill of goods by California hemp-oil hucksters. A 2010 report by Alberta's department of Agriculture and Rural Development said things have only changed marginally since:

A considerable portion of the hemp crop did not get sold and producers had to absorb the losses. Thus, the negative events of 1999 have brought a lot of skepticism and fear for the future growth potential of hemp industry in Canada
Notwithstanding, hemp's true believers soldier on, bolstered by a belief left over from the dope legalization movement's 1970s era that says industrial hemp might be a step on the way to legalizing the other, intoxicant cannabis strains. Hemp industry enthusiasts claim loudly, and often, that their movement is unrelated to efforts to legalize dope. But it's worth noting that pot legalization's greatest California champion has been Sen. Mark Leno, who has had a keen legislative interest in medical marijuana, yet has otherwise kept a distance from the concerns of California farmers growing non-cannabis crops.

Notwithstanding their industry's embarrassing failure in Canada, hemp heads Monday will launch yet another round of public education campaigns. This one will be centered around Hemp History Week.

The convention will also include a presentation on plans for the second annual national public education campaign, Hemp History Week - May 2-8, 2011. Designed to renew strong support for the re-legalization of industrial hemp farming in the United States, the first annual event was a success with nearly 200 events in 32 states nationwide.
We wonder if  this group's version of Hemp History will include the crop's modern North American history, in which Canadian farmers were financially ruined by California hemp touts' inflated claims.

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