State Roundup


Hemp in the States

By Mark Harrison, TNC contributing writer

There are over 25,000 known uses for industrial hemp, and it's grown commercially in about 30 countries around the world. Anything made from wood or plastic can be made from hemp. An acre of hemp produces the same amount of paper that requires 4.1 acres of trees­­in 100 days, not 30 years. Without suggesting that any connection exists between the timber industry and industrial hemp prohibition, I'll simply ask if a bear has a bowel movement in the woods and move on to a few hemp issues around the nation.

Twenty-seven states in the US have passed laws and legislation favoring industrial hemp, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council. All large-scale hemp permits have been denied by the DEA, but permits for expensive research plots in a few states have been issued. Hawaii's permit for the Industrial Hemp Research Project was made possible by a $200,000 grant from Alterna, the maker of hemp seed hair products.

Though states are saying yes to hemp, the DEA has been saying no with restrictions and requirements. A 12-foot-tall chain-link fence topped with razor wire and a 24-hour infrared security system scanning the property protects Hawaii's quarter-acre plot. This is required because the DEA makes no distinction between marijuana and industrial hemp, though just an insignificant amount of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be found in the latter.

From Kentucky, former Republican Governor and hemp activist Louie Nunn drove 24 hours to deliver 25 bales of raw hemp and 60 bags of processed hemp to the Oglala tribe in South Dakota last fall. The DEA raided the 4-acre hemp crop inside the Pine Ridge reservation in August, leaving many people in this poorest area of the Sioux nation unprepared for winter. The Oglala grow hemp for horse bedding and insulation in environmental-friendly homes. The Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperation saved more than the day when they and Governor Nunn delivered their gift to the grateful people of Pine Ridge. The hemp was grown in Canada, shipped to Kentucky and trucked to South Dakota. This roundabout gesture was both generous and symbolic. The Oglala people need the hemp and America needs a lesson about the lunacy of prohibition. The lesson continues this spring when the Oglala sow their hemp seeds.

South Dakota State Congressman Bob Webber said, "Legalization of hemp would help ensure the survival of the small family farmer." Webber is a Republican and a farmer. He remembers when his father grew hemp on the family farm after World War Two. "The government would give you the seed because we were short on hemp from other countries."
But opponents believe the benefits of industrial hemp are exaggerated and not worth the risks. The risks, according to the DEA, is that it would be difficult for hovering agents to distinguish between hemp and marijuana plantations and that legalization would send a pro-drug message. Meanwhile, eight out of ten people in South Dakota support legalizing hemp, according to a poll taken in January.

In North Dakota, Governor Schafer said," Any person in the state may plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell and buy industrial hemp." The resilient hemp seed has been successfully planted in the politics of most states around the country. And being the fast-growing weed that it is, a decided majority of Americans now support decriminalizing industrial hemp.

In Eastern Washington State the region's only major daily newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, otherwise known for its conservative viewpoints, printed Editor Chris Peck's column headed "Hemp could provide high for economy". Peck, like other economic realists, has been gathering information and support from area grain farmers who would grow hemp if allowed. Peck quotes Mark Schoesler, a young farmer from Ritzville (WA) and 9th District Republican State senator, "As a society I think we have gone past the point of fearing industrial hemp as the demon weed and could accept it as an industrial product."

Thanks to Kim Hanna for sending Razor Wire editors the following assessment by Rob Stewart of the Massachusetts ballot initiative involving drug treatment/forfeiture which lost in the November 2000 election.

Stewart reports that on the day after the election the Associated Press found that Question 8 - Drug Laws - had 1,174,202 yes votes (favoring changes in forfeiture/treatment) and 1,315,976 no votes, or 47% and 53% respectively. Stewart wrote, "The Boston Herald poll before the vote reported we had 47% support among likely voters with 26% still undecided. It's as though all the undecided voters pulled the No lever on voting day."

First, the outcome suggests that Question 8 was just too complex for most voters (to quote the Champion of the Obvious). Although it passed judicial scrutiny about whether its components were clearly related to one another, Question 8 was too ambitious for the majority of voters - which leads to the second point.

Even though the opposition did not form a "No on 8" committee until the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 30th, they were very effective in getting their message out there - and that job was all the easier because they could attack the initiative's extreme points. The menacing drug trafficker could, according to the other side, claim to be "at risk" of addiction and escape prosecution. And isn't everyone "at risk" of drug dependency? It may sound silly, but the Globe bought it, saying that the justice system would be held hostage by this claim, which would "eliminate" judicial discretion.

Moreover, the district attorneys and police chiefs recruited other well-known political figures, and they won over all but a couple editorial boards in the state. Our Coalition was coldly received by some, and even frozen out by a few. Even when the New Bedford Standard-Times endorsed Question 8, the one dissenting editor wrote his own No column siding with his district attorney.

This is not about sour grapes. The campaign was run and funded on the assumption that our opponents - as public officials - would not be able to buy much or any advertising. When they eventually did buy radio ads toward the end, we countered with our ad, but the real damage was done in the widespread media coverage dominated by the other side's point of view.

The main message that I want to leave you with is that, despite these problems, we came within six percent (141,775 votes) of winning. The burden in an initiative campaign is on the Yes side because getting a Yes vote requires much more work than getting a No vote.

Even the unopposed Questions 1 and 7 - for redistricting and a tax deduction for charitable contributions - got nearly one No vote for every two Yes votes. The fact that our opposition barely defeated this law indicates that there are achievable goals still ahead. But Question 8 itself - or some initiative substantially similar to it - is barred by the constitution from the ballot until the 2006 election at the earliest.

Rob Stewart - for The Coalition for Fair Treatment McCormack P.O. Box 1555 Boston, MA 02104 Tel: (617) 330-8777 Fax: (617) 330-8774

According to a story by John Sanko of Rocky Mountain News' Capitol Bureau, a Denver lawmaker, alarmed about soaring prison costs, couldn't persuade a Senate committee in early-February to clamp a two-year moratorium on prison construction. Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, joined three minority Republican lawmakers in rejecting the bill 4-3. Gordon told Sen. Penfield Tate, sponsor of SB 177, that he agreed with his goals and would work with him on a solution. But he said he couldn't envision "how we can do comprehensive reform without including the district attorneys and the governor's office."

Tate, a member of the Joint Budget Committee, wanted a moratorium on prison construction while a study was made of Colorado's drug and sentencing laws. SB 177 also would have repealed mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws and would have established a citizens review council in the Department of Corrections. "We are hemorrhaging money to pay for the growing prison budget with no end in sight," Tate said.
Allison Morgan, representing the state Department of Corrections, warned that Colorado is expected to have a 6,000-bed shortfall in its prisons by June 2006 if it does nothing. Projections call for the state's prison population, now at 16,600, to reach nearly 24,000 in 5 years. Ann Terry of the Colorado District Attorneys Council and Peg Ackerman, representing the County Sheriffs of Colorado, voiced opposition to the bill.

Terry disagreed with complaints by Tate and other supporters of the bill that many of those in prison are there for minor drug violations. "We're not talking about people who are just using marijuana recreationally," she insisted. "It's not a good public policy statement to say we think drug offenders are not violent. They are violent."

Ackerman warned the moratorium could result in state inmates being backed up in county jails as they were several years ago. Christie Donner, statewide coordinator for the Colorado Prison Moratorium Coalition, made up of more than 80 organizations and faith communities, said it makes no sense for the state to continue spending millions of dollars to build facilities. "If we build them, you're going to fill them," she said. Donner argued that treatment, education and rehabilitation is what works - not simply warehousing people in prisons.

Tate noted this was the third year he had carried legislation seeking a moratorium. "If we continue to look at prison construction as a form of economic development in our state, we're lost," Tate said.

(Source: Western Prison Project,