HAYS, Kansas — Happy new year to all who are able to rise and shine today — and the same to everyone else. When you woke this morning I trust you found that the world had not come to an end, the lights worked, the water faucets flowed, and the sky had not fallen. May the rest of the year be so kind to us all!

The Hays Public Library and I thank you for your patronage and readership these past six months. I took over the column about the same time construction started on the new wing. By this time next year the library expansion and renovation should be complete. Your patience with our mess and noise is truly appreciated.

Q. Industrial hemp—what is it? How much ethanol alcohol will it produce? Is there a valid argument as to why it is not legal? Why don’t farmers want this low input crop? A Bunker Hill reader

A. Industrial hemp, Cannabis sativa, is an Asiatic herb of the mulberry family. A close relative of marijuana, it cannot be grown legally in the United States except in a few experimental programs. Its import, however, is quite legal.

The main argument against growing hemp is that it is indistinguishable in the field from marijuana. So far a field test that would easily and inexpensively determine levels of THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, has not been developed.

Since many organizations now require drug testing as a condition of employment, there is also concern that consumption of hemp seed products, such as margarine, might trigger false positives. Ironically, this hasn’t been a concern with poppy seeds or fruit juices, which may contain trace amount of opiates and alcohol respectively.

Grown from our country’s beginnings until the early 1950’s, hemp’s fiber and seeds are used in the manufacture of textiles, carpeting, cordage, food oils, ink, body care products, paints, and diesel fuel, to name only a few products. The hydrocarbons in hemp can be processed into fuel pellets, liquid fuels, and gas. Hemp produces more cellulose, from which ethanol is distilled, than corn and other crops used in ethanol production.

Hemp’s long fibers make for strong paper which allows it to be recycled more times, and its low lignin content reduces the need for acid in paper processing. It grows well without pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, whereas cotton accounts for about half the national use of these chemicals. Hemp fiber is longer, stronger, more absorbent, and more insulative than its cotton equivalent.

Since it shows such great promise as a rotation crop that can be grown in various climates, a reducer of our dependence on foreign oil, and an environment-friendly, low input/high yield plant with a myriad of uses, why would farmers not want to grow it?

As long as it’s not legal to do so, it’s a moot point. But even if hemp becomes legal, its cultivation will probably be treated like that of a controlled substance, with the burden of proof on the farmer that his or her crop is not hallucinogenic-quality, which itself is discouragement enough until a realistic field test is developed.

In November, South Dakota voters defeated by a margin of 62 to 38 percent a measure which would have allowed that state’s farmers to grow, process, and market industrial hemp in the event the national law changes. Another nonbinding pro-hemp referendum was similarly defeated in Massachusetts. Even if farmers wanted this crop, it looks as though the rest of the population, if those two states are representative of the country as a whole, does not. Hemp’s association in the minds of many with an illegal drug is standing in the way of its acceptance as a legitimate crop.

For more information on industrial hemp, visit the North American Industrial Hemp Council Web site at www.naihc.org or VoteHemp at www.votehemp.com

Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Leslie Potter, The Hays Daily News
Provided by: www.globalhemp.com