You may be forgiven for missing it, but several weeks ago, amid the hubbub of a Supreme Court nomination, a White House scandal, corporate welfare in the form of energy and transportation bills, and more terrorist uprisings than one cares for during the slow summer season, an historic bill was introduced: H.R. 3037, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005.
This legislation -- sponsored by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Jim McDermott (D-WA), George Miller (D-CA), Ron Paul (R-TX) (yes, that’s a Texas Republican on the docket), and Pete Stark (D-CA) -- is the first bill ever to be introduced in Congress to repeal the federal ban on the cultivation of industrial hemp as a commercial crop.
If passed, H.R. 3037 would allow states the legal authority to license and regulate hemp cultivation without conflicting with federal law. So far, several states have passed legislation authorizing industrial hemp cultivation for research and commercial purposes only. But farmers in these states can’t legally grow hemp without federal permission to do so. The House bill -- assuming it is passed by the House and Senate and signed by you-know-who -- would remove this federal hurdle by granting states "exclusive authority" to regulate the growing and processing of industrial hemp.
Environmentalists have long praised hemp -- not for what you’re thinking, but for its environmental benefits. The widespread use of industrial hemp, they say, could result in numerous environmental benefits, including less reliance on fossil fuels, especially from foreign sources; more efficient use of energy; fewer greenhouse gas emissions; forest conservation; agricultural pesticide use reduction; dioxin and other pollution reduction; and landfill use reduction. Hemp is superior to many other plants for many uses, from cosmetics to clothing to carpet.
According to conservation writer Andy Kerr:
Hemp, because of its very long fibers, rapid growth, and the versatile oil from seed, can be manufactured into many products. It can competitively—both economically and technically—replace industrial feedstocks which are inherently polluting and unsustainable. Hemp fiber can be used to make bio-based plastics and construction materials. The long fibers of hemp can be used in making composite plastics which, while not as strong as fiberglass, is strong enough for many applications. There are also worker safety benefits, it's recyclable and is priced lower than glass.
Currently, the U.S. is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop, according to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report (Download in PDF). The U.K. lifted its ban in 1993 and Germany followed suit in 1996. To help reestablish a hemp industry, the European Union instituted a subsidy program in the 1990s for hemp fiber production.
And these and other countries are eating our hemp lunch! For example, consider a collaborative effort of the National Research Council of Canada and Hemptown Clothing, Inc., to develop a new enzyme technology to produce a softer and whiter hemp fabric, among other things. A classic public sector-private sector partnership -- the type that created the Internet, Velcro, and so many other wonders of our modern world.
But not in the U.S. At least not until H.R. 3037 becomes law.
"It is unfortunate that the federal government has stood in the way of American farmers, including many who are struggling to make ends meet, competing in the global industrial hemp market," said Rep. Paul, the Texan legislator who’s been described as “the libertarian-leaning congressman from East Texas” and who is the bill's chief sponsor. "Indeed the founders of our nation, some of whom grew hemp, surely would find that federal restrictions on farmers growing a safe and profitable crop on their own land are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of a limited, restrained federal government."
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.