My brother, David Bronner, who is also CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, was arrested yesterday during an act of civil disobedience.  He is protesting President Obama’s refusal to acknowledge that industrial hemp is not a drug, does not contain substantive amounts of THC, and should not be under regulation as a Schedule I controlled substance.  David exemplifies the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau’s words, “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

David locked himself in a steel cage in front of the White House with mature hemp plants, whose THC content was lab-certified to be <0.3% THC. Nonetheless, their very presence in the U.S. is illegal.  He proceeded to press the oil out of the seeds (also illegal to have non-sterilized seeds in the U.S.) and serve it on bread to passersby.

Read more from the Press Release and the Washington Post’s article and video.

"The industrial hemp plants I am harvesting and processing into oil cannot produce a high of any kind, but according to the Obama administration, I'm in possession of approximately 10 pounds of marijuana," David Bronner said."

Historically, industrial hemp showed up at the wrong party.  Its only crime is to be related to the THC rich drug varieties of Cannabis.   If I were judged for the characteristics of my cousins, who knows where I’d be?  (This is only rhetorical  – my cousins are fabulous.)  Yes, granted, we’re talking about plants here, not people.  Very true, but these plants affect human lives tremendously.  According to current drug code interpretation, people who grow and process industrial hemp in America (even my brother in front of the White House) are being herded into the same jail cell as people who grow marijuana.  And they don’t even get high.  We are talking about people here.

Perhaps all this seems like a big hassle.   After all, it’s just a plant.  There are other plants.  But industrial hemp – which encompasses both the oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis sativa is a key in resolving many problems facing America today.  From an economic standpoint, consider that the United States is the number one importer of hemp products in the world.  Wouldn’t it be nice for that money to stay in America?  From an environmental standpoint, hemp grows quickly and thickly, seldom requiring pesticides, thereby reducing pollution from run-off.  Furthermore, industrial hemp’s versatility makes it an excellent option for diminishing or replacing other crops that consume time, space and resources.  The hemp fiber can be used for paper and building materials reducing the demand on trees.  Hemp and hemp blend fabrics reduce the consumption of cotton, a time, labor, and chemical thirsty crop.  Hemp plastics can reduce the use of petrochemicals.  Hemp seed (which is very high in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, SDA and GLA, as well as B-vitamins and is a nearly complete protein) can contribute to the health of people, livestock and other animals.  This crop, and the variety of markets for it, would be a great boon to American farmers.  Instead of inventing uses and markets for the overabundance of corn that we currently have on our hands, we would have a truly helpful product.

But beyond these practical aspects, the issue of legalizing hemp begs the question of whether we value scientific research in America.  Should we ban something based on fear and ignorance?   Certified industrial hemp varieties have a THC content of less than 0.3%. Marijuana has a THC content of 2% to 20% on average.  A person can’t get high and won’t register positive on a drug test from the concentration in the hemp.  We’ve already been through this with poppy seeds.

This is also not new technology.  Hemp cultivation dates back millenia.  It has been used in ancient building materials, in ropes and sails on ships, for food, paper, and cloth, and internationally today, is widely used for all these purposes and more.   Henry Ford used hemp in the production of automobiles (as do Mercedes and BMW today), and said, “Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?”

The only argument voiced by legislators for keeping industrial hemp in lockdown is that U.S. Drug Enforcement Officers wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the two. I’ll object on their behalf  to this disparagement of their intelligence and discernment.  I am going to give them benefit of the doubt, and trust that they are thinking individuals, able to learn that industrial hemp (the oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis sativa) is an agricultural crop (literally, “field cultivation”). The oilseed plants are short, with big seed heads that are easily combined and the fiber plants are quite tall, and are grown very close together.  Recreational marijuana (drug strains of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica) is a horticultural crop (literally, “garden cultivation”) that is grown for its flowering tops, both seeded and unseeded (sinsemilla). Most grown indoors are seedless.

There’s also the argument that the shorter THC potent strain could hide in a field of the taller relative.  However, that argument could then be taken to its logical extreme that any plant over 6 feet tall could be used to hide drug cannabis – Bamboo? Corn? Pine trees?  That’s just silly.  Furthermore, the THC levels of the drug strains would be lowered by cross-pollinating with the low-THC hemp varieties and the plants would become seeded. Any saved seeds from this breeding would also be lower in THC. The difference would be clear from the air as drug strains are grown much farther apart and are carefully tended, so paths into the field would be obvious.  It wouldn’t be a good technique.

People on both sides of the debate often mucky the issue by their refusal to acknowledge the dissimilarity between the varieties of Cannabis.  Unending jokes made about getting high from hemp and hemp products only serve to add unwarranted fuel to the opposition, who don’t want this to be the segue to legalization of recreational marijuana.  These two legalization campaigns focus upon completely different issues and merit completely different arguments.

Last week, Sen. Ron Wyden, (D) Oregon, introduced a hemp farming amendment (S.A.2220) to the Farm Bill (S.3240) the Agricultural reauthorization bill, that clarifies that industrial hemp is an “agricultural crop” that should not be considered the same as “marijuana.” This amendment will allow farmers in the U.S. to have the opportunity to grow industrial hemp under state regulation. Sen. Rand Paul, (R) Kentucky, is an original co-sponsor. This amendment needs the support of your Senator. Take a moment to write your Senator a letter of support:

I know there’s a lot to care about in this world, and here I’m asking you to care about one more thing.  This issue is a bit removed from the day to day topics of green living I usually focus on, but it’s good to see how we are all part of something greater than ourselves.  Also, the success of this issue comes primarily through grassroots action, and not from top down politics.  Personally, this does mean a whole lot to me and Dr. Bronner’s because the soaps contain hemp oil, which is sourced from Canada.  But beyond that it means a lot to me and to Dr. Bronner’s and to David because in principle, it’s wrong to act on misinformation, especially to the extent of imprisoning people who are acting on the correct information.  Caring about this information, once again, is about full disclosure and bringing information into the light.  Please take a moment to care about this issue, and pursue the above link.

Good resources on industrial hemp:

Note: Thank you to all the readers who helped me clarify my initial oversimplification of the differences between industrial hemp and the recreational drug.