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Others discount the idea of such an overt conspiracy, contending instead that hemp's downfall was simply an unintended by-product of an effort to outlaw marijuana.

This much is undisputed: After a brief government-backed resurgence during World War II, in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged farmers to grow the crop "as part of the war program" after the country's supply of imported fibers was cut off by the Japanese, hemp production fell off until it was non-existent. Then, in 1970, the Marihuana Tax Act gave way to the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies both hemp and pot — collectively referred to in the law as Cannabis sativa — as Schedule I drugs and therefore highly illegal.

About thirty years later, North Dakota rebelled. After watching Canada legalize hemp in 1998, the North Dakota legislature passed a state law in 1999 to do the same; it didn't seem fair that farmers across the border could grow it and profit from it when North Dakota couldn't.

Seven states, including Colorado, have since done the same thing, according to Vote Hemp, a national nonprofit that advocates for industrial hemp. But so far, no farmers in any of these states have dared to violate the federal law that still prohibits hemp farming.

"None of the states have taken a confrontational approach," says Vote Hemp president Eric Steenstra. "They're just prepared to take advantage when the federal law changes."

Hunter remembers thinking as a child that it was odd that hemp was forbidden. He grew up in Missouri, where his dad owned a piece of land that he leased to a farmer to grow soybeans and wheat. "I used to go there on the weekends with my dad, and we'd go target shooting and camp out," Hunter says. "And the place was overgrown with hemp."

The so-called ditchweed was wild, probably the feral descendant of hemp grown for the war effort. Hunter pulls out a photograph that shows a much younger version of himself standing in a field thick with lush green plants, the tops of which tower above him. "My dad and his friends would joke about it," he says. "They knew it was technically illegal to have it growing there, but the cops knew it was there, and they didn't care because they either had tried smoking it in high school or knew someone who had tried smoking it."

To a young Hunter, it made more sense to outlaw poison ivy. In college, he read Herer's book, which made him more frustrated about the plant's fate. But he didn't give it much more thought until 2009, when Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memo declaring that the federal government wouldn't go after law-abiding medical marijuana patients.

"I thought, 'Wow, finally after all this time, the legalization thing is really kicking in, and it's time to get on it,'" Hunter says. Two years later, he connected with Lynda Parker, the retiree whose website, NewAgHempEconomy.com, has become a clearinghouse for hemp-heads.

Today, hemp is grown in several other countries, including Canada, China and England, and imported into the U.S. The Hemp Industries Association, a California-based trade group, estimates that at least $500 million worth of hemp products were sold here in 2012. A big chunk of the market is foods such as non-dairy hemp milk and "hemp hearts," soft-textured seeds that can be sprinkled onto salads or yogurt and contain healthy doses of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Companies such as Patagonia make durable shirts and pants from hemp, while BMW uses a hemp composite in its car door panels. A U.K. company has developed a building material made of hemp and lime called Hemcrete that's naturally insulating and resistant to mold. Hemp is also used to make body-care products, protein powders and animal bedding.

Advocates and hemp retailers describe the plant as a viable food and fiber alternative and praise hemp for its versatility. One of its major selling points is that it's environmentally friendly: Hemp has a small carbon footprint and moderate water requirements, and it needs few pesticides, if any.

But importing hemp is costly for companies such as Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, which was founded in California in 1948. Dr. Bronner's imports more than $100,000 of hemp oil annually from Canada, which legalized the crop in 1998 and is predicted to grow 70,000 acres this year.

"We should be able to grow it here and purchase it nationally," says Christina Volgyesi, Dr. Bronner's marketing director. "This isn't new. We used to grow hemp; we figured it out at one point. This was a crop that was viable. It's just our recent history where we've forgotten."

************

Lynda Parker pads around her luxury condo near City Park holding a cordless phone to her ear with one hand and a mug of coffee in the other. It's 7:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, and her short white hair is already carefully coiffed. "It's really the most useful crop on the planet," she's telling Trent Loos, a radio host in Nebraska who deals with rural issues on his nationally syndicated program. "I just see this as an enormous economic opportunity for this country."

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14 comments
wethepeople65
wethepeople65

The original US flag :hemp fabric.The Constitution :printed on hemp paper, textiles needed to help win WW2;also hemp.

rsteeb
rsteeb

Washington specified "INDIAN hemp"-- do you know what that is?  Look up W.B. O'Shaughnessy and learn.  Low-THC, my eye!

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

I'd love to publish some of these comments in our print Letters to the Editor section -- ideally with the author's full name. if that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

rebeldor
rebeldor

Yet another reason I am proud of my write-in vote for Ron Paul, with Gary Johnson as his VP.  Sure better than the two drug warriors for whom the 50% of the country who even bothered voted.

brianstripling
brianstripling

I once wrote a paper in college about hemp and I gave a speech about it too. This was back in the early 1990's and i got bad grades for content even when the assignment was to write about anything. I put a lot of work into the paper but now after 20 years I feel vindicated but I never graduated from college because they really were not looking for people who thought or wanted to think outside of the box.  I would love to get into the hemp industry . I live in an agricultural community in Texas and I think its ridiculous that we dont grow hemp. Especially when people are on government assistance and out of work.  What a waist in so many ways. 

hemp1
hemp1

Colorado has a chance to be a national leader in the new movement.  Hemp could do great things for our state.  www.coloradohempcompany.com

Dave Adams
Dave Adams

Probably not most American's are ignorant fools when it comes to hemp.

Hempstress
Hempstress

Dannnng Westword got me doing the quadruple posts...ooops

Hempstress
Hempstress

If anyone is interested in moving this historic hemp legislation through in Colorado, please donate to Hemp Cleans at www.hempcleans.com We will be hosting Colorado's first HEMP LOBBY DAY at the Capitol on MARCH 20th. We will have amazing hemp businesses like Evo Hemp, Envirotextiles, Dixie Elixers, THC Magazine, HIA/Vote Hemp, Hemp Hoodlamb, JR carpentry and Johnny Hempseed, of course DR. BRONNERS and many, many more supporting the bill and educating the public on how hemp is wonderful and growing industry that needs to be allowed to fully flourish and operate in a free market. At the end of the day this is about our economic FREEDOM.

In the meantime, you can also check out HIA's website where they have a petition to lobby our Congressman and Senators on a national level to pass HB 255 the Industrial Hemp Farming Act.

IndustrialHemp
IndustrialHemp

...Industrial hemp right now is a political football with the Democrats of Kentucky holding back on endorsing the plant for agriculture. Seems the Dems aren't getting their slice of the pie.

Kudos to Senators Rand paul and Mitch McConnell for their foresight in ending the over 80 years of lies regarding hemp and shame on the Democrats of Kentucky who could care less about the farmers in their State. They will be remembered come election time...

HB420
HB420

Cannabis and hemp are the exact same plant botanically speaking.  The only difference is one variety has been bred to produce high levels of THC and other cannabinoids and one was bred to produce copious amounts of fiber.  Marijuana is a slang word that needs to be dropped from the lexicon along with "pot" and "stoner"

kevin_hunt
kevin_hunt topcommenter

@rsteeb Many historical references allude to the medicinal properties of 'Indian Hemp'.

 
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