Tomorrow, on the Fourth of July, that most patriotic of holidays, a flag made of hemp will fly over the Capitol in Washington. And guess who America has to thank for the cannabis-derived stars and stripes?
That's right -- Colorado.
The flag was made from hemp fiber purchased in Manitou Springs and then printed and sewn in Denver. Representative Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, brandished the flag during debate on an amendment that would allow universities to study hemp.
"Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities, the greatest in the world, to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity," Polis says in a statement.
"Many states, including Colorado, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of regulating industrial hemp. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. The first American flag was made of hemp. The U.S. Department of Agriculture produced a Hemp for Victory video in 1942. And today, I am proud that an American flag made of hemp will fly over our Capitol on the anniversary of our nation's birth."
A variety of cannabis sativa, hemp contains little to none of the psychoactive ingredient THC, which is what gets you high. But the fibrous plant has many other uses: You can eat it, wear it, even build your house out of it.
As explained in our recent cover story "Green Acres," Coloradans paved the way for growing industrial hemp when they passed the otherwise-marijuana-centric Amendment 64 last November. The amendment directed lawmakers to enact legislation governing the cultivation, processing and sale of industrial hemp by July 1, 2014. Lawmakers beat that deadline in May when they approved a bill to set up a process to register hemp farmers with the state. An advisory committee now has until March 1, 2014 to come up with that process, after which farmers will be able to start growing.
But hemp is still illegal at the federal level -- hence, Polis's amendment. According to Colorado hemp advocate Michael Bowman, who spends much of his time in Washington, the amendment was meant to give colleges such as Colorado State University the legal cover they need to grow and study industrial hemp. After we contacted CSU earlier this year to ask about hemp research, we received this statement:
Although hemp contains only trace amounts of the main hallucinogen found in marijuana, the federal Controlled Substances Act nonetheless defines the entire species as a Schedule I controlled substance. Accordingly, the University is prohibited from providing assistance about hemp production.
Polis's amendment passed, but the bill it was attached to -- known as the FARRM Act -- was defeated last month. A spokeswoman for Polis says the amendment will likely come back, either attached to another bill or as part of a resurrected farm bill.
It was while thinking about Polis's amendment that Bowman, whose family owns a farm in Wray on which he hopes to plant hemp, came up with the idea for the hemp flag.
Continue for more on the making of the hemp flag, including photos. "I'd had the thought of having him have a hemp flag in his hand as he was debating the bill," Bowman says. Bowman found a company that sold hemp flags, but no one there was answering the phone. So he moved on to Plan B: making a flag from scratch.
To do so, he enlisted the help of Adam Dunn of Hemp HoodLamb, Agua Das of Hemp I Scream and printer Sheldon Ried of the Graffitee Factory. Das secured some hemp fabric from The Hemp Store in Manitou Springs and brought it to the Hemp HoodLab, a showroom and creative space in Denver. There, Ried imprinted the stars and stripes. Finally, Dunn's mother (!) sewed together the finishing touches.
The team accomplished everything in a matter of days. "It came out interesting," says Adam Dunn, who founded the Hemp HoodLamb clothing company in Amsterdam before moving to Denver in 2010. "It's slightly washed-out-looking so it has an antique vibe."
Colorado hemp lobbyist Samantha Walsh overnighted the flag to Bowman, who rushed it to Polis's office as the congressman was preparing to debate the hemp research amendment. As he walked from Polis's office to the Capitol to watch the discussion, Bowman looked up and noticed the flag flying overhead. He knew about the program that flies different American flags over the Capitol most every day, and he wondered if it'd be possible to get the Colorado-made hemp flag up there.
"Once the debate was over, I went back to (Polis's) office and said, 'Do you think we could get this thing flown over the Capitol?'" Bowman says. "Sure enough, the congressman was able to convince them to fly it on the Fourth."
Bowman thinks it's a fitting tribute to hemp. "It's a symbol of something that used to be illegal and something we need today," he says. "The fact that it would be flying at the Capitol on July 4 is a confluence of conditions that's getting a lot of people's attention."
Continue to see photos of Dunn's mother sewing the flag.
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Retail marijuana emergency rules: William Breathes's first take."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org