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As the Washington Post recently noted, the United States is the world’s leading consumer of products made from hemp, with sales of more than $43 million in 2011. All these products, however, come from outside the country, primarily Canada, because the United States is the only major industrialized country to ban the growing of hemp, a useful plant touted by Benjamin Franklin, among others.
During World War II the federal government encouraged farmers to grow hemp for uniforms, ropes and other supplies. Cultivation continued but ended with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which punishes those who grow it. Federal opposition continues even though states have been pushing for legal hemp cultivation in light of hemp’s uses as snacks, body-care products, paper, and as a building composite for housing and even car parts.
The Canadian government is actually marketing hemp, a crop that grows well in northern regions. Farmers in North Dakota pushed for hemp cultivation for 10 years but “got absolutely nowhere,” according to the state’s pro-hemp agriculture commissioner. Colorado farmer Michael Bowman is pushing for hemp cultivation and describes the current ban as “stupid.” He is right, but stupid policy that restricts American farmers, harms consumers, and encourages foreign dependency is not a new problem in the United States, and neither is federally sanctioned abuse.
In 1996 California legalized marijuana for medical purposes. But a federal probe targets growers who have been above board and compliant with the law, rather than, “outlaw growers who are trespassing on public and private lands, trashing the environment and endangering the public,” as a Mendocino County supervisor put it. In the recent election, Colorado and Washington state legalized marijuana but that has not prompted federal authorities to revise their policy. Residents of those states can expect abusive federal crackdowns like those in California.
The federal anti-drug establishment is reactionary and expensive, with the DEA budget alone exceeding $2 billion. That is not a wise use of resources in tough economic times. The continuing ban on U.S. hemp cultivation, meanwhile, suggests that federal policy is irrational, unreformable and counterproductive, an endless war on people and products.