Editor’s note: This is the second half of a story on hemp. Part 1, “High Hopes for Hemp,” ran on Oct. 19.
The beginning of the end for hemp
Storm clouds had appeared on the horizon even before Popular Mechanics Magazine‘s 1938 article on hemp, “New Billion-Dollar Crop,” was published.
For instance, in 1936, the “propaganda film Reefer Madness was produced,” according to the Public Broadcasting System’s “Busted: America’s War on Marijuana.” “Busted” continues: In 1937, “After a lurid national propaganda campaign against the ‘evil weed,’ Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. The statue effectively criminalized marijuana.”
During World War II, because of shortages of hemp, the U.S. Department of Agriculture produced the 1942 promotional picture Hemp for Victory. The Philippines and East India, major suppliers, had fallen to the Japanese.
The almost 14-minute film was created to persuade American farmers to plant hemp. Its strong fibers were well-suited for clothing, as well as for parachutes and a wide variety of other military applications, including preventing seawater from entering the hull of a ship through its propeller drive shafts.
The U.S. government even encouraged “farmers to plant hemp by giving out seeds and granting draft deferments to those who would stay home and grow hemp. By 1943, American farmers … harvested 375,000 acres of hemp,” according to the film.
Stiff minimum sentences
But domestic hemp was doomed, due to public sentiment and to restrictive and punitive federal laws, such as the Boggs Act of 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. That law set mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses, including marijuana,” according to PBS’ website post “Busted.”
Penalties were stiff, even for a first-time offense, “Busted” says: “2-10 years, with a fine of up to $20,000.”
Long-lasting harm to industry
The dismantling of hemp-growing, decades ago, will make a fiber market today “harder to develop, because we destroyed all our infrastructure when we banned hemp,” said Bob Clayton. As a result, said the retired mechanical engineer, who’s a strong advocate of hemp, “It will be a slow process of building markets and fiber operations.”
Nevertheless, Clayton, who owns Florida Hemp Processing, foresees the crop as a boon to the state. “Bast fiber is good for recycled paper, and Florida has some paper plants. Fiber-reinforced plastic will be an important market. Core fiber is good for horse-bedding, and Florida has half a million horses.
“Hempcrete houses made from the same material as the bedding are excellent for Florida’s climate. So we believe we have enough untapped demand to support a fiber plant,” he continued.
Hempcrete, which weighs about one-seventh what concrete does, is just as strong. Clayton’s home is built of the material, which meets all building codes. He spent about $65,000 on hemp products from England. (Importing hemp products used in construction is legal.)
New organization in Florida advocates for hemp
The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a national nonprofit trade association founded in 1994, represents “businesses, farmers, researchers and investors working with industrial hemp,” according to its website, thehia.org. It adds, “We are at the forefront of the drive for fair and equal treatment of industrial hemp.”
HIA has created a new chapter, the Florida Hemp Industries Association, and has asked Clayton, who lives in Tarpon Springs, to serve as its director.
A changing regulatory climate
Today, marijuana is legal for certain medical uses in 25 states, plus the District of Columbia, and is legal for recreational use in four states, plus D.C. Nevertheless, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug.
“Schedule I drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples … are heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone and peyote,” the DEA’s website says.
Florida allows the use of medical marijuana for patients with certain life-limiting health conditions. On Nov. 8, voters in the Sunshine State will decide whether to approve a proposed constitutional amendment, “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions.”
If passed, Amendment 2 would allow “medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician” and allow “caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana.”
The state Department of Health would “register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes.”
But even if the amendment passes, it would “not immunize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.”