I like to buy products with homegrown raw materials when I can, and it’s nice when U.S. authorities help not hinder that from happening. I’m thinking hemp oil, hemp milk, hemp apparel, and (if I ever build my dream house) Hempcrete. Hemp raw materials have to be imported, because a special DEA permit is required to grow the crop. Why? The DEA classifies industrial hemp with marijuana as a Substance I narcotic, though hemp contains at most 0.3 percent of the active ingredient THC—the chemical in pot that gets a person high—a trace amount that won’t even cause you to fail a drug test, points out Linda Booker, producer, director, and editor of the documentary Bringing It Home: Industrial Hemp, Healthy Houses, and a Greener Future for America. Here, Booker answers questions about hemp’s benefits and the movement to allow U.S. farmers to grow it.
One of the film’s title cards reads, “Save a fish. Eat more hemp.” Please explain.
In the film, John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva, talks about the depletion of fish from our oceans and hemp as a great alternative, providing high-quality plant protein and the essential fatty acid omega-3, for which many people eat fish or take fish oil capsules. Hemp actually has the perfect balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Aren’t farmers a powerful political bloc in the U.S.? What’s keeping them from lobbying to legalize hemp farming?
Many farm organizations have passed resolutions in support of industrial hemp, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, The National Grange, and The National Farmers Union. But these organizations and farmers are dealing with a lot when it comes to lobbying. This is where more education and advocacy could help. U.S. farmers need to know that the market and demand are growing and that they could tap into a moneymaking, low-impact crop once barriers are removed to farming it. Farmers are smart enough not to go out and plant a huge field of anything unless there’s a market or contract in hand for it. Hemp is not a miracle crop, despite what many advocates say. We learned a lot from Canadian farmers we spoke with, about there being a learning curve when it comes to the varieties that work best for a given climate; also, it’s challenge to harvest the long, tough fibers, and the seeds have to be stored in controlled conditions. The U.S. is just in the research stage now; last year, the first crop since 1957 was grown in Colorado.
What benefit do you see from the amendment to the recent Farm Bill, allowing hemp research crops in select states?
It’s a huge breakthrough to finally allow some states that have passed hemp legislation to begin research—15 to date. A big benefit has been media coverage: the more that industrial hemp is discussed in the papers, online, and on the [network and cable] news, the more education is happening for the public and policymakers. For most people, it’s a no-brainer. The DEA and law enforcement groups have been putting up the biggest fight against it. But now their policy is being questioned. Their recent attempt to hold up [in Customs] hemp seeds imported for research in Kentucky and the resulting lawsuit against them by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture really got the media’s attention.
What’s the latest on proposed legislation to redefine industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana?
Two stand-alone industrial hemp bills have been introduced in the 113th Congress so far. H.R. 525, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013, currently has 49 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. The Senate companion bill S. 359 is where more support is needed to increase the chance of a hearing. On the state level this past year, it’s been incredible to see legislation introduced and passed. So far in the 2014 legislative session, industrial hemp legislation has been introduced or carried in 25 states.
There’s evidence of growing public support in the U.S. for legalizing marijuana use. Do you see an impact on efforts to legalize the hemp crop?
Certainly as marijuana is more and more widely accepted and legalized, it's helped open the door wider for a dialogue about hemp farming. And in Colorado, they were together on the same bill that passed last year, though in most states it’s a single-policy issue. To me, the irony is that the drug variety of Cannabis sativa has gotten so much more support and media attention and made more progress than industrial hemp, which can be used to produce thousands of sustainable products and feed, house, and clothe people all over the world.
Photo courtesy Bullfrog Films