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Chronicle Book Review: Hemp Bound

Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution by Doug Fine (2014, Chelsea Green Publishers, 145 pp., $17.50 PB)

Hemp shouldn't have anything to do with drug policy. It's a cannabis sub-species low in THC so it doesn't get you high, but impressive as an industrial agriculture crop, one with uses in a broad and ever-increasing range of activities. The applications are numerous, and farmers in countries around the world, including just across the border in Canada, are making a living growing for an ever-expanding market, both here in the US and abroad.

Drug War Chronicle shouldn't be writing about hemp any more than it should be writing about corn or flax or soybeans. This should be the stuff of rural radio station farm shows and county agricultural extension office pamphlets.

But here we are -- because in what is arguably the single stupidest manifestation of the war on drugs, and the war on marijuana in particular, our farmers can't grow it. And that's because the DEA cannot be convinced to change its boneheaded position that hemp is marijuana. In fact, it even took getting slapped down by a federal appeals court to force the DEA to allow hemp products -- oil and seeds, fibers, biofuels -- to be imported into the country.

Still, the ban on US domestic hemp production is hurting American farmers, American agriculture, and the American economy. Farmers in North Dakota can stare across that imaginary line in the prairie and see their Canadian counterparts pocketing $250 an acre in what is a billion-dollar a year industry north of the border. Meanwhile, the Chinese are now years ahead of us in the tech for "cottonizing" hemp; making it a soft, desirable fiber.

All that's standing in the way is the DEA. North Dakota is among 13 states that have already passed laws defining hemp as distinct from marijuana and removing barriers to its production. And now, with the recent passage of the federal farm bill complete with a hemp amendment authorizing universities and agriculture departments in those 13 states to produce hemp for research purposes, hemp is about to bust out of the gate.

It's not quite there yet. That's going to take the DEA having a change of heart -- fat chance -- or, increasingly more likely, an act of Congress. There are hemp bills in both Houses this session, and while I would be surprised if they passed this year, it's coming. It's coming both because of rapidly changing attitudes about marijuana and because it is just too damned stupid to shoot ourselves in the foot any longer by letting everybody else but us grow this valuable agricultural commodity.

And Doug Fine is here to cheer it on. The veteran journalist (and New Mexico goat farmer with an organic bent) came to hemp the way many of us have -- through marijuana -- as he researched his third book, Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution. Now, with Hemp Bound, he's embraced an enthusiastic new role as an apostle of weed's country cousin. He's taken up the mantle of Jack Herer, but with more rigorous scientific backing, and while he doesn't want to shout out "Hemp will save the world!" one gets the definite sense that he thinks it's really going to help.

And he's done the research to back his claims. Fine interviews people in all aspects of the hemp industry, from Canadian farmers, scientists, and government officials to a Denver hemp-powered limo driver, a Dutchman whose company manufactures hemp fiber panels for the European luxury car market, and a Brit whose company uses hemp as a building material. The extent of the global hemp industry is truly eye-opening, and Fine is very seriously urging us here in the US to quit screwing around and get on the bandwagon.

Hemp Bound is not only informative and exciting, it's a fun read. Fine writes with passion, verve, and humor, and a sharp eye for bullshit. The chapters are fact-filled, but short, and are interspersed with interviews with the various players. And he gets bonus style points for managing to use the word "Saskatchewanian" (let that roll off your tongue), although there are style points foregone by using "separate the wheat from the chaff" instead of a hempier "separate the bast from the hurd" (if that's the correct analog; I defer to the true hemp experts here).

Mostly, Hemp Bound is a plea for us to take advantage of this plant. Fine waxes missionary over its multiple applications -- as he notes, a Popular Science article from the 1930s cited 25,000 industrial uses -- which I like to simplify and summarize as "The Three Fs" -- food, fiber, and fuel. And, if Fine and the people he talks to are correct, he's got good reason to be enthusiastic. With hemp, one can do good (by producing healthy, sustainable products with few nasty inputs and reducing reliance on petroleum products) and do well (make some money) at the same time.

But Hemp Bound is also an introduction to hemp and a how-to manual for American farmers thinking about making the leap. I come from an agricultural state. I know real live farmers. They are skeptical and tend to smirk at hippies, but they can also look around their acreages and see the ditch weed. Guys who are struggling to make a living with a thousand acres of corn and soybeans may be amenable to hemp if they think they can make a go of it. The profit is only $250 an acre, but when you have a thousand acres, that adds up, and farmers can count.

Fine speaks directly to these guys, some of whom are going to be the pioneers in America's next hemp boom. He can talk the talk that farmers talk. I think Hemp Bound needs to get in the hands of a lot of farmers, and I've made arrangements to see that it gets to a couple I know in central South Dakota. It also needs to get in the hands of legislators, state and university ag departments, and anyone else interested in starting our hemp revolution. We have some catching up to do, and Hemp Bound is our handbook.

U.S. House Expected to Pass Resolution Today Calling for New Marijuana Strategy (Press Release)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                 

DECEMBER 8, 2010

U.S. House Expected to Pass Resolution Today Calling for New Marijuana Strategy

Rep. Jared Polis, MPP Say It’s Time to End “Failed” Marijuana Prohibition, Regulate Marijuana Industry to Combat Drug Traffickers

CONTACT: Mike Meno, MPP director of communications: 202-905-2030, 443-927-6400 or mmeno@mpp.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a resolution today declaring illegal marijuana cultivation on federal lands to be an “unacceptable threat to the safety of law enforcement and the public,” and calling upon the nation’s drug czar “to work in conjunction with Federal and State agencies to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to permanently dismantle Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating on Federal lands.”

            Speaking on the House floor yesterday, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) agreed with the goals of H. Res. 1540, but said the only way to accomplish such objectives would be to eliminate “the failed policy of prohibition with regard to marijuana and replac[e] it with regulation.” 

            “I have no doubt that marijuana plantations, as the resolution states, pose a threat to the environmental health of Federal lands, that drug traffickers spray unregulated chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers, but I submit that the best way to address that is to incorporate this into a meaningful and enforceable agricultural policy for the country with regard to the regulatory structure for the production of marijuana,” said Polis, whose home state of Colorado has emerged as a national leader in the regulation of medical marijuana. “… As long as [marijuana] remains illegal and as long as there is a market demand, the production will be driven underground. No matter how much we throw at enforcement, it will continue to be a threat not only to our Federal lands, but to our border security and to our safety within our country.”

            Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, today joined Rep. Polis in endorsing the underlying rationale of the resolution and suggesting that accomplishing the goals detailed in legislation will require an entirely new strategy by the federal government.

            “Passage of this resolution will send a clear message to the drug czar and others that our current strategies for combating illegal marijuana production are not working and that a new direction is needed,” Fox said. “There are two choices here: continue the failed prohibitionist policies that encourage Mexican drug cartels to keep growing marijuana on federal lands, or embrace a new path that would acknowledge the reality that marijuana is not going away, but its production and sale can be sensibly regulated in order to reduce the harm caused by its illicit production on federal lands.” 

         With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

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U.S. House Passes Bill on Drug Cartels Growing Marijuana in National Parks, Cops and Border Patrol Agents Say the Only Real Solution is Marijuana Legalization (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 7, 2010

CONTACT: Tom Angell at (202) 557-4979 or media@leap.cc

U.S. House Passes Bill on Drug Cartels Growing Marijuana in National Parks

Cops and Border Patrol Agents Say the Only Real Solution is Marijuana Legalization

WASHINGTON, DC --  The U.S. House passed a bill today directing the White House drug czar's office to develop a plan for stopping Mexican drug cartels from growing marijuana in U.S. national parks.  A group of police officers and judges who fought on the front lines of the "war on drugs" is pointing out that the only way to actually end the violence and environmental destruction associated with these illicit grows is to legalize and regulate the marijuana trade.

"No matter how many grow operations are eradicated or cartel leaders are arrested, there will always be more people willing to take the risk to earn huge profits in the black market for marijuana," said Richard Newton, a former U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent who is now a speaker for the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "My years of experience in federal drug enforcement tells me that only when we legalize and regulate marijuana will we put a stop to this madness.  After all, you don't see too many Mexican wine cartels growing grapes in our national parks, and that's because alcohol is legal."

The bill, H. Res. 1540, which was passed by the House via voice vote, points out many of the harms of the current prohibition policy that leads to drug cartels growing marijuana in U.S. national parks, including that

* drug traffickers spray considerable quantities of unregulated chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers; 

* drug traffickers divert streams and other waterways to construct complex irrigation systems;

* it costs the Federal Government $11,000 to restore one acre of forest on which marijuana is being cultivated;

* drug traffickers place booby traps that contain live shotgun shells on marijuana plantations;

* on October 8, 2000, an 8-year-old boy and his father were shot by drug traffickers while hunting in El Dorado National Forest;

* on June 16, 2009, law enforcement officers with the Lassen County Sheriff's Department were wounded by gunfire from drug traffickers during the investigation of a marijuana plantation on Bureau of Land Management property; and

* Mexican drug traffickers use the revenue generated from marijuana production on Federal lands to support criminal activities, including human trafficking and illicit weapons smuggling, and to foster political unrest in Mexico.

The bill points out that law enforcement efforts to date have only brought about "short-lived successes in combating marijuana production on Federal lands" but offers no suggestions for solutions that would actually hurt the cartels in the long-term.  The law enforcement officials at LEAP believe that legalization is the only long-term solution, and if the bill is enacted into law they will be working to make sure that the White House drug czar's office seriously weighs ending prohibition as part of the strategy called for by the legislation.

The full text of the bill can be found at: <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.RES.1540:>

Speaking on the floor today, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), said the bill "serves to perpetuate this failed policy of prohibition which has led to rise of criminal production of marijuana on federal lands."

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others who want to legalize and regulate drugs after fighting on the front lines of the "war on drugs" and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com.

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The House Made of Hemp

Location: 
Ashville, NC
United States
America's first house made primarily of hemp has been built. Using a product known as Hemcrete – a mix of industrial hemp, lime and water – a team of 40 volunteers, sub-contractors and designers have recently completed construction of a hemp house located in Ashville, North Carolina. Eco-friendly design and construction company Push Design has gained the support of community members and local officials alike and now plans to build more.
Publication/Source: 
Gizmag (Australia)
URL: 
http://www.gizmag.com/first-us-hemp-house/17115/

Video on Abuse of the Environment -- and of People -- in Colombia's Drug War, from "Witness for Peace"

"Shoveling Water" is a 25-minute documentary from the organization Witness for Peace on the impact of chemical spraying of Colombia's coca crop, in the words of people living with the effects on the ground. I have always felt this part of "Plan Colombia" as launched by President George Herbert Walker Bush -- expanded into the "Andean Initiative" by President Clinton -- to be particularly reckless. It doesn't take a chemist, nor even a medical doctor, to expect that dumping poisons into the environment might be bad for the life forms inhabiting that environment, including humans. Hopefully the madmen pushing for aerial fumigation of Afghanistan's opium crop will lose that fight at least, as they have so far. The tide is slowly turning in Andean drug policy as well. In the meanwhile, check out "Shoveling Water":

Gaia-Murdering Psychopath

Peter Guither of Drug WarRant explains to drug czar John Walters why it is his prohibitionist policies that bear the root blame for endangering a rare hummingbird species in the Andes, not the coca growers as Walters' agency claims on their own blog.
Location: 
United States

Op-Ed: Destroying poppies isn't path to Afghan stability

Location: 
Philadelphia, PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Philadelphia Inquirer
URL: 
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/editorial/16602379.htm

AIDA Press Release: Plan Colombia Herbicide Spraying Not Proven Safe for the Environment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 21, 2006 CONTACT: Anna Cederstav, AIDA (510) 550-6700 acederstav@aida-americas.org Astrid Puentes, AIDA (5255) 52120141 apuentes@aida-americas.org PLAN COLOMBIA AERIAL HERBICIDE SPRAYING NOT PROVEN SAFE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: Ecuador's concerns about border sprayings are well founded says international environmental NGO OAKLAND, CA, MÉXICO, D.F. - Last week, the Colombian government violated a bilateral accord with Ecuador when it sprayed a mixture of herbicides intended to destroy coca crops within 10 kilometers of the Ecuadorian border. Colombia is relying on studies by a team from the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States (OAS) to claim that the spray mixture is safe. However, an independent review of CICAD's recent studies shows that the pesticide mixture being sprayed has not, in fact, been proven safe for the environment, and that Ecuador has substantial cause to oppose the sprayings. According to the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), the first CICAD Environmental and Human Health Assessment of the Aerial Spray Program for Coca and Poppy Control in Colombia, released in 2005, did not assess many of the greatest potential ecological and human health risks posed by the aerial eradication program in Colombia. Because of these original omissions and the potential environmental risk of the spraying, the U.S. Congress requested further studies to determine whether the mixture is truly harmful to the environment. Preliminary results from the follow-up studies, released in August 2006, show that the mixture is indeed potentially harmful to the environment, and particularly to amphibians - the spray mixture killed 50 percent of the amphibians exposed within 96 hours. According to Earthjustice scientist and AIDA's Program Director Anna Cederstav, "Contrary to what is argued by the government, this study shows sufficient cause for concern to suspend the sprayings due to potential environmental impacts, especially considering that Colombia has the second highest amphibian biodiversity in the world and the most threatened amphibian species." Many other key questions about the environmental impacts of the spray mixture also remain unanswered, despite the U.S. Congressional mandate to conduct the studies. For example, the State Department has not provided adequate information about the location of and risk to sensitive water bodies and has done nothing to address whether other threatened species are likely to be harmed. Without these determinations, the claim by the Colombian government that the spray mixture is safe enough to spray along the Ecuadorian border is misinformed. "Based on the scientific evidence, and the fact that many questions remain unanswered, as well as the precautionary principle and the international obligation not to cause impacts to the territories of other States, the Colombian government should halt spraying and implement more effective and non-environmentally harmful alternatives for coca eradication," said Astrid Puentes, AIDA's Legal Director. Read AIDA's report regarding the omissions of the original CICAD studies here: http://www.aida- americas.org/templates/aida/uploads/docs/AIDA_CICAD_Critique .pdf. Read AIDA's critique of the follow-up studies here: http://www.earthjustice.org/library/references/AIDASprayingCritique12210.... For background information and more about AIDA's work on Plan Colombia, visit: http://www.aida-americas.org/aida.php?page=plancolombia.
Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States

Hemp grows with technological advances

Location: 
Canada
Publication/Source: 
Business Edge (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.businessedge.ca/article.cfm/newsID/14336.cfm

Bad Science: Congress Passes Measure Okaying Mycoherbicide Testing, But Limits It to US Labs

As part of last Friday's passage of the reauthorization bill for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Congress authorized the testing of mycoherbicides -- toxic, fungal plant killers -- for use against illicit drug crops in Latin America. But in what the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) called a "significant reform," the legislation was modified to restrict testing to laboratories in the United States.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/ravagedgrain.jpg
fusarium-ravaged grain demonstrates the danger
The brainchild of drug warriors Reps. Mark Souder (R-IN) and Dan Burton (R-IN), the measure passed the House in July 2005. Thanks to the efforts of Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Joe Biden (D-DE), it was attached to the ONDCP bill and passed last week.

As DRCNet reported earlier this year, government agencies are not jumping on the mycoherbicide bandwagon. Agencies including the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the State Department, the CIA and even the DEA, have rejected the idea as dangerous for health and the environment as well as likely to meet with resistant strains of poppy and coca against which it would be ineffective.

DPA began organizing against the measure this spring, and when it got fast-tracked this month, drug reform groups including DRCNet, DPA and others raised the alarm. "This a huge victory because it means the people and environment of Latin America will be protected," a DPA bulletin noted. "We have you to thank for this reform because so many of you called Congress asking for the provision to be changed."

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