Legalized Hemp? Push to Lift the 'Silly' Ban Is Back, With an Unlikely Leader
By Dan Nosowitz
The legalization of hemp as a crop may sound minor, even quaintly of the 1990s, in the wake of the massive economic, environmental and political ramifications of the next farm bill. But it deserves a look.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell last week announced a plan to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity. This brings up several questions. First: Is hemp really still illegal? Second: Mitch McConnell? The Republican from Kentucky? Third: How did the hemp store near my college campus manage to sell all those scratchy hemp sweaters if hemp has been illegal this whole time?
The ban on hemp is not one of the most pressing agricultural topics today compared to the mergers of corporate agribusiness, millions of acres of land destroyed by dicamba and climate change making New York City palm trees a possibility. But it is one of the absolute silliest, dumbest bans on any product in the U.S. and it's looking very likely that, with unexpected bipartisan support, hemp will be legalized quite soon.
Industrial Hemp: A Quick History
Industrial hemp is one of the many varieties of cannabis sativa, same as marijuana, though the two plants look (hemp is tall and skinny; marijuana, stocky and short) and behave very differently. If you're thinking, "Hmm, how different can they be if they're from the same family?" keep in mind that brassica oleracea includes kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Yep, all the same species.
Hemp is no more similar to marijuana than cauliflower is to kale. While marijuana contains a high amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives user the high associated with the plant, THC levels in hemp are so small they're almost undetectable; trying to make a drug out of industrial hemp would be like trying to make a poison from lima beans. (Lima beans contain trace amounts of cyanide.)
Industrial hemp is grown for a variety of reasons: its stalk is covered in layers of bark that can be used to make textiles, plastics, biofuel, insulation and other materials. The seeds are nicely nutritious, not incredibly different from sesame seeds or quinoa and can be pressed into an oil.
The U.S. has a long history of hemp cultivation, dating back to before we were actually a country. Thomas Jefferson is widely believed to have grown the crop. The entire species, including marijuana, was first federally regulated in 1937 with a tax, though it was lifted during World War II as the government urged farmers to grow "Hemp for Victory," owing to the fact that military blockades made it hard to get other fibers. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act again placed the entire species of cannabis sativa in the DEA's Schedule 1 category.
But even in 1970, legislators realized that cannabis sativa wasn't just for getting a buzz, so the Controlled Substances Act included language exempting certain parts of the plant: the stalk, and the seeds, so long as they weren't capable of sprouting into a plant, were excused even though the plant itself remained banned. In short: It was legal to possess a hemp stalk and process it in any way you wanted, but you couldn't grow it. This forced anyone wishing to use industrial hemp to import the raw materials (not a cheap option), a factor that stunted the hemp industry.
Hemp declined in popularity over the next couple of decades until it was rediscovered as a pretty useful crop in the 1990s. But since it remained illegal, local manufacturers wishing to use hemp had to import it from Canada and Western Europe, where it was widely grown. "By the late '90s, we were all frustrated with having to import hemp from other countries," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and pushing for legalization of industrial hemp.
Fast forward to 2011. A guy named Jamer Comer runs for the position of Kentucky's agriculture commissioner and his top priority is the legalization of industrial hemp. Comer actually filed a lawsuit against the DEA for trying to confiscate hemp seeds. It seems kind of far-out for a state that doesn't fit the hippie-revival tone that can be associated with hemp, but running on the hemp platform worked. Comer won. By a lot.
Mitch McConnell Takes Notice
Hemp is a very easy crop to grow, in some ways. It is not particular about climate, it requires zero pesticides, it doesn't require much water compared to a plant like cotton and it can grow in all kinds of soil. Kentucky has a nice chunk of fertile soil, but it also has an awful lot of rocky, hilly land where hemp will actually grow just fine. Mitch McConnell, the long-time senator from Kentucky, noticed Comer's win, and to his credit, actually took a look at industrial hemp. "He sees that it's creating jobs in Kentucky, and economic development, and that it's a good thing for the state," said Steenstra.
By the time Comer took office, work was underway on what would become the 2014 Farm Bill. McConnell noticed the popularity of the hemp legalization push in his home state, and became an actual force for opening regulation to industrial hemp. The 2014 Farm Bill included, owing largely to McConnell, some new allowances for industrial hemp: it could be grown by universities, state agriculture departments and states could even initiate pilot programs. It was a foot in the door, and there are now small hemp operations in more than a dozen states. As difficult as it can be for any small farmer to get loans for their business, a farmer wishing to grow hemp runs into a brick wall of challenges. Banks don't want to issue loans to growers of the crop due to its in-between legal status. "The DEA's stance that this is a controlled substance has led to all sorts of problems, like lack of access to banking, water rights, and property insurance," said Steenstra.
McConnell's new bill, which will have bipartisan support from Democrats, would completely exclude hemp from any controlled substance regulation. It would, correctly, insist that hemp is not marijuana.
Who's Most Against Lifting the Ban on Industrial Hemp Agriculture? Marijuana Growers
A particularly weird thing about the hemp debate is how incredibly un-controversial it is. The DEA opposes it; they won't confirm this, but it seems likely that their opposition is based mostly on losing funding. Interestingly (especially for anyone who thinks hemp farmers might try to hide marijuana in their fields), it's marijuana growers who are most against it. Why? Being that marijuana and industrial hemp are the same species, they can cross-breed. But marijuana growers need extremely specific plants (female only, certain breeds), so pollen blowing in from an industrial hemp operation is a threat that could destroy a marijuana grower's crop.
But on the whole, there's very little opposition to legalization of hemp. Industrial hemp may not be a world-beater of a crop—as we've noted in the past, it removes a lot of nitrogen from the soil, it can be sort of expensive to harvest, and there are more-established and cheaper crops for most of the things you could use hemp for. But still, there is no good reason to ban it. The major player standing in the way of this bill is Chuck Grassley, senator from Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley has given a sort of muddled, not totally factually accurate statement outlining his opposition to industrial hemp; his views include that it is not a viable crop (possibly! But neither is poison ivy, and poison ivy isn't banned), and that it would be some sort of door-opener to marijuana.
"It seems that the main reason hemp is being put forward as a legitimate crop is to promote the legalization of marijuana. That is something I cannot support," he wrote. He spends the majority of this statement talking about psychoactive marijuana and the dangers of illegal drugs. Grassley is powerful, but very, very few other elected representatives have anything worse than a "who cares?" attitude towards industrial hemp.
"McConnell is in a position to really do something with this, and I think for most members of Congress this is not really a controversial issue," said Steenstra. "I think we have our best shot yet of trying to get this done."
"Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.