Often described as marijuana's misunderstood cousin, industrial hemp is from the same plant species (cannabis sativa) that produces marijuana. Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp has only minute amounts of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (TCH), the psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana its euphoric and medicinal properties.

An indispensable raw material throughout our nation's history (in 1640, the Governor of Connecticut declared that "Every citizen must grow the plant."), industrial hemp is acknowledged as one of nature's strongest and most versatile agricultural crops. Various parts of the plant can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation and animal feed.

In France, where approximately 10,000 tons of industrial hemp are harvested annually, companies even use coated hemp hurds to restore and build houses. Besides its spectrum of commercial uses, hemp offers other advantages as well. It produces a much higher yield per acre than do common substitutes such as cotton and requires virtually no pesticides. In addition, hemp has an average growing cycle of only 100 days and leaves the soil virtually weed-free for the next planting. Currently, hemp is grown legally throughout much of Europe and Asia and is being cultivated successfully in test plots in Australia and Canada.

Despite America's bureaucratic moratorium on industrial hemp cultivation, overwhelming evidence in favor of hemp production continues to emerge from this growing, international business. Domestic sales of imported hemp products is raking in millions of dollars, and the American Farm Bureau Federation has called hemp "one of the most promising crops in half a century."

Fashion giants, Adidas, Ralph Loren and Calvin Klein have added hempen goods to their clothing lines, and Klein has predicted that hemp will become "the fiber of choice" for the home furnishing industry. The number of outlet stores selling hemp-based goods ranging from socks to skin care is now estimated at well over 1,000.

In addition, many nutritionists and health professionals are now singing the praises of hemp seed, noting that it is second only to soy in protein and contains the highest concentration of essential amino and fatty acids found in any food.

Most importantly, none of the countries that currently cultivate hemp for industrial purposes have reported experiencing rates of rising marijuana use due to their position regarding hemp.

Researchers trace hemp as an industrial crop back some 10,000 years when the fiber was first utilized by the Chinese to make ropes and paper. Hemp's wide array of industrial uses first rose to prominence in America during the colonial era when many of the founding fathers espoused its versatility. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were strong advocates for a hemp-based economy and both cultivated the crop for its fiber content.

Most of the sails and ropes on colonial ships were made from hemp as were many of the colonists' bibles and maps. The early settlers also used hemp seeds as a source for lamp oil and some colonies made hemp cultivation compulsory, calling its production necessary for the "wealth and protection of the country".

Hemp continued to be cultivated in America until 1937 when Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act outlawing marijuana. Although not a bill specifically aimed at industrial hemp production, legal limitations posed by the legislation quickly put an end to the once prominent industry.

Hemp production briefly re-emerged in 1942 when the federal government encouraged hundreds of American farmers to cultivate hemp for the war effort. Armed with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) film entitled "Hemp for Victory", thousands of farmers grew hundreds of thousands of acres of hemp for wartime needs. Unfortunately, when World War II ended, so did the government's allowance of hemp cultivation. By 1957, prohibitionists had reasserted a total ban on hemp production and that ban remains in effect today.

Although the federal government refuses to waiver on hemp prohibition, the popularity and knowledge surrounding the numerous advantages hemp production holds for American industry and the environment is rising dramatically. Not surprisingly, even some politicians are beginning to catch on. In 1996, politicians in four states introduced legislation allowing for domestic hemp cultivation and by legislative session's end, both Hawaii and Vermont had passed measures promoting industrial hemp research.

Despite hemp's growing emergence as a worldwide economic industry, the Drug Enforcement Administration remains firmly opposed to any notion of revising the federal law to allow for its domestic cultivation. Currently, only the DEA has the power to license farmers to legally grow hemp. Not surprisingly, the DEA has continued to deny every permit for large-scale hemp farming within America's borders for the last forty years.

Join NORML - The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the oldest and largest national organization dedicated solely to marijuana law reform. Since 1970, NORML has educated the public and national media, litigated and lobbied for hemp reform.

Educate - Learn about the benefits of hemp and educate those around you, including your community and political leaders. Purchase and read such informative guides as Chris Conrad's book "Hemp: Lifeline to the Future" and Hemptech's "Industrial Hemp" and "Hemp Horizons" by Dr. Brooks Kelly, and "The Great American Hemp Industry" by Jack Frazier.

Buy hemp products - Support the growing hemp market by purchasing hemp goods and frequenting retail outlets that distribute hemp products. As hemp becomes more common in the marketplace, it will become harder to stigmatize. In the past six years, American sales of hemp products have grown from less than $1 million to an estimated $50 million.

Teach farmers about the value of hemp - Even though the sale of American hemp products are on the rise, federal prohibition of industrial hemp cultivation continues to effectively shut out the American farmer from this booming market. Make the farmers aware of the need to end hemp prohibition. In the wake of declining tobacco sales, many farmers are searching for an economically viable, low-maintenance alternative crop. Contact the American Farm Bureau at (202) 457-3600 and tell them you support the resolution endorsing domestic hemp production.

Write your representatives - Write a letter to your local representatives and members of Congress informing them that as a voter the issue of industrial hemp is important to you. Elaborate on the many uses of industrial hemp, and explain why you support repealing its prohibition. Stress hemp's ecological and economic benefits, including the creation of jobs. Request that they introduce legislation amending the federal and/or state law to allow research to take place on the viability of domestic hemp cultivation.

For more information, contact NORML at www.norml.org   Hemp-Nation at www.hempnation.com/   Hemp Industries Association at www.thehia.org   and various other hemp organization available on the web. We thanks these organizations for the important information they have made available.

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