David Hoppe

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:: Hemp

still too scary for Indiana

by David Hoppe

When I was in college, back in the last century, I had a friend who went to Purdue University. We’d gone to high school together; John had been a solid student, involved in sports and student government.

But when he got to college, John, like just about everybody else in those days, let his hair grow long and adopted the Army surplus look that passed for fashion.

One day, during summer break, John showed up at my house. He had something he wanted to share: a baggie full of marijuana he said grew all over around West Lafayette.

This, of course, was ditch weed. Hemp. It grew wild in uncultivated fields like a kind of muscle memory from Indiana’s agricultural past. As we soon found out, it made for awful smoking.

Hemp used to be a cash crop in Indiana. During World War II, the Federal government encouraged farmers to grow it as part of the war effort. It’s a versatile fiber that can be used in an amazing array of products, from lotions and soaps to biofuel.

It could still be a boon for Indiana farmers. According to the Congressional Research Service, the annual U.S. market for industrial hemp-based products is currently more than $580 million.

Last year the state legislature passed a law legalizing the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp. They had no problem doing this because, as my friend John and I found out, hemp carries virtually no THC. And without THC, there is no getting high.

Unfortunately, though, our government is still so freaked out about reefer madness that it has a hard time letting actual facts about marijuana, of which industrial hemp is a cousin, get in the way of its paranoid policies.

For example, before going ahead with hemp cultivation, Indiana felt compelled to get the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s blessing. Additional legislation to expedite this process was proposed this year. It sailed through the House, but was killed in the Senate after the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council fretted that what amounts to smoking rope is too dangerous a notion for Indiana to embrace. More “study” is required.

But as the history of America’s prohibition of marijuana shows, the act of prohibition itself has only served to perpetuate ignorance and mythology. Genuine scientific research has been inhibited by illegality, which has, in turn, prevented us from both fully enjoying this plant’s attributes and understanding its side effects.

So a state like Colorado, with the intellectual gumption to reject government-perpetuated paranoia, has become what amounts to a living laboratory. Almost a year and a half after legalization, Colorado reports a 41 percent decrease in all drug arrests, better regulation of its medical marijuana industry, improved youth prevention and mental health efforts, a decline in youth use rates, traffic fatalities at near historic lows, the lowest unemployment rate since 2008 — and more than $40 million revenue in marijuana taxes.

What might that number be if it included, say, biofuels made with hemp?

As long as Indiana’s bureaucrats cling to the paranoia of prohibition, it will be some other state that finds out.