Friday, July 3, 2009

Oregon: Home of Legal Hemp?

Four years ago, I sent the following open letter to Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and various others among Oregon's elected and/or appointed public officials:

Consumers and producers alike will more readily accept any plan or method used to reduce, limit, or otherwise control greenhouse gas emissions if it can be shown to have multiple uses, provide multiple benefits and generate multiple income streams. One such methodology involves the use of cannabis hemp, which appears to be the best single approach to minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. But, as ludicrous as it is ironic, it’s illegal to grow the one plant that could do the most to save the planet from global warming. Am I the only one to think we have our priorities wrong?

Growing cannabis in a natural environment is a straightforward process requiring no herbicides and few, if any, pesticides. The only soil requirements relate to pH, plant nutrient levels, moisture availability and drainage.

Farmers choosing to grow cannabis could benefit in numerous ways. Because it restores the soil in which it’s grown rather than depleting it, cannabis makes an excellent rotation crop, allowing farmers to avoid “fallow field” syndrome. 100% of arable land could be planted every year. Due to cannabis hemp’s many uses and the fact that virtually no part of a hemp plant is wasted, it’s unlikely that cannabis would ever be subject to market price fluctuations. Annual farm income and profitability would rise accordingly.

Cannabis hemp is a perfect vehicle for biological sequestration because it produces more biomass, in less time, than any other multiple-use plant capable of growing in the Northern Hemisphere. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bulletin No. 404, issued in 1916, reported that one acre of land planted in hemp would produce 4.1 times more cellulose, over 20 years, than an equal amount of land planted in trees.

Legalized cannabis could revitalize Oregon’s economy by creating new industries, or recreating old ones. Paper, plastics, textiles, biomass fuels, food, medicine, building and construction materials and protective coatings and finishes are just some of the products that can be made from cannabis. There are thousands of others. New industries would help alleviate Oregon’s chronic unemployment problem, and bring in new tax revenues to help fund education and health care.

Oregon’s colleges and universities could research new uses for cannabis hemp, and develop new, energy-efficient technologies for producing cannabis-based products. Solar stills capable of producing fuel-grade alcohol in commercial quantities would be particularly useful, as would small-scale versions suitable for home use. Private industry would find profitability in developing and manufacturing hemp harvesting and processing machinery. As demand for hemp and hemp-based products spreads across the nation and around the world, new markets are sure to open.

Biomass fuels, particularly alcohol (ethanol and methanol) and biodiesel made from cannabis could be processed on-site, where the hemp is grown, or at other nearby processor locations to serve local communities, thereby reducing fuel transportation costs. Alcohol fuels are exceptionally clean burning, leaving behind only carbon dioxide and water as combustion byproducts. As a result, alcohol-fueled engines last longer, require less maintenance and fewer oil changes than do their gasoline-fueled counterparts.

Cannabis hemp uses fewer chemicals during its growth cycle, and fewer chemicals during paper manufacturing processes, meaning that the saved chemicals aren’t introduced into the environment. Additionally, fabrics made from hemp are stronger, warmer, more absorbent and more durable than are fabrics made from cotton. Hemp fabrics can be recycled into paper at the end of their life cycles, and hemp paper can be recycled many more times than can wood pulp paper, which translates into less energy used in manufacturing processes, and less toxic pollution entering the environment.

In any event, Oregon should explore every avenue and pursue every means possible in its quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt global warming. Any action taken that also reduces or eliminates other types of environmental pollution is to be commended, and encouraged.

Oregon is at a crossroads, of sorts. Our state can seize the initiative and lead the country in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and combating global warming, or it can follow the lead of others whose methods and decisions may be less wise or less effective. Oregon has a unique opportunity to create for itself a sustainable culture based on a sustainable economy. Oregon has the chance to become the world’s poster child for environmental sanity, and I urge Oregon’s leaders not to forfeit this opportunity, nor to squander it.


Phil Hanson

While I'm neither naive enough nor vain enough to believe my letter played any part in influencing Oregon House members to pass HB 676 on Monday, I do see passage of the bill as vindication; it's nice to know that I was ahead of the curve on this one.

And, although Oregon doesn’t lead the pack on the hemp legalization issue, we Oregonians can take a small measure of solace in the fact that Oregon is positioned much closer to the front of the pack than it is to the rear.

When sanity returns, healing begins.

Q >>>