In a recent press release opposing legislation to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, the White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has shown a stunning ignorance about the plant, stating ''all parts of the plant, including hemp, can contain THC (a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana), a Schedule I controlled substance.'' In the world of scientific reality, the amounts of THC found in industrial hemp - even in the flowers - are so minute as to be meaningless. But the amounts of THC found in hemp fiber are so low as to be undetectable, which is why hemp fiber products are legal in the United States.
A few examples of the usefulness of industrial hemp are in order. Because of its resistance to degrading, American hemp was the best product for ship's ropes and rigging during our American Revolution and financed a large part of it. The oil from pressed hemp seeds is both nutritious (highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids) and can be used as a diesel biofuel. The resultant seed cake rivals soy as a protein source and has essential amino acids. The long fibers from the plant make an excellent source for fabric and high-grade paper (the original drafts of our Constitution were made from hemp paper). The rest of the biomass can be used as a nutritious animal feedstock.
It has a thick root system with a taproot over three feet long, markedly lessening desertification (soil loss/runoff). Finally, since the biochemistry of the plant kingdom differs, the hemp plant does better with increasing ultraviolet radiation (think ozone hole), the rice plant does not, making hemp seed cakes a much more valuable nutrition source as we advance into the 21st century.
However, Kerelikowske also said ''America's farmers deserve our nation's help and support to ensure rural America's prosperity and vitality.''
Every other industrial nation allows hemp farming. In a time of economic recession, we should be promoting industrial hemp for its economic potential, especially since the American climate is very suitable for producing high quality hemp and the world market is growing.
The simplest and most effective way to start this economic progress is to completely remove hemp from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration drug Schedule I, which prohibits it. This change could be made immediately by a presidential order to the DEA drug czar.
I remember President Obama campaigning on effective change. The time to start is now.