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Friday, April 25, 2014

Saying ‘no’ to not drugs

Industrial hemp and marijuana law reform

When the RI General Assembly passed a law prohibiting smoking in public places, it made our restaurants and bars healthier places for their patrons and employees. Sure was a step in the right direction, but what was not a widely publicized fact after the law passed was that the following year, organizations like Save the Bay and Keep America Beautiful noticed a distinct uptick in the amount of cigarette butts cleaned up from our beaches and waterways. 

As it happens, when you make people smoke outside, they tend to throw their cigarette butts on the ground.

Anyone with a basic understanding of, well, life in general, is familiar with unintended consequences. They are the unforeseen hiccups and downright disasters that accompany all decisions made. Most of the time, they are quite bad, but sometimes they can be good. The law of unintended consequences certainly rears it’s head when laws get passed without adequate scrutiny, but there is a very serious positive aspect to legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana use that no one has mentioned in the debate.

This law could help Rhode Island’s farming community. I’m not suggesting that all of Rhode Island’s farmers start growing high-grade Wacky Tobaccy; what I am suggesting is that this law opens the door for industrial hemp production.

What if RI’s farmers could legally plant, as a cover crop or for use in crop rotation and soil remediation, a plant that grows tall and quickly – which prevents the need for herbicides – and that has an abundance of uses and  high market value? How about a plant that can break disease cycles and blights in other plants? I’d imagine that most farmers would jump at the chance.

Imagine the potential economic impacts to our all-but-dead manufacturing sector if we could provide a local, sustainable raw material for use in creating ultra-durable cloths and yarns. Industrial hemp is a fast growing plant whose oil can be used in biofuel production and as a feedstock for plastics. It is well known that acre-for-acre, industrial hemp vastly outperforms timber in paper production.

Hemp has a place in the building trades as well. It’s fibers can be used to make insulation, pressed into fiberboard, and even used as an additive in concrete to make it lighter, stronger, and lessen the environmental impact of concrete production.

Hemp could also play a part in reclaiming contaminated lands. Though the practice is still in it’s infancy, hemp shows good potential as a phytoremediator. In fact, hemp was and has been used to remediate contamination of fly ash, sewage sludge, and heavy metals. It was even used to remediate radioactive soil in and around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The only thing stopping industrial hemp production in the United States is the fact that drug laws make no distinction between won’t-get-you-high-but-has-a-bajillion-other-benefits hemp, and the other I’m-not-as-think-as-you-stoned-I am strains of the cannabis plant. I think it’s time to make that distinction.

Throwing hemp into the same drug schedule as its more potent cousins is like saying there is no difference between a bottle of water and a fine Belgian tripel. One of them is extremely useful, can be consumed, and won’t degrade your faculties. The other has been known to throw even the most seasoned beer drinker for a loop after just one glass. The beer nerd in me finds this insulting.

(Note: As per federal law, it is currently LEGAL to grow industrial hemp in the U.S. You just need a permit from the DEA. Good luck with that.)

Dave Fisher is a writer, chef, musician, political junkie, animal lover, ignorance hater, and a former mayoral candidate in the city of Woonsocket. He's a lifelong Woonsocket resident, who lovingly refers to himself as a Woonsocket Rocket and proud Villa Novan. and