Planting the Seeds of the Future: An Interview with Chris Conrad
For centuries, industrial hemp (plant species Cannabis sativa) has been a source of fiber and oilseed manufactured worldwide for a variety of industrial and consumer products. Currently, more than 30 countries cultivate industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity, sold on the market all around the world. However, in the United States, hemp remains strictly regulated under existing drug enforcement laws with no known commercial domestic production, causing the U.S. to depend solely on imports.
Chris Conrad — a court-qualified expert on Cannabis hemp who has been cited in numerous Appellate Decisions and California Supreme Court rulings — exposes the truth behind the myths and lies of hemp. As an internationally recognized guru on all aspects of hemp and the founder of the Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp, Conrad’s provocative research confronts the political dynamics working for and against legal reform through the uncovering of enlightened hemp facts. Chris Conrad is also a principal author at The Leaf Online (formerly West Coast Leaf) alongside Jeremy Daw and Angela Bacca.
Rita Baldini: Hemp was so important to the colonies of Jamestown that in 1619 the first hemp law was created, making it illegal NOT to grow hemp. Why did our country stray so far away from hemp production?
Chris Conrad: This nation has strayed from many of the original founding principles. Despite their shortcomings, when America was founded much of the philosophy was based upon the idea that a small family farm or homestead could be self-sufficient and live in freedom and independence. In the years leading to the Civil War, industrial capital was just beginning to take hold. After the Civil War, the logging and petrochemical barons rose to power. Around the turn of the 20th century, banks and corporations began to have a disproportionate level of control over the federal government. At the same time, the racism that was inherent in slavery had moved to the front through anti-Mexican bigotry and Jim Crow laws. It was this combination of corporate greed for control and money and social racism that led to the shift away from protecting family farms toward subsidizing corporate wealth. Prohibition was then seen as a two-edged sword cutting into economic freedom and social freedom at the same time. It bloated into an entrenched bureaucratic mechanism, and as a government has mutated into being essentially corporate-run with less and less personal freedom and privacy allowed. Prohibition is growing like a tumorous cancer that is killing society.
The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not grow hemp, yet we are the largest consumer and industrial market for hemp products. What do you attribute this to?
I think that disconnect shows the difference between the people and the politicians. The American people are actually rather interested in preserving the environment and helping farms. We like getting good quality products, sometimes even if the cost is a little more. The American people like natural products and would like to save forests, reduce pollution and promote local financial stability. The politicians are interested in a global corporate economy that puts profits above people and the planet. This is why it's so important for the public to take a stand in defending our freedom and our planet by forcing Obama and the U.S. Congress to end this travesty. Oh, one other thing: by forcing industry to import hemp rather than producing it here, it drives up the cost of hemp products, which is one of the goals of the DEA.
What is your strategy for achieving the legalization of industrial hemp farming? Do you have a specific time frame in mind?
"Prohibition is growing like a tumorous cancer that is killing society."
My strategy was launched in 1989 as the Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp (BACH). It set specific goals including the restoration of industrial hemp, medical marijuana with a doctor's approval, and regulated access to marijuana for adult personal use. I felt it would be disingenuous to ignore the marijuana issues, and in fact overcoming the bigotry against cannabis and cannabis users was essential to de-stigmatizing and restoring hemp. The fact that hemp has so many positive attributes and that marijuana likewise has important medical and social value make it easy to advocate for all three positions. By separating the issues, we were able to break through the monoliths of zero-tolerance and open people's minds. So I was involved in creating the Hemp Industries Association in 1994, the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, the case that made the DEA back off of hemp seed products, the drafting of California's "SB 420" medical marijuana law, and worked on Proposition 19 in 2010. It's rather hard to understand why hemp farming is still illegal at all, especially when Pres. Obama could change the whole thing with the stroke of a pen.
Why do you think the voters in California did not pass Proposition 19?
People simply were not ready. The untold story of Prop 19 is that it was never expected to pass. Richard Lee is a real hero who ran a campaign to start the dialogue, and paid a high price for it. Nonetheless, it laid the groundwork for the Colorado and Washington state legalization initiatives that were passed just two years later, with repercussions that are still ringing. So it really was a success — it just did not pass.
What do you see for the future battles between federal and state government in regards to marijuana and hemp legalization?
It's difficult to say. The US government's denial of scientific reality about cannabis has put it in the same position that the Catholic Church held during the dark ages by oppressing the science of astronomy. There are a lot of similarities to the Inquisition, such as the DEA's drug orthodoxy and punitive tactics including property seizure. Our leaders have painted themselves into a corner. The actual answer is relatively simple: issue a presidential order to the DEA to remove marijuana from the drug schedule. The president has that authority and that duty under the Controlled Substance Act. Hemp should be handed to the department of agriculture, and marijuana should be left up to the states under the direction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or maybe a new and distinct agency. My hope is that the recent Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage and civil rights that favor state rights is a signal that the Raich decision against medical use could be overturned, because they reinforced the rights of states to make their own laws, such as marriage. They gutted the Voting Rights Act based on societal changes in precisely the way they had told Raich that they had been powerless to do to the Controlled Substances Act. They've basically negated their own logic. That leaves us with a patchwork of state laws and regulations, but when people see firsthand the virtues of the cannabis plant, I am confident that it and its consumers will achieve equal rights.
What will the legalization of industrial hemp farming mean for big businesses like Monsanto and DuPont plastics? Will more jobs be created through the legalization of hemp?
"The US government's denial of scientific reality about cannabis has put it in the same position that the Catholic Church held during the dark ages by oppressing the science of astronomy."
I believe that in the long run, there is room for hemp to coexist with those corporations, toxic as they are. Some of the products they produce are critical for society; however, in the context of environmental degradation they will have to make adjustments. The assimilation of cannabis hemp into the economy and society, likewise, will take time. So there will be a transition, but remember that one of the reasons that hemp lost favor, economically, is that it creates a lot of jobs. Multinational corporations often prefer to use more machines than employees because they focus on profits over people. So if the idea of stimulating the economy means job creation, the next generation will soon demand that Monsanto and DuPont make way for industrial hemp, for their own interests.
Can you give me an in-depth forecast as to what changes will take place if hemp becomes legal? What are some realistic challenges and expectations our country will encounter?
Much of that will depend upon how quickly the changes take place. My preference would be to immediately halt subsidies to toxic industries and remove all barriers to industrial hemp. My sense, however, is that we are going to spend a long time wrangling over THC content and security, and other issues that really don't come into play and shouldn't come into play with an agricultural resource. So, I basically see in the long-term picture. Remember that cannabis hemp seed line development has been completely neglected for the past three quarters of a century, while other plant resources like timber and cotton have had ample opportunity for improvement. Likewise, the manufacturing technologies surrounding hemp still lag far behind. So there is a major infrastructural issue to be resolved. Fortunately, Canada, Europe, and China have all made great strides in past years.
A major challenge is what kind of commitment our government and our economy we are willing to make to preserve the environment for the benefit of posterity. We are riding in the wake of a century and a half of wanton destruction to the Earth's ecosystems. When we talk about the challenge America will face when cannabis hemp farming becomes legal, the real challenge is how are we going to survive potentially catastrophic climate change and other aspects of environmental collapse? While cannabis hemp lends itself to high tech processing for things like fabrication, it also works with low tech systems such as hemp-based concrete construction materials that reduce energy use and provide healthier living environments. Those are the kind of challenges that society has a reasonable expectation of resolving when we restore industrial hemp.
"I say that there are many good reasons to legalize industrial hemp, many good reasons to legalize medical marijuana, and many good reasons to legalize adult use of cannabis and regulate its commerce. I have yet to hear one good reason as to why adults should be sent to prison for this plan." – Chris Conrad
Will hemp farming alter our air and water quality? Are there any environmental disadvantages?
I certainly hope it will alter our air and water quality. It has the potential to provide a carbon sink to clean up CO2 out of the atmosphere and the potential to remove toxins from the soil through its root system. While industrial hemp loves to be pampered, the plant is extremely resilient, prolific, and adaptive. And as we have seen with the way high THC strains have been developed in just the past few decades, America could soon have a seed bank of strains that can handle a big variety of climatic conditions facing challenges ahead. The thing is, we have to get started. I see only two potential environmental disadvantages to using industrial hemp. First is that it may become an invasive species in environmentally sensitive zones. Actually pretty easy to control. Second is that, given all its versatile uses, farmers may be inclined to have hemp monoculture. In my estimation it should be seen as a rotational crop to help control weeds and improve soil.
What do you have to say to those people accusing hemp activists of using the legalization of hemp as their trojan horse to ultimately succeed in marijuana legalization? Can you speak to the people confused about the differences between hemp and marijuana?
I say that there are many good reasons to legalize industrial hemp, many good reasons to legalize medical marijuana, and many good reasons to legalize adult use of cannabis and regulate its commerce. I have yet to hear one good reason as to why adults should be sent to prison for this plan. That's the trick that prohibitionists try to use, to make us defend a plant that is beneficial and good. That helps them avoid being forced to defend a drug war that is corruptive and destructive. We need any excuse to return this fundamental right for people to grow and use plants. It's on the first page of the Bible. Now I want to know why we have almost 1,000,000 people a year arrested for marijuana. That's the real question.
Understanding the difference between hemp and marijuana is like telling the difference between a husky and a greyhound: both are dogs, but one is a worker and the other loves the sensation of running. They look related, but physically, chemically, socially, and genetically they are distinct. Hemp is a fiber and seed crop; marijuana is a flower garden. The real distinction is in the purpose of the plant. Most American farmers are not interested in growing it for marijuana, but industrial hemp is a crop with a future. It's easy to figure it out. If the idea is to make a shirt, that is industrial hemp. If the plan is to smoke a joint, that is marijuana. If it is to be ingested or used topically with a hope to treat a health condition or maintain wellness, that is medical marijuana. In the meantime, to accommodate the distinctions, Canada and Europe base their definitions on 0.03; a very low percentage of THC in the plant.
How versatile is hemp? Can you talk about its environmental, nutritional, and economic advantages?
It's hard to stop talking about hemp once you get started. With an estimated 25 to 50 thousand commercial products that can be produced, it’s unparalleled as a natural resource. It produces prodigious amounts of cellulose, one of the building stones of modern industry. It is critical for reforestation and erosion control, and can greatly reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides, and toxic chemicals in its cultivation and production cycles. Anything that could be made out of timber or fossil fuels can be made with hemp, creating jobs and bringing prosperity to local communities where it should be grown and processed to control the cost of transportation.
When it comes to nutrition, nothing really beats hemp seed. Eight essential proteins, three essential fatty acids, edestin, and two compounds that are nearly unique except for human mother's milk. Nutrition bolsters the immune system and contributes to wellness, reducing the need and expense for avoidable medical treatments. So it creates jobs and wealth from the soil, to the processor, to the manufacturer, to the investor, to the consumer, and all steps in between. As Thomas Jefferson said, hemp is of first necessity for the wealth and protection of the nation. To that I would merely add, the health of the nation. And of the planet.