Irrational fear sustains taboo on handy hemp
On Nov. 16, a Star-Bulletin editorial declared, "Judge should halt DEA ban on hemp crops
." The editors wisely noted that hemp is different from its distant cousin, marijuana, in that hemp contains only trace elements of the mind-altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
The federal court case was brought by two North Dakota farmers, one a long-time state legislator, who sued the Drug Enforcement Agency for preventing them from growing industrial hemp. North Dakota law authorizes industrial hemp production, as the state saw Canadian farmers across the boarder reap the financial benefits of growing this valuable crop for commercial and industrial use.
The federal judge just ruled in the case, unfortunately punting the issue to Congress. The court stated: "Industrial hemp may not be the terrible menace the DEA makes it out to be, but industrial hemp is still considered to be a Schedule I controlled substance under the current state of the law in this circuit and throughout the country."
In a presidential election year, it is highly unlikely that Congress will exercise the leadership to authorize America's farmers to grow industrial hemp. Yet hemp commercial products can reduce America's carbon footprint and help to combat climate change.
Hemp, when combined with lime, creates one of the most sustainable building materials in the world. Other industrialized nations understand this. On Nov. 20, the Green Building Press featured an award-winning warehouse in England that was built using hemp and lime blocks instead of conventional concrete construction. The article noted:
"The lime and hemp combination has low embodied energy and produces about a tenth of the carbon dioxide (CO2) of a conventional concrete block. Hemp construction and the lime mortar and render reduce the total CO2 emissions to around 150 tonnes. A building of similar size constructed using more traditional methods would typically have generated approximately 600 tonnes in CO2 emissions."
The warehouse, designed by structural engineers Faber Maunsell, won the David Alsop Sustainability Award at the 2007 Structural Awards in London. Engineers used wide-spanning glulam beams, built from lime hemp blocks. Judges at the Structural Awards declared the building "a stunning example of sustainable design," and the warehouse is widely recognized as the greenest building of its type in Britain.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's final report shows that global warming is unequivocal, with rising sea levels inevitable. As Hawaii does its part to reduce carbon emissions, industrial hemp should be an easy and obvious way for us to achieve carbon reduction targets.
Innovation in how we obtain building materials will create jobs in the agricultural and building industries while reducing Hawaii's CO2 emissions. Just as it's smart to eat locally grown foods, it's equally smart to build with locally grown agricultural products.
The founders of our nation knew the value of hemp. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers, as were the Mormons who settled in Utah. It is time to revive this crop as Hawaii (and, one would hope, the other 49 states) take action to reduce CO2 emissions through growing and building with environmental friendly industrial hemp. Congress should not punt on this important issue.
Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) is the assistant minority floor leader in the state House of Representatives.