Reviving a crop is like trying to revive a language: we can find scraps of old books, some linguistic remnants of the old words in our vocabulary. But, without a fluent speaker, someone with an intimate, lifelong knowledge of the language, it’s difficult to decipher. Still, we try and try again until we get it right, re-learning the old ways through our own trial and error. Kevin Shively has been on this journey of re-discovery for years now, sewing hemp seeds for two kinds of harvesting: the physical and the intellectual.
I recently saw a meme that featured a picture of Donald Trump holding a executive order that said, “all cannabis is legal”. The photoshopped photo directed me to click ‘like’ if I would support Trump in legalizing hemp. This is not an uncommon thing to see, a politically naive (it takes more than an executive order to legalize hemp) meme about hemp legalization. Normally, I wouldn’t bat an eye at such a meme, I might even click ‘like’. But these aren’t normal times.
These first few weeks of a Trump administration has been a whirl for me. I know that he’s just doing what he promised (which is, after all, a strange thing for a politician to do), but somehow it didn’t seem real until now. Maybe it was my ‘liberal bubble,’ but somehow I didn’t expect things to move this fast, for us to be this divided. I wasn’t ready for our racism to be worn so proudly, so arrogantly. And this is why the meme shocked me. It was so…normal. It acted as if our support of Trump, even as he signs an unconstitutional migrant ban, depends solely on whether or not he supports our industry. And it got me thinking: are we a single issue movement?
Our last blog outlined just how difficult it can be to nail down the taxonomy of the hemp plant. For decades, scientists have been arguing about the nature of Cannabis. But, one thing has always been very clear: Cannabis, when grown as an industrial crop with low THC content, is not a narcotic. It cannot get you high. Not at all. So, why then is the Drug Enforcement Agency messing around with the regulation of hemp products? Let’s dive into it.
It’s important to set the historical record straight: George Washington did not grow marijuana. He grew hemp for industrial purposes like rope and clothing, as did many other founding fathers and colonists. But, his hemp may have been a little different than our hemp.
“We’re praying to the rising sun. We’re praying to the setting sun. We’re bringing in the sacred songs. We’re building the sacred fire.”
–Uqualla of the Havasupai Nation speaking at Standing Rock
“North america is now a land ruled by oil, and the gun.”
–Carol Surveyor of the Diné Nation speaking about Standing Rock
Learning from the Past
There is an excitment in the hemp industry these days. It’s similar to how folks felt when Dr. Bronner’s was winning lawsuits against the Bush Administration in the early 2000’s: anything is possible. laws are changing, Native American tribes are beginning to grow hemp, new innovations are making it possible to turn hemp into 3-D printing materials and new medicines. This may not just be another hype. It could be the real deal, the big resurgence of the hemp industry that we have been waiting for. But, as with any resurgence, there is risk. Risk of throwing all of our eggs into one basket, risk of ignoring the limits and difficulties imposed by production and markets. The risk of assuming that we are the “good guys”, just because we have been the underdogs. The risk should not scare us away, but it can give us pause, and remind us to look back and see what we can learn from the past.
In my second installment of “the Old Story of a New Industry,” I will look at the hemp industry in the period between two big, nation-defining wars: the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In this time, the industry peaked and, almost overnight, declined dramatically. In this era, major issues in the hemp industry emerged that are with us still today surrounding issues of labor, politics, and industry interdependence. This is the story of a booming industry resting on an unstable foundation, which can teach us a thing or two about our modern hemp industry.