Pubdate: [Sat, 01 Mar 1997]
Source: Skagit Valley Herald (WA)
Author: Allison Bigelow

Voices of the Valley

By Allison Bigelow

Special to the Skagit Valley Herald

Cannabis hemp was our planet's largest agricultural crop from about 1000
B.C. to 1883 A.D. Products made from hemp include paper, fuel, building
materials, lighting oil, clothing, ropes, carpet backing, food from the
nutritious hemp seed, varnish and paints, and plastic.  Hemp grows well in
most climates without chemicals. It would take 6 percent of U.S. land to
provide all of America's energy needs with hemp.  Why fight wars for the
right to send money out of our country to buy expensive and polluting
fossil fuels, when we could pay our farmers to grow fuel that is less
expensive and less polluting?

Many mills will thrive as we make lumber from hemp fiber, which has been
tested at the University of Washington to be twice as strong as lumber made
from trees. Logging trucks can be used as pulp-hauling trucks, bringing
paper mills an abundance of pulp, since according to the USDA, an acre of
hemp produces 4.1 times the fiber as an acre of forest over a 20-year
peroid. Making paper from hemp does not require the sulfur-based acid
chemicals that are needed to neutralize tree pulp to make paper.

Cannabis hemp was outlawed in the late 1930's, forcing us to turn to
petrochemicals, forests and fossil fuels, which create unacceptable amounts
of pollution.

On Sept. 24, the Skagit Valley Herald printed a small article showing that
the Columbia River received more carcinogens than any other waterway in the
United States from 1990 to 1994. It went on to say that "pulp and paper
mills of Weyerhaeuser Co., Longview Fibre Co., Rayonier Inc., ITT Rayonier
Inc., Scott Paper Co., Boise Cascade Corp., and Georgia-Pacific West Inc.
were among the leading contributors that pushed Washington state to the

I can assure you that if we went back to hemp, we could turn around this
mess and stimulate employment without having to give up the comforts that
we have come to enjoy.

Why don't we do this? People backing hemp are labeled as drug legalizers by
the Drug Enforcement Agency, much like backers of the medicinal use of
marijuana. Former drug czar Lee Brown went as far as to say that Adidas was
sending the wrong message to children if it named it's earth-friendly shoe
"The Hemp." The kids know that you can't smoke industrial hemp. It's the
adults who are confused, thinking that anyone wearing hemp is pro-marijuana.

Every time we get close to getting industrial hemp legislation passed, a
closed-door meeting with the DEA causes the bill to fail. This has led me
to question the prohibition of marijuana and whether marijuana is as
damaging as the loss of life due to carcinogenic pollutants.  What I found
surprised me. I found that in 1988 the DEA's administrative law judge,
Francis Young, after hearing medical testimony for 15 days and reviewing
hundreds of DEA/NIDA documents, concluded that "marijuana is one of the
safest therapeutically active substances known to man."

The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found,
in a survey released in September, that teen-agers ranked cigarettes and
marijuana as much easier to buy than beer. While 42 percent of 17-year-olds
said that marijuana was easiest to buy, only 9 percent thought beer was
easiest to buy. That is because our government regulates who can buy
alcohol. Not so with marijuana.  I am suggesting government regulation of
drugs, truthful education and treatment. For example, educational campains
have been successful in curbing tobacco use.

Burlington-Edison High School is requiring drug testing for all
extracurricular-activity students. They do not test for alcohol and
cocaine. Those drugs do not stay in the urine for long.

According to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), alcoholism is the
leading cause of teen-age deaths. They also say that 8,000 American
teen-agers are killed each year and 40,000 are maimed from mixing alcohol
and driving. We all want students to "just say no" to drugs, including
alcohol, but this is unrealistic. Most adults remember at least one time
that they experimented with either alcohol or drugs as teens.

It seems to me that urinalysis is the real gateway to dangerous drugs.  My
friend, a nuclear plant employee, has told me that all of the employees who
formerly used marijuana have switched to cocaine to pass the urinalysis.

Dangerous criminals are released from jail to make room for drug offenders.
A Justice Department report released in early February revealed that
134,300 violent sex criminals were released on parole or probation in 1994.
According to their figures, the average rapist serves only 5.2 years in
jail, and the average murderer serves only 8.6 years.  By contrast, many
Americans are serving mandatory minimum sentences of 20 to 25 years for
possession or sale of marijuana at the cost of $40,000 per prisoner each

This can be turned around. Love and compassion need to be included for a
saner drug policy. The only reason to continue this madness is for the
profit of some at the expense of us all. I truly believe this.

Bigelow is the owner of Washington Hemp Mercantile in Mount Vernon. She
lives with her husband and two daughters in Burlington.