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 top." 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 year. 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.