Deconstructing I-502, Part 7: Hemp Halfway Home

March 23, 2012

[Ed. Note: This is part 7 of Sensible Washington’s multi-part analysis of I-502.]

You won’t find the word “hemp” anywhere in the 64 pages of I-502.

Search instead for “fiber” and you’ll quickly locate the definition of marijuana (or “marihuana”) according to state law. That is where, under I-502, marijuana would be legally redefined as having a THC concentration greater than 0.3%.

This standard strikes us as unnecessarily low. After all, the North American Industrial Hemp Council (NAIHC) defines marijuana as being at least ten times more potent (3%-20% THC).

But this provision isn’t about marijuana, it’s about hemp. I-502 would adopt the standard in Europe and Canada that limits hemp to no more than 0.3% THC. Not to split hairs, but we would have preferred to see I-502 allow up to 1.0% THC at a minimum, in keeping with the NAIHC standard.

And frankly, it’s hard for us to see this talk about measuring the potency of hemp as anything but nonsense. After all, hemp pollen is bad for cannabinoid potency. The celebrated “sticky buds” of the female plant only get that way because she’s creating resin in a desperate bid to capture some fertilizing pollen. Were the plant to succeed, the production of resin would tank. These standards wouldn’t need to exist, save for our government’s senseless prohibition on cannabis.

Jack Herer, godfather of the legalization movement, persuasively argued that the federal prohibition on hemp was created by the likes of Hearst and DuPont to suppress the world’s most versatile crop. The toxic industries that benefited from the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 continue to thrive financially while our ecosystem suffers. This situation will likely continue until the federal government changes its stance and stops forcing us to throw our money away on imported hemp.

Removing the state-level barrier to growing hemp would be an indisputable win. However, as with so many other aspects of I-502, it’s important to keep our expectations in check. Consider this: nine states already allow industrial hemp production or research, yet not one state is actually growing it. In 2009, Oregon authorized farmers to grow hemp, but they’re still subject to federal authority.

Should federal policy change, hemp legalization would likely sail through our State Legislature with little resistance. If hemp were already legal under I-502, the presence of a 0.3% maximum THC standard would still be on the books. In that event, the requirement for low THC would only serve to bedraggle our future hemp farmers. Who will go into the fields and measure the THC levels? Who will qualify the testers? Who will pay for the gas chromatography tests? These answers will have to wait until the federal prohibition finally comes to an end.

Our organization believes strongly in the power of education to bring about repeal. It pains us to see an initiative so ready to assuage prohibitionist fears instead of inviting them head-on. True legalization will never be achieved if we aren’t willing to challenge the most basic misconceptions surrounding industrial hemp.

Part 8: Opposition in Summary

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