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Hosted by Drug Sense

Wisconsin once led the nation in hemp production

Source: The Scene
Pubdate: October 2007

Author: Jim Lundstrom
Note: This Month's issue is about marijuana. The cover illustration is a small pot plant and the text, "IS MY MEDICINE LEGAL YET?"


Need proof that marijuana has been demonized by your government?

Consider hemp. Hemp is not marijuana. Hemp is a non-psychoactive plant that grows best in temperate climates like ours. It is a variety of the tropical cannabis sativa, or marijuana. Trying to get high on hemp is like trying to get drunk on NA beer.

Your federal government makes us all look like dopes by being unable and unwilling to separate industrial hemp from marijuana.

Forget that hemp was legal tender in the American colonies and beyond, that the first American flags were made of hemp, that both Washington and Jefferson raised hemp, that Ben Franklin printed publications on hemp paper, that American ships were caulked and rigged with hemp, and that hemp played an important role in both World Wars.

Forget that Wisconsin was the No. 1 industrial hemp producer in the country during the first half of the 20th century.

Forget all of that, because your government says growing hemp in this country is illegal.

“You are sitting right in the Wisconsin Hemp zone,” said Dave “Dr. Hemp” West of Prescott, Wis. “You don’t have to go very far to be right in the heart of it. Just go down to Ripon, Brandon, Markesan. That was the traditional area of the Wisconsin hemp industry.”

The Rens Hemp Farm just outside of Brandon (north of Waupun) was the last hemp producer in the country, and it closed its doors in 1958.

But hemp production thrives around the world. In 1998 Canada reversed a 60-year ban on industrial hemp and since has taken a lead on making the most of this versatile crop. Manitoba’s web site says “There are an estimated 25,000 different hemp-related products and uses that could potentially be made available in categorical areas such as paper, cosmetics, clothing, carpeting, automotive and construction uses, agriculture, recycling and food/nutrition.”

West said the Canadian hemp industry is more focused on the seed than the fiber. “Fiber is kind of like yesterday’s product,” he said. “The new product coming from hemp is coming from seed. The seed is where it’s at. Certainly the Canadian industry is benefiting mostly by the seed. The biggest products in Canada are in the nutritional area. You’ve got energy bars that are being made with hemp. You’ve got the virgin oil pressed, good for a lot of things with its omega-3s. It’s like fish oil, gives you the same stuff. It’s got a lot going for it in the nutritional area.”

Yet your government says it is too closely related to marijuana.

“These are not the same thing. They are completely different varieties, and you can’t get high from smoking hemp,” West said.

It is only your government that insists on confusing the two, or, as West refers to it, “conflating” the varieties.

West illustrates the conflation of hemp and marijuana in his report “Fiber Wars” (you can find it at, which he wrote after seeing the general disconnect in distinguishing hemp from marijuana.

He begins “Fiber Wars” with a story about a farmer in our area who lost a pregnant cow due to overzealous “marijuana” eradication efforts.

The scene is a dairy farm in east-central Wisconsin, August 21, 1993. On its fifth pass over the farm, the helicopter comes in low and hovers. The farmer’s terrified, triple-A, artificially-inseminated cow tries to leap the fence, breaks her leg and in three days is dead, calf lost. The newspaper report explains that “Local authorities have been using the National Guard helicopters in the area to search for wild marijuana patches.” According to their press release, the Wisconsin Department of Narcotic Enforcement’s Project CEASE removed 9.3 million hemp plants in 1993 in Wisconsin. “Hemp,” they explain, “is the plant from which marijuana is extracted.” – “Fiber Wars” by Dr. David West.

“I thought, this is ridiculous and it needs to be explained,” said West. “That’s what gave rise to the ‘Fiber Wars’ piece. In that, I made the declaration that hemp is not marijuana. That was the first time anybody had come out with a bold statement to that effect, where we weren’t conflating the two terms. Basically, the DEA and the drug war side had controlled the argument up to that point.”

Through 1992 West worked with an agri-genetic company as a corn breeder. That year the company was bought and West decided to turn his attentions elsewhere. “What does a guy with a plant breeding shingle do if he’s not inside a corporation?” West said. “I started looking into biomass energy. I should have stayed with biomass. It’s now become the hot topic.”

While looking into biomass, West attended the annual alternative energy fair in Amherst, where he met his first hemp proponents.

“They’d come in looking very hippiefied, trying to talk to farmers about hemp,” he said. “They weren’t getting anywhere at all. I thought, interesting. That’s what started me digging me into the hemp question after realizing there was this conflation of the different varieties.

“I wanted to look into that whole history and in 1994 started digging and found out that Wisconsin had been the No. 1 hemp-producing state in the nation, which was a surprise to me. I didn’t realize we played that role. You always think of hemp as Kentucky. The actual variety was named Kentucky. But Kentucky ceased to be the fiber producer and became the seed producer. Wisconsin was the fiber producer.”

West quickly became known as a leading voice in this forgotten industry, which is why he was hired in 1999 to conduct the Hawaii Industrial Hemp Project, in which he became the first federally licensed industrial hemp grower since the Rens Hemp Farm in Brandon shut down in 1958.

The project was funded by a hair care product company, and the project goal was to see how hemp would do as a crop in Hawaii, where it’s relative, marijuana, or pakalolo, as the Hawaiians know it, is known to thrive. But at 20 degrees north latitude, Hawaii is a bit south of hemp’s optimal growing climate at 35 degrees north.

“Hawaii was really the worst place, agronomically speaking, but it was the best place politically,” West said. “They had the notion they could grow hemp there and feel they have historical records that somebody had grown hemp there sometime in history. Probably not true. Hemp is a temperate-climate crop. I get contacted all the time by people in the tropics who want to grow hemp and I tell them there is no such thing as tropical hemp. We really need to develop it, but it takes breeding and money.”

In the four years spent in Hawaii, West was able to come up with a genetic mix of Chinese and European hemp seed that grew into a desirable vegetative state in Hawaii. He was also subject to four years of bureaucratic battles with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and a changing political climate.

“The project started in Clinton’s second term and ended in Bush II’s first administration,” West said. “It was a very different political atmosphere. It was pretty clear that the DEA wasn’t going to do anything but put roadblocks in our way.”

Despite succeeding at growing a tropical hemp, West shut down the project on Sept. 30, 2003. In his final report on the Hawaii project, West concluded with this paragraph:

“Many words have been spent on hemp’s potential. Much of it is speculative. In this Project I was able to demonstrate that the genetic potential exists within the world’s hemp germplasm to create a variety of hemp capable of growing in a few months in a tropical environment a forest of 10 foot plants to provide fiber to any of a long list of industries. I had the plants; I showed it could be done. Perhaps, in some more reasonable future, it may be done again. On September 30, 2003 this hemp germplasm, like Kentucky Hemp before it, was lost to humanity.”

Other than maintaining the Dr. Hemp website, West said he has largely abandoned hemp because of the federal government’s intransigence.

“When you start digging into this hemp issue, you think you’re stepping into a puddle and you’re really stepping into a well,” he said. “Start looking into this issue of why is hemp illegal and why can’t farmers grow it, and then you start finding yourself investigating black ops and the role of the drug war in foreign relations and all this kind of stuff. It quickly overwhelms you.”

There is some hope for hemp on the federal level. Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, earlier this year introduced House Rule 1009, a federal hemp bill that would exclude industrial hemp from the definition of “marihuana” in the Controlled Substances Act and give states the right to regulate industrial hemp. The nine original co-sponsors of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007 included Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

However, the simple but frightening fact, West says, is that your federal government is the one hooked on drugs.

“The drug problem is not going to go away because there are too many jobs dependent on it and there’s a whole federal bureaucracy dependent on it,” he said. “Now you have drug testing, which is a huge industry and doesn’t want to see anything diminish their income. We have really created a dependency on the perpetuation of the problem, not the fixing of the problem. You’ve got the drug war functioning as a cover for a whole lot of other things. They don’t want this problem to go away. That’s the simple fact. It’s a hard fact to present to the public, but it is the truth. If you dig a lot, you’ll come to that conclusion. It gets a little deep.” 
Updated Wednesday, October 10, 2007



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