Raking in the Green: Legalize Hemp in Tennessee

Believe it or not, I am not inherently anti-Republican. I’m anti-Tea Party and firmly against neo-liberal economics, two imports that have taken the Republican Party hostage (Eisenhower would be aghast). So, far be it from me to suggest that Republican ideals do not equal progress. Color me pleasantly surprised when I learned it is a Republican member of the Tennessee state Senate who is formulating a bill to legalize hemp.

Rep. Frank Niceley (R), from Strawberry Plains, TN, is currently formulating a bill to legalize the growth and industrialization of Hemp. Niceley believes it would revitalize the Tennessee agricultural industry: by growing hemp, farmers would be able to diversify their crops and crop products, as well as grow a plant highly suited to the acidic soil and high water table of Tennessee.

YES. I cannot agree more emphatically. Growing industrial hemp is a great idea for Tennessee farmers. Hemp is one of the single most productive crops known to man. Hemp can naturally produce paper, plastic, and dietary protein. It’s been used for cordage, food, fuel and paper since its discovery, and, starting in the 1980s, French scientists learned how to make building blocks out of it — Hempcrete!

Its carbon footprint is NEGATIVE, and it involves minimal pesticide usage. It also requires significantly less water and time to grow than timber, producing four times as much pulp per acre, per year, than a full-growth acre of timber.

Currently, products made from hemp are imported into the United States from China and Europe, and now Tennessee can import hemp products from the 10 states that legally raise hemp — against federal regulation. As the Tennessean quotes Nicely, hemp products are commonly found throughout the country, and “it’s only illegal for a farmer to raise it.”

I’m inclined to agree that this regulation is unfair. It discriminates against farmers, and it hurts Tennessee’s overall productivity.

 In fact, one could argue that the law against hemp — not even marijuana, but hemp — is oppressive against farmers. Hemp was first targeted by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (that’s right, Marihuana with an H), because Cannabis sativa, the plant species that includes both marijuana and hemp, was a threat to the economic status quo. Pharmaceuticals, lumber, and even the burgeoning nylon hose industry felt threatened by a plant. Hemp has such a variety of uses that farmers could know their crop is going to be used, and most likely in an innovative way.

Niceley admits that there will be trouble convincing his colleagues to vote for his bill. My favorite of his given quotes, as reported by WBIR, is “Their biggest fear is…people will think they support marijuana…that’s a cousin of hemp, but cornbread is a cousin of moonshine.”

Good temperate Christians haven’t stopped eating cornbread because of its relations, have they? Didn’t think so. There’s also concern about aligning with federal regulations, which still prohibit the growing of C. sativa. It hasn’t stopped marijuana growers in California or Colorado, or hemp farms in Kentucky or North Dakota. If enough states pass laws legalizing the production of hemp, it is entirely possible that cannabis products would be exempted from the Controlled Substances Act, the law that incorporated the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Already, Washington exhibits support for changing federal laws, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state of Kentucky is one of the states in which hemp is already legal.

What does this bill mean for Tennesseans, and why should it pass? A simple answer: JOBS. According to the Tennessee Department of Labour, as of August of this year, Tennessee had an unemployment rate of 8.5% – 1.2% higher than the national average. I agree, we have markedly improved over rates from the height of the recession in 2009 and 2010, but there is still room to grow.

I fervently believe that if we legalize the production of hemp, we will see growth in the industrialization of hemp and our state employment opportunities. Hemp can be made into many different things, but who’s to do the making once the product is grown? This bill is not just good for farmers who grow the crop, but also for the industrialists who will make it into something. Hire people to work the land, hire people to work in the factory – all working around a sustainable, high-yielding crop.

The legalization of hemp underscores the idea of the triple-bottom line: good for people, good for business, and good for the environment. Green is good, and it’s time to rake it in.