Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 384, September 10, 2006

"In my book, I'm number one."


Industrial Hemp and Hurricane Katrina
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

The same day our nation commemorated the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I learned that the state of California had passed—and was now waiting for Governor Schwarzenegger to sign—a new measure legalizing industrial hemp crops. This is very encouraging news. It's just unfortunate no one realizes this is part of the Hurricane Katrina story. With all due respect for those who died or were stranded on their rooftops, if I was in charge of a cable news station, I would've made industrial hemp a main part of my anniversary coverage.

Hemp used to be a common thing in America. It also used to be an integral part of our nation's economy. This changed in the 1930s, when fear over its mind-altering cousin, marijuana, led to a national hemp ban. Except for a short reprieve during World War II, it's been illegal to farm the stuff ever since.

Today, many products—such as clothing, food, and rope—are made from hemp imported from Canada. Most Americans understand that owning such products in no way, shape, or form makes them part of some underground drug culture. Hemp remains illegal, however, for two important reasons. One, because Washington insists hemp crops would serve as cover for marijuana growers. And two, because the rest of us have accepted—or at least decided to live with—Washington's assessment.

As a result, it is very difficult to have a rational industrial hemp discussion. Most people realize hemp isn't the same as marijuana. However, most people think you'd have to be a paranoid stoner to so much as bring it up.

When you really start to consider this issue, you start to wonder, though: Who's paranoid here? The stoners who brag about hemp's many uses? Or the people too frightened by visions of stoners to have this conversation? Hemp is a viable alternative fuel source. It's clean. It's renewable. And it can be used in place of many synthetic, oil-based materials. It's actually quite odd that we'd choose to import it rather than grow it—especially in light of our usual "Made In America" mentality. Just think what this crop could do to ease our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Even if it was the same as marijuana, you'd still have to be crazy—or paranoid—not to use it.

This brings me back to Hurricane Katrina.

By now, most people seem to agree Washington failed the city of New Orleans. Why this happened is up for debate, but one possible reason I don't hear many people discuss anymore is the fact that our soldiers were too busy overseas to help rescue all those folks on their rooftops. Leaving aside whether disaster recovery is the military's job, I would say this is a fair argument.

Our men and women sign up to defend our country. That's why they're "our" men and women. Often, though, they end up defending other countries. It's been this way since September 11th, but it was like this long before September 11th, too. America maintains a military presence of some size or another in roughly 130 countries. This makes it hard for us to defend the only country that ought to matter to America, which, of course, is America.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you the Iraq War, for instance, was "all about oil." Like all conflicts, it was about many things—some more or less noble than others. But if it's true our military was too busy in Iraq to help the people of New Orleans, then you have to ask yourself: Why does America maintain such a broad overseas presence to begin with? Why do we care what happens in the Middle East? Why should it even concern us? Oil isn't the only answer to these questions, but it is an answer for each of them. Oil is crucial to us. We need it. And this means we need to worry about other countries, because they're the ones who have it.

I'm not naïve enough to think industrial hemp would cut our ties with the Middle East overnight. If I had to guess, it wouldn't even cut our ties with the Middle East altogether. We would still need oil for something or another. But that's okay. There's nothing wrong with doing business. Just imagine how things in New Orleans might have been different if we hadn't been draining our resources elsewhere, though. Maybe the military would've been here to help rescue people more quickly. Or maybe we would have simply fixed the levees before they broke and drowned the city.

Of course, this is all conjecture. There's no way to actually prove it. But before you complain about Washington failing New Orleans, just consider how industrial hemp would alter such problems as oil, war, and pollution. Until this useful crop becomes legal, I would argue Washington is failing us all.

Jonathan David Morris writes from Philadelphia. He can be reached at


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