Kentucky and Beyond: A Culture Tough on Marijuana makes a Hard Fight for Hemp

Lexington, KY – In the previous installment of this series on the potential of industrial hemp cultivation in Kentucky, I took issue with gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffett’s indirect association with a local head shop, Botany Bay. Some consider the concept of guilt by association to be unfair in this case, but to me, such questions regarding guilt or fairness are irrelevant. Guilt by association exists. When a prominent political name pops up in the same news-story paragraph as words such as “bongs” and “guns,” it just doesn’t look good, and even a casual reinforcement of the supposed link between industrial hemp and recreational marijuana doesn’t do the pro-hemp movement any favors.

This was not to suggest that Moffett is an unsuitable candidate for governor, or that Scott and Ginny Saville, the owners of the Botany Bay, are unsavory people. I’m also not passing judgment on whether or not the movement to legalize recreational marijuana, though quite different from the industrial hemp cause, is a worthy enterprise. The argument is simply that the cultural conditions in our area, and in most of the United States, are such that our elected and would-be leaders, to appease their constituencies and/or their own consciences, cannot afford to be seen as soft on illicit drugs. Likewise, the mere appearance of impropriety is often damaging, even when no actual impropriety exists.

Like it or not, these are the cultural conditions in which we live ― which we’ve constructed, in fact. And as concerns recreational marijuana, these conditions are perhaps hypocritical, when one considers that, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Kentucky is one of the six largest producers of outdoor-grown marijuana in the United States and most of that crop, per the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is sold and consumed locally. Some estimates even suggest that revenue from marijuana sales in Kentucky exceed revenues from tobacco, corn and soybeans combined.

In short, Kentuckians grow a lot of pot, and we smoke a lot of it, too.

Despite this, we arrest and incarcerate marijuana offenders at a spectacular rate. In 2009, there were more than 22,000 marijuana-related arrests in the commonwealth, a number four times higher than arrests for heroin and cocaine/crack and two-thirds as high as the number of arrests for everything else combined.

So why bring this up, when it seems very important for supporters of industrial hemp to distance their cause from the pro-pot crowd? Because a glance at the cultural conditions in those industrialized democracies that have recently legalized industrial hemp cultivation, in particular Canada and the United Kingdom, suggests that a country’s attitudes toward recreational marijuana may have much to do with the likelihood of federal legalization of industrial hemp.

In Canada, which legalized industrial hemp cultivation in 1998, laws prohibiting possession and cultivation of recreational marijuana have been on the books since the 1920s. In many parts of the country, however, those laws are rarely enforced, especially when offenders are in possession of relatively small amounts, suitable only for personal use. In the past decade, several firms have surveyed the Canadian public, and while the quality of these surveys varies widely, they do show that at least half of all Canadians support the outright legalization of recreational marijuana, and slightly more are in favor of decriminalization. Finally, a paper delivered in 2005 to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba suggested that about 44 percent of Canadians had used marijuana at least once.

So despite recent attempts by the conservative government to increase penalties for marijuana offenders, one might characterize the Canadian attitude toward recreational marijuana as being one of tolerance, if not complete acceptance. In the United Kingdom the situation is similar. While only about 30 percent of the English public admitted to using marijuana in a 2004 survey by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, England experimented with decriminalization in that same year when it reclassified marijuana from Class B to Class C, making possession a non-arrestable offense. In 2009, marijuana was again reclassified to Class B, but public opinion, as in Canada, is mixed.

The process of legalizing industrial hemp in Canada and the United Kingdom came about in a similar way. In both cases, a single, enterprising farmer applied for and received permission to cultivate an “experimental” plot of the plant, using provisions in the laws of both countries allowing for such uses. Within a few years, having demonstrated the commercial viability of their crop and compliance with THC-content restrictions, both farmers received licenses for large-scale hemp cultivation.

All it takes is one, obviously. As outlined in the first installment of this article, the United States already has a procedure in place for hemp permitting, but the DEA’s unwillingness to grant those permits seems to be a permanent roadblock to cultivation on any scale.

Why there, and not here? The difference may well be cultural. Americans smoke pot at nearly the rate as Canadians: ―42 percent, according to the World Health Organization, but we’re much more willing to arrest and incarcerate users when they get caught. So while industrial hemp supporters should still look to our elected officials at the federal level for help with the DEA problem, and state-sovereignty champions like Phil Moffett should explore all possibilities for nullification of federal authority within the commonwealth, we should also, perhaps, take a look at the way we regard and treat marijuana offenders. While industrial hemp and recreational pot are issues that should remain separate, our hard stance on the latter may be damaging the chances of the former succeeding. Source.

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