Navajo Council Passes Historic Hemp Bill

Navajo Nation steps into hemp not drug industry

By MARLEY SHEBALA Navajo Times Staff July 29, 2000 WINDOW ROCK

The Navajo Nation Council did not approve the legalization of marijuana last week. Council Delegate Ervin Keeswood said  the council only approved amendments to Navajo law which distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana. Keeswood, who sponsored the legislation on industrial hemp, said the distinction between the two is based on the percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. The council, in its July 20 resolution, stated, "It is high levels of THC that gives marijuana its hallucinogenic effect." According to scientific research, THC is the potentially psychoactive chemical in marijuana and is not presently, nor historically, found in significant quantities in industrial hemp.

According to a Feb. 7, letter to the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association from William M. Pierce Jr., Ph.D., industrial hemp contains as little as 0.05 percent by weight of THC. Piece, who also an associate professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology for the School of Medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, said some marijuana plants can contain between 10 to 20 percent of THC. In summary, it is my opinion that the use of industrial hemp as a psychoactive substance is extremely unlikely, due to the large doses required and the side effects which would be encountered," he said. Keeswood noted to the council, prior to their vote supporting the amendments, that the first two copies of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp.

He said industrial hemp is used to produce more than 25,000 items, such as animal bedding, paneling, erosion control materials, cloth towels, toilet paper, twine, and bird seeds. In a separate interview, Chris Boucher, owner of Hempstead International, which is based in Laguna Beach, Calif., said 50,000 products can be made from industrial hemp.Boucher, who acts as a consultant for industrial hemp, said that Popular Mechanics magazine released a story in 1938 that reported that industrial hemp would become the first billon dollar crop. Keeswood reported to the council that the demand for industrial hemp is growing annually. As of 1997, the industrial hemp market generated about $40 million in revenues, and its estimated that by 2001, that figure could rise to about $1.5 million, he said. "So we need to get on this particular train before it leaves town," Keeswood urged the council. He said 12 states are currently talking with their legislature to approve what the council is discussing.

Keeswood said Hawaii and North Dakota have received federal approval to grow industrial but it's for research only. The Lakota Nation has already jumped on this; they've created legislation and a farmers' association and they are growing industrial hemp," he said. Keeswood pointed to the council delegates' lounge area and said the Wide Ruins Chapter is already using industrial hemp fibers to waive rugs. According to agricultural news articles, scientists and proponents of hemp have convinced many governments around the world that hemp definitely fits in today's economic climate, especially as a sustainable agricultural system. Other agricultural reports show that farming hemp has the potential to reduce some  of the environmental pressures associated with intensive forestry and agricultural use of dangerous pesticides.

Tulley said the growing of industrial hemp will do that and the economic development benefits will be greater than the Navajo Nation's proposed potato chip factory or any agricultural product. He reiterated the diversity of products that come from industrial hemp, which includes fabric, paper, fuel, cosmetics and food. And Tulley said hemp will also address the reservation's problems with diabetes. The farming of hemp goes hand in hand with physical labor, he said. But Tulley said the most important factor in farming hemp is that the Navajo Nation is getting in on the ground level. Industrial hemp will be the crop of choice for the 21st century, he said. Tulley said hemp farmers in Kentucky, Hawaii and the whole nation of Canada predict that hemp will be around for a long time. He noted that some major car companies, such as Ford and BMW, are using hemp by products for the interior of their vehicles.

Hemp is a healthy alternative to economic development that damages Mother Earth and the life forms, including the five-fingered one, that live off her, he said. Dine CARE or Dine Citizens Against Ruining the Environment is a nonprofit grass roots environmental organization. Boucher said that up until 1930, lacquer, paints were all made from hemp seed oil. But then he said the petroleum industry overtook natural industry and now all paint has petroleum oil, except for specialty stores, which sell paint made from flax seed and linseed. Boucher said his company is forced to purchase hemp from Poland and China, which other hemp companies also must do because no one is farming it in the United States.

He said the future for the Navajo Nation can eventually involve producing hemp items to market. Boucher, whose has also been involved in protecting the environment, said he became involved in hemp production because he has children and he wants them to have a healthy future. When I leave this place, I want to have at least picked up my trash. Money can't buy healthy people and a healthy environment," he said. Keeswood reiterated that the approval of the council doesn't mean Hogback Chapter, which is his chapter, will be handing out hemp seeds. The next step is for the council to create legislation to regulate industrial hemp, which must go before the council's Economic Development Committee, Resources Committee, Public Safety Committee and Judicial Committee before it even gets to the council, he emphasized.

And while that's going on and after council approval, the Navajo Nation must apply to the US Drug Enforcement Department for a certificate to farm hemp, Keeswood explained. He said that at one time the federal government allowed industrial hemp to be grown and sold as an agricultural crop but because of lobbying by the growing timber and cotton markets, hemp was outlawed. Keeswood said that information is documented. Boucher said Hempstead uses an ancient Chinese character on its clothing that is the symbol for hemp. Ancient societies, such as the Egyptians and Chinese, believed hemp was the oldest cultivated plant on the earth, he said. Boucher added, "It's prehistoric."The council's vote on amending the Navajo Criminal Code to distinguish industrial hemp from marijuana was 58 in favor, 11 opposed and one abstaining.


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