Activists Dig Into Efforts to Legalize Hemp in U.S.

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By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You want to dig a garden, you need a shovel. You want to dig a guerrilla garden of illegal hemp on the front lawn of Drug Enforcement Administration headquarters and get arrested for the cameras, you need a symbol.

Shortly before they all were happily handcuffed Tuesday, the farmers took one look at what the activists had brought to dig with, and just shook their heads.

The symbolic shovels were shiny, chrome-plated affairs, the kind for turning the earth in a Washington photo op, stamped with slogans: "Reefer Madness Will Be Buried." When the shovel blades were experimentally pressed into the mulch outside the group's hotel, they bent like toys.

"You'll have a real hard time getting through the grass," observed Wayne Hauge, 51, a North Dakota farmer whose previous interactions with police amount to a ticket for driving an overloaded truck of lentils. "Not exactly the divot I was thinking of."

But never mind.

Time to leave for the demonstration, the protest, the blow against the empire of DEA regulations.

They piled into a 1985 Mercedes-Benz painted the color of a Granny Smith apple. Its diesel engine had been converted to run on waste cooking oil supplied for free by a restaurant in Columbia Heights. For the adventure, Adam Eidinger, communications director for the advocacy group Vote Hemp and owner of the Mercedes, spiked the cooking grease with waste hemp oil. He was wearing pants, shirt, socks and shoes all made from hemp.

The hemp mobile purred over the Potomac River on the road to Arlington.

Farmers and activists say that industrial hemp, as they call it, will not get you high. It has minuscule levels of THC compared with marijuana. But unlike governments in Canada, Europe and China, the DEA will not allow it to be cultivated in the United States, much less on its own front lawn across from the Pentagon City mall. So the expanding industry, estimated at $360 million annually by advocates, is based on imports.

Hauge has been certified to grow hemp by North Dakota. He thinks the crop will help his fourth-generation family farm thrive. He has a federal case on appeal to force the DEA to yield to the state law.

Also in the car was Will Allen, 73, an organic sunflower and canola farmer from East Thetford, Vt. He has been arrested for protesting the Iraq war, he said. He wants to add organic hemp in rotation with his other crops.

The other passenger, tall and lanky in a pinstripe suit with Alcatraz cuff links, was not a farmer. He was David Bronner, 36, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps in Escondido, Calif.


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