Hemp and Hype

Will anti-drug hysteria give way to the lust of profit?

POLITICAL BEDFELLOWS DON'T come much stranger than the alliance coalescing around the legalization of hemp. And now the movement, which counts among its supporters the American Farm Bureau and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), is getting a boost in the Minnesota Legislature owing to the support of state Senate majority leader Roger Moe (DFL-Erskine).

Just last week, a Moe-sponsored bill to license hemp growers in Minnesota passed the state's Agricultural Committee. Moe hails the plant as an "agricultural Rip Van Winkle" that could be a boon to a tattered farm industry and a source of jobs statewide. He also points out (as hemp advocates have always liked to do) that the U.S. Constitution was itself drafted on hemp paper, and that our first president grew the plant. Needless to say, Moe takes pains to point out that he remains adamantly opposed to the legalization of pot and other drugs--precisely the stigma that's dogged the once-common hemp plant for a couple of generations now.

The difference between pot and hemp is largely a matter of potency; hemp is very low in THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. It's also a great industrial fiber, and, according to some analysts, one of the more promising ways for the country's tobacco farmers to diversify as cigarettes come under greater and greater fire.

But the profit potential obviously isn't limited to present or former tobacco producers. Although no state has yet allowed large-scale hemp production, 10 states have introduced industrial hemp bills, some of them sponsored by prominent conservative lawmakers. In January, Vermont passed a bill to conduct a hemp marketing study, and other states, such as Hawaii and Colorado, are also looking hard. "They haven't listened to us over the last 25 years," says NORML state coordinator Tim Davis, "but obviously they'll listen to big business and industry, because [pols] need the money. I've been doing this too long to be persuaded that politicians do things for reasons other than that."


YET ANOTHER STADIUM scoop from the Pioneer Press: In a piece that should have been much more widely noticed (and probably not relegated to the opinion page), associate editorial page editor Steve Dornfeld takes note of the eerie similarities between the current debate and another public bailout of a Carl Pohlad enterprise--the metro area's bus system. The 1970 acquisition of what was then Twin City Lines, Dornfeld writes, "enabled [Pohlad and associates] to avoid bankruptcy and emerge with a fist full of cash that no private buyer would ever have offered." By the time it was over, Dornfeld goes on, "the taxpayers ended up paying $7.9 million for a bus company with an outdated, unreliable fleet; declining ridership; and a huge unfunded pension liability."

None of this came about by accident. Twin City Lines turned a profit for most of the 1960s. But instead of upgrading ancient buses and raising driver salaries, the money went into "diversification" as parent company MEI Inc., of which Pohlad was a big shareholder and top officer, acquired properties like the Hotel Tropicana in Las Vegas.

In 1969, after the company's drivers went on strike, the Legislature gave the Metropolitan Transit Commission power to acquire MEI by condemnation. Pohlad said he'd sell for about $15 million; the public's attorneys argued said the bus company was worth close to zero. The final price tag was $7.9 million. And that money, Dornfeld notes, enabled Pohlad to build MEI into an enterprise that would net him, by 1986, a personal profit estimated at $160 million.


LITTLE ALFIE IS back on the chopping block. Logging at the Superior National Forest tract was suspended in December after environmentalists discovered that the U.S. Forest Service had not done the required environmental assessment before selling the 100-year-old red and white pines ("The Lore of the Pines," 1/29). Now the service has announced it still wants the harvest to go ahead. A preliminary analysis prepared by the Lacroix Ranger District notes, as had previous documents, that "a continuous timber resource supply is very important to the local and regional economy," and that big, "sawtimber" trees are "especially in demand in the local area." Public comments on the document will be taken until April 14. CP


How in this irreligious world do we make sense of life? How do we make meaning of the random collection of experiences and incidents that make up our existence? How else but by defining the hell out of everything in sight. Once something is categorized, taxonomized, broken down into its component pieces--only then do we feel in control. Public Domain inaugurates an occasional feature exploring the world of high definition: What is the definition of... This week, in honor of spring, we present from the U.S. Department of Agriculture WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF... HOT DOGS

Fact Sheet on Hot Dogs

Whether you call it a frankfurter, hot dog, wiener or bologna, it's a cooked sausage and a summertime favorite. It can be made from beef, pork, turkey or chicken--the label must tell which. And there are federal standards for its content.


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