Duck Soup
The DEA Deforesting America


As editor of Heartstone, an environmental journal, I had the opportunity this spring to put our money where our mouths are: I decided to print our second issue on imported, forest-free, hemp-based paper. The decision was an expensive one — about a penny per page per copy — a cost differential that is entirely due to U.S. drug policy.

Heartstone is published in the Southeast, where higher expenses of a different sort are everywhere evident. The international wood and pulp industry has settled on our region like a horde of mega-locusts. Chip mills are grinding our mixed hardwood forests into paper stock, paving the way for pine plantations which are expected to comprise 70 percent of Southeastern forests in 30 years. The rich diversity of the native hardwood growth will be converted into a biological desert, supporting only 5 percent of the species which live here today.

The old growth timber in my neighborhood that is being chipped up for fax paper is being sacrificed to the anti-drug establishment’s fear of dope. Reefer madness, indeed.

Industrial hemp fiber (the pulped stems of a species of marijuana which has no detectable drug content), is such an obviously preferable choice that only a fool would campaign against it. Not only does it produce more fiber per acre than trees — without fertilizers and pesticides — but it is better quality fiber to boot! (It is the strongest known plant fiber.)

Widespread hemp production would not only take pressure off our remaining forests, but it would enhance paper recycling and provide an ideal rotation crop for depleted soils.

Pick up a Bible and feel the pages. Note how smooth and thin and strong they are. I have a Family Bible, printed in 1885, with pages still limber and unstained by age. Like most other Bibles, it is printed on hemp paper (as they have been for centuries) because folks want a highly valued book to endure. Plus, for a document that runs to hundreds of pages, thinness counts, and this requires a paper with high fiber strength. The quality of hemp paper garners consistent praise from the printers who use it, offering descriptions such as "terrific," or "superb."

Hemp’s toughness is exactly the curative for recycled paper as well. You’ve probably noticed that today’s environmentally correct brown grocery sacks bust out more easily. Each time paper fiber is re-used, the strands are chopped shorter and shorter, making recycled paper continually more flimsy. Hemp’s long fibers can renew recycled material, making resource conservation more effective.

Heartstone’s paper stock had to be imported from Canada because the U.S. government won’t let domestic farmers grow hemp. Drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey prefers deforestation to the conjectured possibility that grade school children will infer that better quality paper in their text books might mean it is okay to smoke marijuana. ("Gee, Mom, my science book is printed on hemp. I bet Einstein was a pot-head.") He has used his office to block marketing efforts at every level, temporarily halting (sterilized) hempseed imports, impounding shipments of hemp cloth and paper — throwing logs under the wheels of progress. (I mean this literally. The old growth timber in my neighborhood that is being chipped up for fax paper is being sacrificed to the anti-drug establishment’s fear of dope. Reefer madness, indeed.)

It would seem that the multi-millions of dollars our government has invested in drug labs has been wasted on the good general. Drug Enforcement Administration labs can’t detect meaningful quantities of tetrahydro-cannibinol (the active intoxicant in pot) in industrial hemp. The plants don’t even look the same. (It is as easy to spot smokeable marijuana growing in a hemp field as it is to detect it in a cornfield or a suburban backyard.) We might as reasonably ban California poppies from our gardens due to the opium poppy’s misuse, or Coca-Cola — flavored with the same leaves that yield up cocaine.

The history of American generals’ battle with the forest goes all the way back to our roots, when young George Washington chopped down that cherry tree, and continued through Gen. William Westmoreland’s defoliation of Vietnam. Gen. McCaffrey could perhaps be said to be supportive of a long tradition in his current undeclared war on our trees. At least the Father of our Country, like many of his patriotic comrades amongst the Founders, grew hemp.

C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina. To subscribe to his weekly online Soupletter, send email to $12/52 issues. Gift subscriptions /renewals: $8/52 issues. Send payments to C. Bothwell at: Ducksoup 300 Rush Creek Rd., Black Mountain, NC 28711.  

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