Breaking News: Senate Ag. Committee leaders agree on bipartisan Farm Bill language that will include a hemp reform provision

Happy Hemp History Week!

Each year we end up having some great news to report during Hemp History Week and this year is no different. Vote Hemp was in Washington yesterday for our lobby day with participants from around the country who conducted more than 70 meetings advocating for passage of legislation to bring back commercial hemp farming in the U.S.

While we were on the Hill, Senate Agriculture leaders announced they are releasing a new bipartisan Farm Bill today and hope to have it passed before the end of June. Yesterday during a Lobby Day meeting, Sen. Boozman (R-AR) informed us that Senator Roberts and Senator Stabenow have included language from the Hemp Farming Act language in the base bill. This is huge news!

The Farm Bill is must pass legislation that has to be reauthorized every 5 years. This is our best chance yet to legalize commercial hemp farming.

This week we also saw Sen. McConnell and Senator Wyden pass a resolution via unanimous consent commemorating Hemp History Week. Senator Wyden also spoke about the need to pass the Hemp Farming Act on the Senate floor:

Wyden: Hemp History Week and Urging Congress to Allow American Farmers to Grow Hemp

We have the wind at our back thanks to your support. Together we will bring hemp farming back to American agriculture.

Eric Steenstra

President, Vote Hemp

DONATE NOW

Fresh crop: Wilson among Kentucky’s new hemp farmers

Chad WilsonChad Wilson of Cave City stands next a row of industrial hemp he is growing on his farm called the Sacred Seed Farm. He is growing hemp for the cannabidiol or CDB, which is extracted from the plant and can be used to treat certain illnesses. Gina Kinslow / Glasgow Daily Times

BY GINA KINSLOW gkinslow@glasgowdailytimes.com

CAVE CITY – Seven years ago, Chad Wilson was anti-industrial hemp, but that’s mostly because he didn’t really know what it was. He thought industrial hemp and marijuana were the same thing.

But they’re not. Industrial hemp is different from marijuana, even though they are part of the same plant family.

“All my life I was told to stay away from the Devil’s lettuce, and that’s what I did as a good southern boy,” he said. “I didn’t understand that hemp wasn’t marijuana.”

The major difference between the two is that industrial hemp contains a much lower concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, than marijuana.

THC is the hallucinogenic that is found in marijuana.

“There is no getting high off industrial hemp,” he said.

After seven years, Wilson has come a long way. He has gone from being anti-industrial hemp to being an industrial hemp farmer. He is also now a cannabis activist.

He grows hemp on land in Cave City he calls the Sacred Seed Farm, and says he got into industrial hemp farming by accident.

“I was doing organic farming on a little two acre plot in Bowling Green. I realized my son did not know how to grow his own food and seeds. At that point I was just doing traditional gardening, so I got into finding ways to teach him and stumbled across some stuff on hemp and the nutritional value,” he said.

Then he discovered that studies are showing an extract of industrial hemp can be used to aid in the treatment of certain illnesses, even epilepsy. He also learned that industrial hemp can be used to make biodiesel fuel and clothing, among other things.

Wilson planted a little more than nine acres of industrial hemp this year. He is one of two hemp farmers in Barren County, and one of many across the state.

“In order to be a hemp producer, it is a permitting process and that process is handled by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in cooperation with law enforcement so that everybody is on the same page. They know where every hemp production is,” said Chris Schalk, Barren County’s Agriculture Extension Agent. “I guess this is probably the second or third year for the permitting process.”

The federal farm bill of 2014 allowed state departments of agriculture to create industrial hemp research pilot programs.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles hosted a roundtable discussion for Barren County producers in October at the Barren County Cooperative Extension Service’s office off West Main Street, and during his talk he mentioned industrial hemp.

“Industrial hemp obviously gets a lot of publicity. We have a very strong industrial research hemp program here. We want to remind people that this may not be a silver bullet for tobacco, but it might be something that works for some farmers. It may not work for others,” he said. “My family used to grow it in World War II because the government asked them to for the U.S. Navy. For some people we believe this could be a profitable market.”

On Wilson’s Sacred Seed Farm, he grows industrial hemp for the cannabidiol or CDB, a natural plant compound with significant medical benefits.

Wilson is co-owner of a Louisville-based business called Green Remedy.

“We buy the hemp from the farmers and then we take it into our facility and we have a CO2 extraction where we extract the CDB and then we make the tinctures and the capsules and the isolets and all the different kinds of products, and it is a Kentucky Proud Product,” he said.

Wilson is also owner of another business called Modern Concepts, which is located on the Sacred Seed Farm in Cave City.

“This is about a 4-year-old business that I moved from Bowling Green because I wanted to get back to small town America. I wanted to get back to country living and back home to the country,” Wilson said. “We’re losing farm families every day across the state and my family was one of the ones who lost their farm in the early ’80s due to the economics of farming. For me, it’s personal and it’s about getting my boys back to the farm and living simpler.”

Modern Concepts is a garden supply center that will offer organic, hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponicly grown plants.

“We’re also a distributor for a “Shark Tank’ product – the Tree-T-Pee. What we’re doing is basically going out and finding the specialty product for this industry and bringing it to Cave City,” he said.

Industrial hemp farming has become an economically viable business for many producers.

“There’s not a lot crops out there right now that can bring the economic hope to the small Kentucky farm like this plant can right now,” Wilson said.

Despite all the things industrial hemp has going for it, it is considered to be a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, along with other varieties of cannabis. But that is something U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, is hoping to change.

“I have a bill that I’m working on … that will address all of the updates that are needed with the hemp industry. And that’s the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017,” Comer said.

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 will do a lot of things, but the main thing it will do is reclassify industrial hemp from a controlled substance to an agriculture crop.

“That will solve a lot of the problems right there,” he said.

Comer, a former Kentucky commissioner of agriculture, referred to industrial hemp as being “a huge success story.”

“That’s something I was glad to be a part of in a big way and that’s kind of the issue that I’m identified with. When we passed it in 2013 in Kentucky, nobody would have predicted that here we are four years later and we are the leading hemp producing state in the nation,” he said. “It’s just been a real good success story. There’s a lot of hemp being grown in Kentucky. A lot of companies that are coming into the state are making a big private investment, so I think the future looks very bright for the hemp industry in Kentucky.”

Extracting CDB from industrial hemp is not the only thing that can be done with the plant.

“It is being used as fiber in textiles. It is being used as a heavy duty fiber in a lot of the tarps that is used in the military. We’ve got companies trying to use the fiber to make components for the automotive industry for mainly the dashboards and door panels for cars in Europe,” Comer said

Industrial hemp is also being grown for livestock feed.

“Murray State University is doing a lot of research on hemp from that aspect because it yields so much more per acre than fescue hay,” he said. “And they are testing the digestibility and the nutrient content. Cattle eat it. That’s for sure.”

Comer continued that he thinks more and more uses will surface for industrial hemp because it is a plant than can be used in so many ways.

“It can be used in bioenergy. It can be used in textiles. It can be used in pharmaceuticals. It can be used in construction. There seems like for every potential use of hemp there is interest in companies to come into the state and make an investment and start processing the hemp here in Kentucky, which would be good,” he said. “It would be good for farmers. It would be good for job creation.

“I think that once we can get legislation on the federal level that deregulates hemp, I think you’ll see more private dollars flow in and more processing facilities come online and therefore more farmers will grow it.”

CONTINUE READING!

ORGANIC HEMP IS IN DEMAND BUT CURRENTLY IT CANNOT BE CERTIFIED IN THE U.S.

 

ORGANIC HEMP IS IN DEMAND

BUT CURRENTLY IT CANNOT BE
CERTIFIED IN THE U.S.

HELP US CHANGE THIS!
See “Take Action” Section Below to Act Now.

Your participation in this call-to-action is crucial to our collective progress regarding organic certification of domestic hemp production.

Currently, hemp cultivated in the U.S. per Sec. 7606 Farm Bill regulations cannot be certified organic by the USDA, due to misinterpretation by the National Organic Program that aligns industrial hemp with other forms of cannabis.

We are asking all our supporters to register public comments for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Spring 2017 Meeting, which is being held in Denver, Colorado, this April 19-21.

Background

Congressionally mandated by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) and governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the NOSB considers and makes recommendations to the USDA National Organic Program (USDA-NOP) on a wide range of issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products.

Out of any rule-making process left functioning at the federal level, the NOSB is the most openly democratic in that any citizen is able to contribute to the process through written and oral public comment. It is because of this process that we have such robust standards where if international production is under equivalency and certified compliant under USDA-NOP standards, it may carry the USDA Organic Seal.

The USDA-NOP is currently basing approval of organic certifications for domestically-produced industrial hemp on a misinterpreted definition articulated on the “Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp,” which is in contravention of the Sec. 7606 definition and is confusing certifiers, producers, consumers, State Departments of Agriculture and law enforcement in the implementation of legal hemp pilot programs.

Take Action! Here’s What We Need YOU to Do:

The official NOSB-USDA-NOP Docket for the meeting can be found here. All written comments must be registered through this site by 11:59pm ET, Thursday, March 30, to be considered.

We are collectively recommending the main points in our registered written comments to the NOSB,

feel free to copy & paste the following points into the NOSB-USDA-NOP Docket page:

  1. We highly-value the congressionally-mandated NOSB process and the integrity of the USDA Organic Certification. 
  2. Like many other common crops, hemp is bioaccumulative in that it has the potential to uptake toxins in whatever medium it is growing. It is important for hemp products consumed by humans and animals to be distinguished as organic if they are grown as such, for consumers with these food safety considerations in mind.
  3. We ask that the NOSB make a strong recommendation to the USDA-NOP to immediately clarify the instruction “Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp Production” to allow organic certifications of Industrial Hemp adhering to the congressional intent of the Sect. 7606 definition, and removing the language “as articulated in the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp” from the instruction.

Please consider adding your own comments on how this issue affects you and your involvement in the hemp industry.

We encourage you to share this action so that others may join in solidarity.

Thank you for all you do!

SOURCE LINK

Hemp Industries Association Sues DEA For Ignoring 9th Circuit Decision in HIA v. DEA (& Please sign this petition for Hemp)

Hemp Industries Association Sues DEA

For Ignoring 9th Circuit Decision in HIA v. DEA

In 2001, the DEA issued new rules to ban hemp foods despite the fact that Congress had exempted them in the Controlled Substances Act. The HIA, Dr. Bronner’s, Nutiva and other plaintiffs went to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the illogical rules and won a victory. This ruling prohibited DEA from treating legal hemp products as controlled substances and helped the burgeoning hemp foods market to take off. 

Despite this victory and the clear order from the court prohibiting DEA from enforcing the rules, DEA has continued to put out incorrect and confusing information advising the media and state officials that hemp foods are still illegal if they are intended for human consumption! 

Today the HIA filed a motion with the court to ask that DEA be found in contempt for refusing the follow the courts order. You can read the filing here.

 

Image result for kentucky hemp

Let American Farmers Grow Hemp Once Again to Create Jobs and Rebuild the Rural Economy – Sign This Petition

Created by E.S. on January 20, 2017 – Sign This Petition

Industrial hemp was once a dominant crop on the American landscape. This hardy and renewable resource was refined for various industrial applications, including paper, textiles, and cordage. Unfortunately hemp was conflated with marijuana but hemp can't be used as a drug.

Over time, the use of industrial hemp has evolved into an even greater variety of products, including health foods, body care, clothing, auto parts, construction materials, biofuels, plastic composites and more.

Farmers in Europe, Canada and China all grow hemp and over $600 million in imported hemp products were sold in the USA in 2016. Congress has 2 bipartisan bills which would bring back hemp farming and create rural jobs. We request that President Trump work with Congress to pass hemp legislation in 2017 – Sign This PetitionSign This Petition

Hemp farmer contends harassment at justice center

Sergeant discussed issue with deputies, considers matter closed

 

A Bowling Green hemp advocate and business owner claims he was ordered to leave a baseball cap with a hemp leaf logo on it with court security personnel as he entered the Warren County Justice Center on Thursday.

Chad Wilson, who owns Modern Farm Concepts and is vice president of sales and marketing for hemp products company Green Remedy, said he accompanied his son to the justice center to get his driver’s license.

After passing through the metal detectors in the front lobby of the justice center, Wilson, who was wearing a T-shirt and hat promoting Green Remedy, said a deputy told Wilson he would have to leave the hemp-logo hat with court security or else he would have to leave.

Hemp and marijuana are both part of the cannabis plant genus, but hemp is genetically different and generally has negligible amounts of THC, the active chemical in marijuana.

Kentucky and several other states have legalized the cultivation and research of industrial hemp, which can be used in the making of paper, fabrics, cosmetics and several other products. Hemp growers, however, must get permission from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to raise the crop.

Green Remedy is one of 167 registered participants in this year’s Kentucky Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program.

Wilson attempted to explain what was on his hat and that he was a licensed grower, but court security officers said that Wilson’s hat promoted marijuana, Wilson said Friday.

“I was told basically that I had no right to come into a government building that my taxes paid for,” Wilson said. “I didn’t want to make a scene because I was trying to be a good dad, but I should have stood for my rights.”

Wilson said he gave the hat to court security officers, who stored it in a lock box until he left the justice center. As he left, Wilson recorded a video of himself in which he gave an account of the incident and posted it to his Facebook page.

Later on Thursday, Wilson said he went to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to complain about how he was treated and that Chief Deputy Maj. Tommy Smith apologized.

The court security officers are a division of the sheriff’s office.

Sgt. Andy McDowell said he was apprised of the situation after Wilson went to the sheriff’s office and he met with the court security officers on duty to discuss the incident.

CONTINUE READING…

“Hemp! Hemp! Hoka he!” – Alex White Plume

 

Oglala Hemp Grower Counts Coup On Feds

David Rooks

3/31/16

“Hemp! Hemp! Hoka he!” – Alex White Plume

This past Monday, at 1:30 p.m., David Franco, longtime member of Alex White Plume’s legal team, reached White Plume at his home north of Manderson, South Dakota with the news: “You won, Alex! We won! It’s a great victory!”

What they won was the overturning of a lifetime injunction against White Plume stemming from raids and destruction by FBI and DEA agents of two hemp crops on his property in 2001 and 2002. In subsequent actions, White Plume and a family member were charged with eight civil counts related to the growing, cultivation and processing of the plant.

About his lawyer’s call, White Plume said: “I was all by myself. Deb [his wife] was in Denver, so I couldn’t celebrate it with anybody.” The former Oglala Sioux Tribal vice-chairman and chairman (2004-06), said the news was still just sinking in a phone interview with ICTMN a few days later.

The 15-year battle has depleted White Plume personally and financially. “We were charged with conspiracy charges and additional charges. The feds crafted a plan to break me. Instead of criminal charges, they sued me civilly. Now I’m broke: my buffalo are gone, my horses are gone, they took it all. But we’re still standing.”

The ruling in United States vs. Alex White Plume, Percy White Plume, et. al., was described by White Plume as a legal slam-dunk. In a statement, Tim Purdon of Robins Kaplan Law Firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota said: “This order brings some justice to Native America’s first modern-day hemp farmer. For over 10 years, Alex White Plume has been subject to a one-of-a-kind injunction which prevented him from farming hemp.

“The 2014 Farm Bill changed the hemp farming laws for all Americans, but it took this order to put hemp pioneer Alex White Plume on equal footing. It’s a victory for Alex, but also for tribal sovereignty. We continue to urge DOJ to allow America’s sovereign tribes to explore industrial hemp farming under the 2014 Farm Bill in the same way the states have been allowed to.”

All White Plume wanted was a sustainable living for his family on their traditional family lands. After trying a few vegetable crops, he found the semi-arid growing season and soil suitable mainly for prairie grasses fairly daunting.

White Plume hit upon a plan. “The first time I got ahold of some hemp seeds was in 1998. We planted sterilized seeds and it didn’t work out. In ’99 I tried it again with plowed ground. Tom Cook came with some of his seeds and we planted about an acre and a half.” White Plume said it was like magic, the hemp grew really well.

He decided to go slow and keep the crop down to a few acres while he made a lot of contacts to sell his hemp fiber and seeds. Craig Lee, a Kentucky Hemp farmer with Kentucky Hemp and Flax provided useful advice. Alex’s wife Debbie had a pulp maker, and they began to make plans to use the fiber to make hemp paper. White Plume learned all he could, including that it takes hemp seeds a good 10 years to settle into the local soil and environment for optimum crops. Going slow would be wise, he thought.

The 2000 crop was very successful; “Every seed came up healthy,” said White Plume. “In 2001 and 2002 we had a bad drought, but the hemp kept growing strong. Our kids and grandkids planted, we had nothing to be ashamed of – it was hemp, not marijuana. We shared seeds and ideas with other people from other reservations.”

 

http://standingsilentnationfilm.com/PDF/appeal%20to%20case5-05.pdf

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/03/31/oglala-hemp-grower-counts-coup-feds-163975

Stars, Stripes, and Hemp Fly over Capitol

  • By Tim Marema
  • November 11, 2015

    Photo by Donnie Hedden 2015

    A plant the federal law says is a Schedule I controlled substance was used to make the U.S. flag that will fly over the Capitol on Veterans Day. Industrial hemp could be a boon for small farmers, say proponents, including the U.S. veteran who grew the hemp used to make the flag.

    An American flag made of industrial hemp grown in Kentucky by U.S. military veterans will be flown over the U.S. Capitol for the first time on Veterans Day, according to a press release from organizers of the event.

    The event is in support of federal legislation that would restore the industrial hemp industry in America.

    The 2014 farm bill granted states limited permission to allow cultivation of industrial hemp for agricultural research or pilot projects. Kentucky Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the legislators who supported the measure.

    “Hemp was a crop that built our nation,” said Mike Lewis, a U.S. veteran and Kentucky hemp farmer who directs the Growing Warriors Project. The project grew the hemp used to make the flag.

    “Betsy Ross’ first American flag was made of hemp. We have flags made in China now. That’s almost sacrilegious,” Lewis said. He served in the “Commander in Chiefs Guard” of the 3rd U.S. Infantry from 1992 to 1995.

    Twenty-seven U.S. states have enacted or are considering laws to allow industrial hemp cultivation or are petitioning the federal government to declassify industrial hemp as a drug.  The proposed federal legislation would remove industrial hemp from the controlled substance list.

    Joe Schroeder with Freedom of Seed and Feed said industrial hemp could be a big help to America’s small farmers.  “If a hemp industry is to thrive in America again and provide the stability for so many communities that tobacco once did, it has to start with the stability of the small farmer,” Schroeder said.

    Hemp advocates say the fibrous plant can be used as raw material in clothing, carpet, beauty products, paper, and even as building material, insulation, and clutch linings.

    About 30 countries allow cultivation of industrial hemp, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report. These nations produced about 380 million tons of hemp in 2011. The U.S. imported $37 million in hemp products in 2014, according to the report.

    Al Jazeera America reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s last record of a hemp crop was in the 1950s. The plant was grown to make rope during World War II. Its production peaked in 1943 when 150 million pounds were harvested from 146,200 acres.

    Hemp is related to the plant that produces marijuana but contains negligible amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Political observers say the effort to change U.S. law on hemp is part of a larger rethinking of cannabis laws.

    An opponent of marijuana legalization told Al Jazeera last year he doubted that a change in the U.S. industrial hemp laws would have much impact on the marijuana debate.

    “On the one hand, I think it’s part of a larger agenda to normalize marijuana by a few,” said Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national alliance that opposes pot legalization. “On the other hand, will it have any difference at the end of the day? I would be highly skeptical of that.”

    CONTINUE READING…

  • Information on “KCHHI”–Kentucky Hemp Health Initiative

     

     

    LINK TO KCHHI :

    Petition2Congress Logo

     

    Some background on the “KCHHI” Petition.

    It was re-written by Mary Thomas-Spears and modeled after the CALIFORNIA HEMP HEALTH INITIATIVE (shown below) which was started in 2012.

    It is important because it represents “REPEAL” of “PROHIBITION” at the State, Federal and Local levels of Government in the United States, in OUR case

    KENTUCKY!

    If “WE, THE PEOPLE” want to regain our freedom as a people to be “self-governed” we must take this very important step to push for what WE

    believe is right.

    No one should be punished for growing, using as medicine or for recreational purposes and most certainly of all using “medicinal marijuana” for

    OUR children’s HEALTH needs.  This is NOT to say that it is alright to give to a child under 18/21 years old when NOT being used medicinally! 

    That having been, said NO CHILD should have to do without this God-given medicine because of Government intrusion into our lives!

    I am praying that the citizens of Kentucky will examine the evidence – what we have seen so far is nothing more than Government

    interference in our lives at the Statutory level – even when OUR children’s lives are at stake!

    I realize that those with children in dire need are pressed to see ANY form of legislation enacted that would give their CHILD this medicine!

    I can honestly say that if I were in that position I would leave the State of Kentucky for Colorado today!  NOT because I like what Colorado

    has accomplished!  It is a mess out there – but at least my child would have what they need medically – forget everything else!

    The only other alternative at this point is to try to “secretly” medicate my child and hope that I do not get caught and my CHILD be taken away

    because the LAW doesn’t approve.  We all know the LAW is BULLSHIT!

    I started preaching REPEAL in 2010 and Mary Thomas-Spears had it figured out before me.  Everyone thinks that this is not worth working on

    and it is unobtainable.  I say it is!  If enough people will get behind the idea and we start telling our Government what we need as opposed to

    letting OUR Government ‘TELL US WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO LET US DO!  WE ELECT THEM! Not the other way around – however this is changing

    rapidly.  This is  a valid reason why all those who are eligible to vote MUST do so! Regardless of the fact that the elections are, at this point a “set up” we MUST

    retain the right to the voting process – so everyone make sure they register and vote, even if you feel there is no reason!  At least it keeps the

    freedom TO vote!

    It is close to the point that our entire Country will be under total control of every aspect of OUR lives, up to and including Religion and CHILD

    rearing.  If Kentucky lets this happen – so goes the rest of the Country!  (Check out the story :

    Connecticut Girl Speaks Out After Being Forced to Undergo Chemo) – Industrialism at it’s worse in my opinion, and it is happening

    everyday!  So stop thinking we CAN’T and start thinking YES WE CAN put an end to the tyranny  that is surrounding us and moving in on ALL of OUR freedom’s

    as we speak. STAND UP AND FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO BE FREE FROM PROHIBITION AND GOVERNMENT INTRUSION INTO OUR DAILY LIVES

    FOR NO OTHER REASON THAN THEIR DOMINENCE OVER US!

    We lost the first Civil War to the Industrialists.   LET IT NOT HAPPEN AGAIN!

    If you do not understand this I urge you to watch “Hell on Wheels” an AMC production which very well explains how the Industrialists took over

    and forced slave labor from one entity – the Agrarian (Farming) Community into the Industrialist building of the railroads and the war effort.

    Everyone was forced into leaving the family farms for the Industrial Revolution.  As a result we ended up with corporate farming.

    Of note:  The Emancipation Proclamation which “freed the Slaves” was NOT enforced in Kentucky because Kentucky had not seceded from the Union.

    It was only a strategy of War between the North and South and Kentucky “sat on the fence”  Don’t take me the wrong way…Slavery was never RIGHT!

    And Abe Lincoln did NOT like Slavery which has been documented historically.  However, this information proves that if the Government seems to

    be doing something “right” for the people you can bet it is for an ulterior motive.  With a legalize, tax and regulate mentality the Government owns us!

    Fight for the freedom from prohibition of your freedoms!

    Smk.

     

    PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK AND SIGN FOR YOUR RIGHT AS A HUMAN BEING TO BE ABLE TO FARM AND USE CANNABIS!  A GOD-GIVEN PLANT!

     

    Petition2Congress Logo

     

    CALLIFORNIA HEMP HEALTH INITIATIVE 2012

     

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    From Bootlegging to Pot Trafficking

     

     

    The outlaws of Marion County, Kentucky, defy one Prohibition after another.

    Mike Riggs | July 13, 2012

    The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate’s Code of Silence and the Biggest Marijuana Bust in American History, by James Higdon,

    When the United States lost the Philippines to Japan in December 1941, it also lost its sole supplier of industrial hemp, which the U.S. Navy used for rope. With the Pacific no longer fit for agriculture, the United States turned to nine states to grow hemp for the war effort. Of those nine states, the government picked Kentucky to cultivate the ideal hemp seed. And not just any part of Kentucky: It picked the state’s most militantly anti-authoritarian region, Marion County.

    When alcohol was prohibited, Marion County had been a hub for black market booze. Federal agents shut down a different distillery nearly every week and stationed armed guards to watch over the casks of liquor that had already been made. (The liquor itself wasn’t illegal, only its production, sale, and transportation.) Con artists and mobsters came regularly to Marion, where they either bribed guards or stole the booze outright. The night the feds put a convicted Al Capone on the Dixie Flier to ship him from Chicago to a penitentiary in Atlanta, the distillers of Marion County waited with their children alongside the train tracks to say goodbye to the man who had kept them housed and fed during Prohibition.

    So it was fitting that the government turned to Marion to grow hemp in 1941. Forty-nine years later, 70 descendants of the county’s starving bootleggers would be arraigned in federal court under the RICO Act and charged with organizing the largest marijuana trafficking ring in U.S. history. The operation spread across 10 states, and had produced 182 tons of grade-A marijuana. Investigative journalist James Higdon tells their story in The Cornbread Mafia.

    The man behind the enterprise was Johnny Boone. Born in neighboring Washington County, Boone was an agricultural whiz kid who won awards from the state 4-H program for the tobacco he grew as a teenager. By the time he reached young adulthood, he was a regular in Marion County saloons. Returning Vietnam vets exposed Boone to weed. While some locals were initially skittish about smoking herb, especially considering the condition of soldiers returning from the war zone, Boone loved it. By the mid-1970s, he was growing gourmet kush in the land of Maker’s Mark bourbon.

    Boone would eventually serve 15 years in federal prison, from 1988 to 2003. Shortly after his release, he was found to be growing yet again; he is currently on the run.

    Higdon’s treatment of Boone and what law enforcement agencies came to refer to as the Cornbread Mafia is charitable, on par with Steven Ambrose’s glowing and factually confused history of the industrial titans who built the Pacific Railroad or Richard Wolffe’s hagiography of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Except the Cornbread Mafia aren’t considered heroes by many people outside Marion County. Higdon’s book attempts to rectify that. The story of the pot growers and their bootlegging forefathers, he writes, is the story of “free spirits exercising their free will in the free market, the philosophical children of John Stuart Mill, maximizing their liberty with the least possible harm to others while at work in Rousseau’s natural state, which happens to be the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

    Higdon is not without a dog in the fight. He is a child of Kentucky himself, and thanks to his access to Boone he became the first journalist to be subpoenaed by the Obama administration’s Department of Justice. His portrait of Marion County and its bootleggers, past and present, is a welcome rebuttal to horror stories about cocaine cowboys, the Wonderland Murders, and the Medellin cartel. Not all drug dealers are vile or malicious, and the ones who are certainly aren’t vile or malicious simply because they’re selling drugs.

    Still, there are times I found myself recoiling at his attempts to excuse the lawbreaking done by Boone and his men. Charlie Stiles, a bootlegger and thief, is the county’s de facto leader—more so even than the mayor of Lebanon, the county seat. For Higdon, he’s one of the good bad guys: When he does bad things, he does them for Marion County. Like when he steals a semi truck full of window air conditioners and sells them to the Catholic hospital in Lebanon for a tenth of their value. Or when a local boy is seen doing donuts in the parking lot of the Catholic Church, and Stiles maims him with a shotgun to teach a lesson. (All the lessons in Marion are hard ones.) Likewise Boone, who succeeded Stiles as Marion County’s Robin Hood when Stiles was ambushed and shot to death by police in 1971, is, in Higdon’s telling, a good bad guy. Even though, in 1980, Boone and another Marion County grower nearly killed a Lebanon police officer, supposedly in retaliation for the police-led beating death of a Lebanon saloon owner six years earlier. Even Higdon’s suspicion that the real reason Boone attacked the cops was to distract them from the trucks hauling that year’s crop out of Marion does not tarnish Boone in his eyes.

    Higdon’s portrayal of the growers in Marion County is exceptional not just for its charity but for its nuance. The county was originally settled by Catholics in the 18th century, and Higdon explains how the region’s Catholicism allowed distillers and pot farmers to distinguish between man’s law and God’s law. That distinction allowed for gambling and boozing, but not prostitution; violence against lawmen when they invited it, but never against the church regardless of how much the rector complained about criminal activity.

    Absent from Cornbread Mafia is the handwringing and tearjerking that has come to define modern drug reporting. While Higdon spares no detail about the violence, corruption, and social instability that accompanies the growth of shadow economies, this is not a story about drug addiction. It is a story, Higdon writes, “of guns and piles of ammunition left unfired, of buckets of emeralds used as currency in Belize, of marijuana seeds smuggled from Afghanistan.” That, and “generosity, of brotherhood, of criminals carrying Christmas presents through the snow.”

    Mike Riggs is an associate editor of Reason magazine.

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