Are Some Hemp Advocates Tied to the Illicit Drug Culture?

By: Jeanette McDougal, MM CCDP, Chair, Drug Watch International Hemp Committee, Honolulu, HI, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
April 12 , 2002
For years, marijuana advocates have promoted hemp (industrial marijuana) as a farm crop, claiming that it is useful for different products, including food items. Recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took action to ban hemp products meant for human consumption, because they contain THC--the psychoactive compound in marijuana that is prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act.
Hemp advocates, led by the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), have sued the DEA in San Francisco Federal Court to prevent implementation of the hemp food ban.
At first glance, the HIA seems to merely be a trade association of hemp growers, processors, and food retailers. A closer examination of some of its key members, however, suggests close ties to the drug culture and the drug legalization movement.
The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is the oldest and most militant pro-marijuana organization in the United States. Several HIA members belong to the NORML Hemp Alliance (NHA). The NORML Hemp Alliance web site states that the hemp movement cannot be completely separated from the over all cannabis movement and that marijuana prohibition is wrong and must be repealed. The pro-drug Drug Policy Alliance (formerly The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation) has a link to Hemp on its website.
The Hemp Industries Association, now involved in the Federal suit to prevent the banning of hemp foods, was formed in the mid-1990s. High Times, the drug culture magazine, reported on the Association's first organizational meeting. High Times stated that--although the hotel asked attendees to curb their "pleasure" and keep it (marijuana smoking) indoors--the last day's impromptu networking session featured uninhibited outdoor marijuana smoking on the part of some members. High Times said of the meeting that, "It's HIGH (sic) noon for the hemp industries of America." The magazine commented that more than a few people in the organization enjoy a "joint" (marijuana cigarette) and some enjoy more than a few.
Jack Herer, an admitted longtime marijuana smoker and member of HIA, is universally recognized as the "patriarch of the modern hemp movement." He admonished attendees of this first HIA conference, "Don't forget that the joints you smoke and the fiber you make into clothes are the same plant." The article went on to say, "Some hempsters strained to get Jack to acknowledge that hemp just might be the most realistic avenue to legalization of marijuana." Among Herer's last remarks about the HIA conference were, "....this organization will be attacked like any other marijuana organization...."
Chris Conrad, first HIA President and current board member, recently appeared on High Times' "Top 25 Pot Stars" list. High Times quoted Conrad as saying, "I'm amazed at how many of the predictions I made in the late 1980s about industrial hemp and medical marijuana have since come true. We've linked ...(various groups)...into an alliance that knows hemp is here for good. Now the pot smokers need to come out of the closet to win their equal rights."
Conrad will speak on a panel at the 2002 NORML annual meeting on the subject of "Marijuana Cultivation: Growing Your Own Medicine." Conrad is billed on the agenda as an "author and cultivation expert."
Ken Friedman, first HIA Vice President and current member of the HIA
Advisory Board, is an attorney and president of the American Hemp Mercantile. He said, "I used to represent all those marijuana growers who are now in jail and I couldn't do it anymore. It was too painful. You can't fight in the courts and win. You'll win a case here and there but the system goes on. Maybe if we throw hemp products in people's faces, they'll begin to think differently."
Don Wirtshafter became Chairman of the HIA's Board at the first meeting and until recently was a member of the NORML Board of Directors. This marijuana "reform" group recently changed its annual meeting date so it occurs on April 20 (4/20), which is often called "National Get High Day." 4:20 is universally known as a code word for getting high on marijuana. Wirtshafter remarked that he first learned about hemp at a National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws conference. Although he is no longer a member of the NORML Board, Wirtshafter said, "I intend to keep on helping the movement in whatever way I can." Wirtshafter is currently a member of the HIA and also a member of NORML's Hemp Alliance.
Wirtshafter is one of 3 speakers at this year's pro-marijuana NORML Conference on "The Legal Status of Industrial Hemp." The other two speakers with Wirtshafter on this hemp panel also are closely affiliated with HIA. One is an HIA Board Member and the other is Chairman of HIA's Food & Oil Committee. This hemp panel is scheduled to speak immediately before admitted marijuana smoker and hemp activist Woody Harrelson.
As these relationships and links demonstrate, the hemp movement has always had strong ties to the advocates of marijuana legalization. As early as March 1990, High Times published its "extraordinary" plan to legalize marijuana via industrial hemp legalization. "For years information about how pot can be used as fiber, food, (etc.) ,"...has been spreading through the marijuana movement." The magazine went on to state that two hemp product retailers felt that the "way to legalize marijuana is to sell marijuana (hemp) legally. When you can buy it (hemp) at your neighborhood shopping mall, IT'S LEGAL (sic)!"
In 1994, High Times magazine said that it had been instrumental in getting the hemp movement off the ground, and added, "Now it's time for us to step back and let the movement run itself." Perhaps not coincidentally, 1994 was also the year the Hemp Industries Association was founded.
1. High Times, May 1995, Pages 48,49,52,66
5. High Times, December 1999 and
10. High Times, March 1990, Page 74
11. High Times, April 1994, Pages 44-47