Let Them Grow Hemp
Back in the day, America had a federal government. That meant that the national government was responsible for national defense, foreign policy, and not much else. That meant that states were free to govern themselves as they saw fit. That meant that states were free to act in the best interests of their citizens.
Sadly, that's all changed. Now Washington D.C. exercises more and more control over what states can -- and cannot -- do. Case in point: North Dakota.
But no place has challenged the government as fiercely as North Dakota. Its legislature has passed a bill allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp and created an official licensing process to fingerprint such farmers and a global positioning system to track their fields. This year, Mr. Monson and another North Dakota farmer, with the support of the state's agriculture commissioner, applied to the Drug Enforcement Administration for permission to plant fields of hemp immediately.
This battle is decidedly, and Midwesternly, pragmatic. In 1993, scab, a fungus also known as Fusarium head blight, tore through this region, wiping out thousands of acres of wheat, a prized crop in North Dakota, where agriculture remains the largest element of the economy. Hard rains left water pooling in fields, giving scab an opening. The fungus has turned up in varying degrees ever since, even as farmers searched for a cure.
But hemp, Mr. Monson argued, offered an alternative for North Dakota's crop rotation. Its tall stalks survive similarly cool and wet conditions in Canada, just 25 miles north of here, where it is legal. And it suits the rocky soil left behind here by glaciers, soil that threatens to tear up farm equipment for anyone who dares to plant crops like beets or potatoes beneath ground.
Years and studies and hearings later, few here have much to say against hemp "” a reflection, it seems, of the state's urgent wish to improve its economy. Recent hemp votes have passed the legislature with ease, though some questions linger. How big a market would there really be for hemp? What about the worries of drug enforcement officials, who say someone might sneak into a farmer's field of harmless hemp and plant a batch of (similar-looking) marijuana?
Roger Johnson, the state's agriculture commissioner, said hemp fields would be the worst places to hide marijuana. Under state rules, Mr. Johnson said, such fields must be accessible for unannounced searches, day or night, and crops would be tested by the state. Also, he said, a field of hemp and marijuana would cross-pollinate, leaving the drug less potent.
"We're not wide-eyed liberals,"" Mr. Johnson said. "The D.E.A., they're the crazy ones on this. This sort of illogical, indefensible position is not going to prevail forever."
Summary: North Dakota desparately needs a new cash crop. Hemp is safe and usable in thousands of different products -- much like the venerable peanut. The D.E.A. gets the willies about marijuana -- a drug that's safer than nicotine and alcohol. Result: North Dakota can go pound sand, the central government reigns supreme.
That's tragically infuriating. It's time for states to take back the authority that they've been quietly ceding to Washington.