Friday, August 14, 2009

Should We Grow the Ultimately Green Product?

(from the August/September 2009 Editor's Note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

I’ll start this opinion piece with a surprising question, just to get your fingers itching to respond. What do you think of legalizing marijuana?

I told you it would get you itching to respond. Before you call me irresponsible, let me tell you why I ask. The asphalt industry could get some intriguing benefits from the Cannabis sativa L. plant.

Now, before anyone gets too nervous, I’ll share that I have my reservations about a flat legalization of hemp growth. I’m paranoid enough about our youth and that group’s propensity for using a gateway drug to get into serious trouble with health (and the law) to suggest that any legalization of Cannabis sativa would have to come with close regulations and actual enforcement of those regulations. So when I ask if we should legalize marijuana, I’m not talking about handing a baggie and some rolling papers to a teenager. I’m talking about an ultimate green product for the asphalt industry.

According to the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp (CRRH), the Cannabis sativa plant produces more protein, oil and fiber than any other plant on earth. It’s that “oil” concept that caught my attention. Because the CRRH Web site makes grossly inaccurate, sweeping statements about petroleum, I double-checked its facts about the plant’s benefits against white papers and grant-funded research. Lo and behold, those people are onto something. I also learned that the permit-holding growers who produce medicinal marijuana do so with environmentally responsible practices, whereas the illegal growers are left to literally poison water supplies and animals with their unlawful habits. This leads me to think that legalization and regulation offer yet another benefit to the environment.

The grossly inaccurate, sweeping statements CRRH officers made about petroleum and diesel make me uneasy, though. I’m not going to call anyone a conspiracy theorist (mostly for fear of getting sued), but it sounds a wee bit reactionary of the CRRH organizers to accuse the petrochemical industry as a whole of causing the prohibition of marijuana. I imagine there are some religious groups who fall into lock-step with the concept that teens and tweens getting their hands on readily accessible pot is a negative idea. I would agree with them. I believe in the gateway drug concept. Seen it in practice. Do I believe there are ways to use hemp for good without putting the pretty leaves in the public domain where teens and others will grab it for dangerous entertainment? Of course. And that’s what I’d like to discuss here.

If we as an industry can come up with a suggestion for growing Cannabis sativa plants for positive, productive byproducts such as biofuels, fibers, medicine, etc., do you think we should draft the motion and put it before legislators? California’s looking for a way to tax it already. Find me a legislator who doesn’t like that concept these days. So what do you think? Is this country ready to legalize the growth and use of hemp? Do you think legislators could do it without legalizing the death-use of it?

I’m not suggesting we get into bed with folks who, at first blush, look like lying conspiracy theorists, but instead we could make our own friends in the alternate fuels arena to draft a concept legislators will actually read. Getting oil from alternate, renewable sources is a big win for an industry dependent on oil supply. When that source is something that can also produce fibers and medicines, it looks quite “green.” We just need a way to keep it from getting out of control and harming the population we wish to enhance and protect with our product—good roads.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor

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