Hemp flag stokes industry hopes

Two workers adjust U.S. flags on the U.S. Capitol to prepare for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, DC, on January 17, 2013.

Today the American flag flying over the U.S. Capitol in Washington will be made of hemp -- that non-narcotic variety of cannabis that, like pot, is illegal to grow under federal law. The high flying hemp flag is part of a big push to change that, particularly given hemp's many industrial uses.

The flag is the brainchild of Colorado hemp advocate and farmer Michael Bowman. Bowman is lobbying Congress to follow Colorado's lead, and legalize the production of hemp. He says the inspiration for the hemp flag hit him one day as he was walking into the Capitol.

“I looked up and saw the flag flying and I thought wait a minute," he says. "What a symbol." For Bowman, a symbol for legalizing a plant that was widely used by our colonial ancestors.

“Washington and Jefferson were prolific hemp growers," he notes. Bowman says an early draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.

Eric Steenstra heads the Hemp Industries Association. He says now, you can’t grow hemp but you can buy lots of hemp products, like shirts, granola bars and even car parts.

“Literally millions of the cars on the road are driving around with hemp parts," he explains. "More than 30 percent of the Mercedes line includes hemp door panels.”

But all that hemp was grown in other countries. Steenstra  says there are now two bills in Congress that would change that. 

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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