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c. Rudi Klimpert


letters, opinions, editorials

re: fluid situations

Dear Friends Back East,

I trust your Big Apple holiday season has been cheerful, chestnutty and warm, and hope 2014 treats us all with tolerance and leniency. (We should periodically compare notes on this.)

Do you recall my previous letter describing the road construction maze betwixt Placitas and Bernalillo and my financial advice to invest in firms producing orange and white traffic drums and stanchions? Well, we have since experienced so much road-widening and paving that a new airport seems in the offing, and that it could become operational even now if only a terminal and control tower were in place.

No, I don’t mean an airport the size of LaGuardia or JFK, but certainly larger than the ones in Albany or Harrisburg. (This is but a rumor currently, but stay tuned. It’s a fluid situation.)

Speaking of airports, I have a small tale of woe to report. As you may recall, Mary Better Half and I were to embark on a Danube river cruise early in the month—from Nuremberg to Budapest with highly desirable Christmas market stops en route. But…as we were about to board our Albuquerque-based aircraft to make the critical European connection in Atlanta, our captain emerged, struck a mournful deathwatch pose, and announced that our airplane was leaking hydraulic fluid. He indicated the delay could be as little as sixty minutes or as long as 13 weeks, the latter being the greater possibility.

It suddenly dawned on me that, according to laws of physics, in order to get to Nuremberg, we would first have to leave Albuquerque. To make a long story short, the combination of delay, plus unavailable seats on alternate flights, forced us to cancel this long-planned trip. And that, my friends, is why you have not received post cards describing my own judgments at Nuremberg; my tales from Vienna’s woods; my reports on Blue Danube waltzing; or any souvenir pouches of paprika from Budapest.

When we left the house, many hours earlier in the day, we had tender good-byes with Maine Coon Cat Patrick who demonstrated pronounced dejection at the sight of our suitcases. On our return that same evening, he stared at us from the cozy embrace of his pet sitter, his wide eyes seemingly asking, “What is this—some cruel hoax?!!”

After hearing our explanation of the fluid leak, his sour expression remained unchanged. I know what he was thinking: “Fluid leak! Boss, you’re always having fluid leaks! They don’t stop you! In fact, they speed you up!”

So, now we spend our days anxiously awaiting reimbursement from our travel insurance company. Nothing yet, but it’s a fluid situation.

Your Friend,

—Herb, Placitas


A Colorado carpenter takes a chance on hemp

—Allen Best

This October, Ryan Loflin did what nobody in the United States has done in 55 years: he publicly harvested a crop of hemp. He deliberately ignored long-standing federal policy, bucked the advice of farm organizations, and his project was shunned by the state university set up to assist farmers.

The lanky, soft-spoken Loflin carried out this act of agrarian insurrection on sixty acres of his father’s farm near Springfield, Colorado, a town of 1,500 about thirty minutes from both Oklahoma and Kansas, in the heart of the Dust Bowl. Here, the scant trees lean away from the constant hard winds. A single wind turbine stands in the distance. There would be more, Loflin says, if there were power lines. Springfield clearly needs an economic boost. “Just look at Main Street,” Loflin says: one steakhouse, four motels, and many boarded-up storefronts. Could hemp be the answer?

It is, according to proponents, the answer for almost everything. Hemp can be used in products from rope to auto parts, to plastics, shampoo, to vitamin supplements. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written on paper made from its long fibers; our first three presidents—Washington, Adams, and Jefferson—were hemp farmers. And the plant requires half or less the water that corn does, Loflin points out, making it better suited for the arid High Plains.

Standing in his field of chest-high hemp back in August, his reddish-blonde hair poking from under a sweat-stained Dragon Sheet Metal hat, Loflin explained that he inherited an entrepreneurial streak from his grandfather, who owned a string of Gibson’s discount stores. Hemp could revitalize eastern Colorado’s hardscrabble farm towns, he argued, which, like most in the Great Plains, have seen better days.

An exodus has been occurring for decades. After graduating high school in 1991, Loflin himself moved to Colorado’s mountain resorts, first Breckenridge, and then Crested Butte, where he now reclaims old barnwood for use in new homes. But when Colorado voters in 2012 legalized recreational marijuana—and, almost as an afterthought, the growing of hemp—he returned to his farming roots.

The story of hemp is inexorably linked with marijuana. They are both varieties of Cannabis sativa and have the same spiky leaves. But marijuana commonly contains between three and thirty percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the drug’s psychoactive agent. As defined by Colorado’s pending regulations, hemp can contain no more than 0.3 percent, enough to give you a headache, perhaps, but not a high.

The plant is essentially collateral damage in the nation’s long war on drugs. In 1937, the Democrat-controlled Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act after Bureau of Narcotics head Henry J. Anslinger warned that “marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.” In defining “marihuana,” however, that law exempted the mature stalks of the plant, fiber, oil, or cake made from the seeds, and sterilized seeds. During World War II, the federal government actively encouraged farmers to grow hemp for ropes.

The 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act contained the same definition of marijuana, but also made hemp a Schedule I controlled substance, illegal to grow without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration, which has declined to award them.

Federal policy was further muddled in August, when U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole notified federal prosecutors that blocking landmark marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington would not be a priority. However, the Justice Department had previously reneged on promises that it would look the other way on medical marijuana in California and Montana.

Given this murky legal landscape, Colorado State University, the state’s land-grant school, has avoided hemp the way somebody might cross a street to avoid an aggressive panhandler. Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, would give it and other universities cover for research and protect federal research grants. Despite support from libertarian conservatives, the bill has languished. Similarly, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union warned its members against planting this year and risking the loss of federal crop insurance.

Just how much hemp will mean for rural incomes is open to debate; the U.S. market—which may amount to some five hundred million dollars—is currently supplied by imports. “Nobody is going to suddenly get rich and retire by growing hemp,” says Mick McAllister, director of communications for the Farmers Union.

Loflin has squirreled away seeds from October’s harvest for an even larger planting next year and hopes to at least partially fill orders from Whole Foods and Dr. Bronner’s, both of which make natural soap. Other farmers in Springfield, including his two cousins, also may plant next year. Last May, as Loflin prepared to sow, he said he suspected that federal drug agents had other things to think about than his farm. So far, his theory has held up.

This article originally appeared in the November 25, 2013, issue of High Country News (hcn.org).

 
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