Cannabis is Food

by Will Duffield

This weekend at the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party convention, I had the pleasure of meeting Shawn House, owner of Lancaster Trading House, and creator of the Hempzel. The Hempzel is a classic sourdough pretzel created with both wheat, and hemp seed. After purchasing the Lancaster Trading House from its former owner in 1997, Shawn began contracting with several Pennsylvania bakeries to produce the Hempzel. The dietary benefits offered by hemp seed have attracted the patronage of both individual internet customers through his webstore, and many natural foods retailers. Hemp seed contains proteins and a balanced mixture of several essential oils as well as potassium and vitamin E. Hemp seed also contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, delivering many benefits in a small package. For those who seek all these properties in a plant based product, hemp is an essential food.

Since the introduction of the Hempzel, the Lancaster Trading house has started selling several other hemp based products including hemp mustards and gluten free hemp pretzels. While the Hempzels are baked locally, the hemp seed must be sourced internationally because of the current federal prohibition of all cannabis growing. Even though the hemp seed used in the Hempzels does not contain THC in psychoactive quantities, and is Test Pledge certified to ensure that consumers are not ensnared by drug screenings. Shawn must purchase his hemp internationally, a problem which often increases the cost of hemp based products. Despite these costs, the benefits of hemp add tremendous value to consumer products that incorporate the seed.

Shawn believes that hemp ought to be regulated not by the Drug Enforcement Agency, but by the Department of Agriculture. This sensible decision would help to revive the historical understanding of cannabis as a useful crop. Shawn warns against legislation that establishes minimum acreages for hemp growers. Current minimums in Canada prevent farmers from growing less than 20 acres of hemp, pushing hemp cultivation away from the realm of the individual farmer, and incentivizing corporate agriculture by shutting many small growers out of the marketplace. Historically, early Pennsylvania farmers would often grown an acre or two of hemp to supplement their main crop, often growing more when tobacco prices were low. Hemp historically added value to the crops of Pennsylvania farmers, and could do so again, were it not for current federal regulations barring the domestic growing of Hemp. Products like the Hempzel can help to revive domestic consumer demand for hemp in everyday foods.hempzelssd4_09_300h

Cannabis is Culture

"Southern Humboldt County California, August, 1978. A volunteer sativa plant out in the meadow. For decades, families and children have lived in multiple contexts which include cannabis culture."  -- Ursi Reynolds.
“Southern Humboldt County California, August, 1978. A volunteer sativa plant out in the meadow. For decades, families and children have lived in multiple contexts which include cannabis culture.” — Ursi Reynolds.

Cannabis is Culture.  How is it Culture?  Culture is shared system of meanings that help groups of people understand the world they live in.  It is dynamic and always evolving, rather than a thing people possess.  Cannabis consumption means different things in different cultural contexts, none of them inevitable.  Cannabis consumption was made to mean “a threat to society,” beginning in the early 20th century, by associating it with socially threatening populations: Mexican migrant workers during and just after the Mexican Revolution and Black Jazz musicians.  The construction of Cannabis as a social threat galvanized popular opposition to cannabis consumption as an acceptable cultural practice, setting the stage for Cannabis prohibition.

Part I

In the 1960s, Cannabis use was associated with political, economic, and cultural rebellion.  This was especially the case on college campuses where many white children of the middle class became involved in the Civil Rights movement, in many cases from direct participation as 1961 “Freedom Riders” challenging de facto segregation in the American South.  In the wake of this particular mobilization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, the youth wing of the Black Civil Rights movement), challenged their white allies to work in their own communities to end racism.  For increasingly disaffected white youth in higher education, this ended up meaning that they sited struggles from college campuses — perhaps most famously, at the University of California Berkeley.  Students led the Free Speech movement in the early 1960s, but as the Vietnam War expanded student movements de-localized, and created solidarity with global anti-imperialist struggles that constituted the invisible Heat of the Cold War.

At the same time, radical countercultural spaces like the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco exerted gravitational pull for a wide range of disaffected youth with varying degrees of political consciousness but a determination to find a place to which they belonged.  An offshoot of the San Francisco Mime Troop, the Diggers, created a model for sustaining such a place and constituting such a community, by organizing “Free” spaces in which social needs could be addressed:  the Free Store, the Free Clinic, Free crash-pads, and Free Music.  Not all counterculture was “left,” even as the term itself evolved from a predominantly class meaning to one that incorporated diverse identity politics, and not all “left” was countercultural.  We can, however, provisionally identify “countercultural left” as a tendency that was oriented to both external and internal revolution, with that word “revolution” meaning lots of different things to lots of different people.  Perhaps the most common meaning was that many people found their political paths by changing their consciousness as they consumed particular criminalized biota and molecules — plants and synthetics.  Cannabis and LSD were the archetypal food for doing so.

As the “law and order” politician became an increasingly viable career path, U.S.-American voters began to understand cannabis as a social threat that was embodied by the countercultural left, which in truth did hate “Amerika” as a symbol of capitalist greed, imperialist impunity, patriarchal dominance, and racist structures.  Many were intensly patriotic or nationalistic and didn’t conflate “Amerika” with the United States of America, a place where people could be free to live how they wanted to.  The Weather Underground, in their 1971 first Communique [link goes here], asserted that “Guns and grass are united in the youth underground.”  Cannabis became a symbol of social upheaval and revolutionary consciousness, perhaps even the culprit for so many white middle class youth adopting a subjectivity of the oppressed.  It was an easy target for rallying increasingly political evangelical voters engaged in the reactionary “culture wars.”

Next in “Culture”:  Back to the Land and “Beyond Counterculture.”