Hemp happens: A new flag flies at City Hall

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Jason Amatucci, the founder of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition,  holds the American flag made of hemp that now hangs at City Hall. The flag was flown over the U.S. Capitol building on Veterans Day. Photo by Eze Amos Jason Amatucci, the founder of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, holds the American flag made of hemp that now hangs at City Hall. The flag was flown over the U.S. Capitol building on Veterans Day. Photo by Eze Amos

A proud group of industrial hemp supporters hoisted an American flag made of the crop on the Downtown Mall May 25, announcing that it would be presented to Willie Nelson—another major advocate for its legalization—at his concert that night.

“We’re trying to end this insanity of prohibition,” Mike Bowman, a Coloradoan and chair of the National Hemp Association, said before cranking the lever that raised the flag. Calling hemp the “crop of our founding fathers,” he noted that about 30 states have already legalized that variety of the cannabis sativa plant.

Virginia is one of those states. Last year, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill allowing Virginians to legally grow industrial hemp, which has a minimal level of THC and a different genetic makeup than marijuana.

Mike Lewis, one of the first in America to privately farm hemp, grew the materials used for the flag and noted at the ceremony that his flag flew over the U.S. Capitol building on Veterans Day.

Supporters are now gathering signatures for HR525, a resolution called the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. They will present the signatures to Congress on July 4, Bowman says.

Mitch Van Yahres, a former mayor of Charlottesville who served as the city’s delegate in the General Assembly for 12 two-year terms, was a hemp advocate who pushed legislation to study the economic benefits of the cash crop in the ’90s. He passed away in 2008.

“Mitch really led the charge to legalize industrial hemp,” former mayor Dave Norris said at the flag raising. “I really, really wish Mitch had been here today to see the fruit of his labor.”

Even our beloved Thomas Jefferson can be traced back to the plant. It is widely known that he grew hemp, which can be farmed as a raw material that can be incorporated into thousands of products, including clothing, construction materials, paper and health foods.

“Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see,” Thomas Jefferson is often quoted as saying, but researchers at Monticello, who have consulted many of his papers and journals, say they have never validated the statement and there is no evidence to suggest the third president of the United States was a frequent hemp or tobacco smoker.

Less contested is the TJ line: “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”

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