The gangly plant -- once a favorite of military ropemakers -- couldn't catch a break. Even as legalized medical marijuana has become more and more commonplace, the industrial hemp plant -- with its minuscule levels of the chemical that gives marijuana its kick -- has remained illegal to cultivate in the United States.
Enter the lost hemp diaries.
Found recently at a garage sale outside Buffalo but never publicly released, these journals chronicle the life of Lyster H. Dewey, a botanist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture whose long career straddled the 19th and 20th centuries. Dewey writes painstakingly about growing exotically named varieties of hemp -- Keijo, Chinamington and others -- on a tract of government land known as Arlington Farms. In effect, he was tending Uncle Sam's hemp farm.
What's gotten hemp advocates excited about the discovery is the location of that farm. A large chunk of acreage was handed over to the War Department in the 1940s for construction of the world's largest office building: the Pentagon. So now, hempsters can claim that an important piece of their legacy lies in the rich Northern Virginia soil alongside a hugely significant symbol of the government that has so enraged and befuddled them over the years.
All thanks to Lyster Dewey.
A small trade group, the Hemp Industries Association, bought Dewey's diaries. The group's leaders hope that displaying them for the first time on Monday -- the start of what they've decreed the "1st Annual Hemp History Week" -- will convince the universe that hemp is not a demon weed and was used for ropes on Navy ships and for World War II parachute webbing. The ultimate goal is to spur the government to lift the ban on hemp production, a policy that especially riles activists because foreign-produced hemp oils and food products can be legally imported.