Once upon a long bygone time, hemp grew far and wide across the American landscape. Colonial law required farmers to grow hemp to meet the ravenous appetite for rope and lamp oil. Industrial revolutionaries turned to hemp for a bewildering array of uses. Hemp remained one of the nation's foremost cash crops deep into the last century, when it was swept up in the anti-cannabis crusade and federally outlawed thanks to the machinations of industrial powerhouses like DuPont.
But as Rick Trojan embarked last week from Alpine on his hemp-proselytizing road trip, he joined a growing crusade to rescue the plant from its legacy as victim of the drug war and was cast into a role as savior of the American farmer and boon to the nation's health.
His is a political mission undertaken out of moral obligation. Never mind the fact that hemp contains only trace amounts of psychoactive compound; the United States remains one of the only nations that bans growing the ancient crop, which has tens of thousands of applications—oftentimes as a far healthier or otherwise superior alternative.
"If you had told me three years ago I was going to be driving across the country on a hemp bus, I would've told you you were out of your mind. Now, I don't really see any other option," Trojan said as he prepared to leave from the Mt. Hempire store in Alpine. "People are ignorant about hemp because they've been intentionally misinformed. But once they learn the truth, it's a no-brainer. There are so many benefits; health, environment, fuel, we can get rid of so many toxic things that we have around us."
The 39-year-old hemp activist from Colorado—a former University of San Diego student—fired up his converted 1993 GMC Vandura for a route that will take him through California to rally state legislators before heading to the Republican and Democratic national conventions. There, he and a growing legion of hemp activists will try to convince party delegates to add the Industrial Hemp Farm Act to their platform.
Passage would allow states to grow hemp and produce tens of thousands of hemp-based goods. Activists have already made political headway, starting with a surprise step toward legality with hemp's inclusion in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill.
But in California, that progress was stymied when Gov. Jerry Brown subsequently limited access to universities and government research projects.
That means all of the hemp in the mind-boggling array of the goods Cherie Bromley-Taylor sells out of Mt. Hempire is imported, typically from Canada—an infuriating and nonsensical reality for the 58-year-old, who retired two years ago with her husband to devote themselves to spreading the hemp gospel in Alpine.
Her shoes are hemp. She uses hemp soap. She eats the seeds and soothes her aches with hemp-based topical rubs. Even her pets eat hemp biscuits.
"You can access or grow marijuana more legally right now with a medical card than you can hemp. What? That's horribly pathetic," Bromley-Taylor said. "This is about is bringing the American farmer back into the game and getting the seeds in our soil. There's no reason hemp shouldnít be put back in our economy, saving family farms."