Cannabis in Kansas: A Lost History Uncovered — Executive Summary
by Kelly Rippel
Bleeding Kansas Advocates, Advisor
Kansans for Hemp, Co-Founder
My vision in highlighting this research is to bring forth historical evidence about the importance industrial hemp had in the early economic viability of Kansas agriculture, and why the reintroduction of it and medicinal cannabis are crucial for multiple reasons. For decades Kansas was a large contributor to the hemp industry, and even ranked first in the nation for bushels per acre in 1863. By understanding and sharing this information, our call to action is to collectively accept the response of prohibiting cannabis was a damaging path to go down that must be reversed. The discovery of this data provides us a definitive place to begin transparently addressing what influences caused policies to change and why they have continued.
Based on this historical evidence we have a foundation for what path we must now forge to guide optimally-informed, responsible decisions for the common good of the environment and all citizens. Through evaluating and applying lessons from this research combined with today’s advancements, it is time Kansas contributes to the numerous industries that now benefit from its cultivation. Given the dozens of patents existing specifically for cannabinoid-based medicine, it is time to move past the hypocrisy and stigma about data proving efficacy and effectiveness of medicinal cannabis for patients. And finally, it is imperative to return industrial hemp to Kansas farmers as the legacy crop our fertile land once yielded.
Background & History
My father received a biology degree at Kansas State University before working in the medical field. While I was young my dad told me what he knew about cannabis: While earning his degree during the 1970s, he participated in a research project studying eradication methods of hemp in Riley County. I had been searching on and off for years when suddenly in September of 2017 I discovered the research my father had told me about. While citations do exist on the internet, full versions were unfortunately unattainable without going through institutional, thousand-dollar paywalls requiring login information. The research was difficult to obtain, but with the gracious help of staff at K-State I was successful. Within a couple weeks I had one of the only (if not the first) digitized copies of “Identifying and Controlling Wild Hemp (Marijuana.)” In the following days, I was excited to retrieve the related master’s thesis and began analyzing the data in its entirety.
Summary of Findings
- While there is undoubtedly valuable data in the three publications of inquiry, the hypothesized conclusions, the tone of negatively-biased language and overall intent were ultimately problematic and damaging to the studies’ credibility deriving from multiple conflicts of interest.
- Findings taken from all publications categorically helped the “war on drugs,” forcing millions of predominantly minority citizens into incarceration by federal and state agencies, in addition to the use of taxpayer dollars for entering farmers’ lands to eradicate a plant. It was in between the years of these studies (1974) when Kansas enacted the Controlled Substance Act grouping all varieties of cannabis in the same category, making it illegal. This however, as we now know, was not based on thoroughly-vetted scientific evidence.
- The number of times alone these works are cited in other studies shows it can be argued the risks of such academic-industry and government influences were neither managed nor contained, but instead intensified and expanded.
- Conflicts of Interest: When looking closely, the work benefited competing industries as the research was funded by the corporations Elanco Production Co. and Eli Lilly. All authors also gave acknowledgements to the Marijuana Control Steering Committee, content dealt with multiple competing industries, plus the text originated from, and gave reference to, medical and pharmaceutical research.
- Much of the terminology was reflective of what the aforementioned entities wanted to categorize the plant as: a weed-causing infestation that had to be killed since embracing it would decrease their profits and others. It was these efforts to influence contextual framing of phrases and ultimately academic research (which drove policy) that helped legitimize the war on drugs and the monopolies that are now being modified on a global scale.
- One of the most important and damaging of all conclusions is described in an excerpt saying a farmer could either practice deep plowing — which farmers know is not economically efficient, nor is it conducive to ensuring long term soil health or maintaining proper nutrient levels — while the other option required farmers to use tons of chemicals “without disturbance of the soil profile.” This is objectively inaccurate taking into account the devastation from generations of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides put on fields. As a result, taxpayer money is now going towards mitigating harmful algal blooms, nutrient loading and contamination of water sources caused by agricultural inputs. The study also documented and even encouraged various methods of eradicating “wild hemp” including the use of harmful chemicals my father used that have been known to cause cancer and fertility complications such as 2,4-D .
- Language from the study’s introduction demonstrated the true depth of misunderstandings during the 1970s regarding scientific and perceived differences between industrial hemp and higher-THC, medicinal cannabis. The underlying assumption that making a plant illegal would decrease its use has also been proven inaccurate as a total of at least 33 states now have some form of either hemp or medicinal cannabis regulation in place.
- A final and crucial finding admits the varieties of cannabis that grow throughout Kansas are not only low in potency, but do not fluctuate in cannabinoid content. This means authorities knew at the time of its publication and ratification there was not an objective or scientific justification to eradicate hemp based on the sole argument that it was thought to be a drug (Governor’s Committee on Criminal Administration Bulletin, Volume 1, no. 1, August 1970.)
Clearly an increase in understanding was needed (and in many ways still is) on behalf of institutions of higher education, law enforcement, and the public at large. At the same time we now have the tools in place to understand that industrial hemp and higher-THC, medicinal cannabis are completely different and therefore must be regulated differently. Cannabis cultivated for medicinal purposes cannot be grown anywhere near industrial hemp, as cross-pollination is proven to always decrease its potency. The variations between fiber and ‘drug’ types come in many forms, ranging from physical appearance and time of harvest, all the way to potency and expression of genetic traits. Taking into account the lack of advancements during the early years of cannabis research and the biases explored within this evaluative work, perhaps we can rediscover the importance of the scientific method. Together we have the collective responsibility to identify and accept inconsistencies we find, and decrease suppression of information (whether intentional or otherwise) that has not driven beneficial policies for our citizens or environment.
Farmers know industrial hemp grows well in Kansas and requires fewer overall resources compared to other commodities. Even as a rotational crop to improve successive yields of other crops, hemp is proven to help in multiple aspects. Its cultivation promotes ways of regenerative and sustainable agriculture that are desperately needed in Kansas after decades of depleting water sources for irrigation. Simultaneously, our soil and ecosystems need remediation from the damage of conventional farming practices.
Generally speaking, by understanding assumptions and conflicts of interest of the past, we can make better decisions for our future. In fact, research integrity depends on a constant evaluative process which is paramount to scientific inquiry, because this process is never a one-sided story and then immediately over. Advancements in technology, precision agriculture, ethical research and evidence-based methods are evolving every day. Therefore, it is up to all citizens (professional researchers and lay people) to demand well-informed, neutral practices that ensure transparency in regulation as well as open access data. Through acknowledging the past, embracing modern science to reduce harm and benefit public health and our environment, we carry the responsibility to right the wrongs of the past and limit unfounded restrictions that hinder prosperity among all populations.
- Eaton, B. J., Hartowicz, L. E., Latta, R. P., Knutson, H., Paulsen, A. and Esbaugh, E. 1972. Controlling wild hemp. Report of Progress 188. Agricultural Experiment Station, Kansas State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, Manhattan, KS. 10 pp.
- Latta, R.P. & Eaton, B.J. Econ Bot (1975) 29: 153. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02863315
- Longevity, Germination, and Emergence of Wild Hemp, (Cannabis sativa L.) by. Jimmie Lee Tuma. B.S. Kansas State University, 1970.