Ditchweed: Danger or DEA Charade?
The Price of Burning Weeds
Ditchweed is the remnants of hemp crops once grown extensively by United States farmers. After the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the crops disappeared, but not entirely. There is still cannabis growing naturally in the United States, a kind of feral hemp. The Drug Enforcement Agency has devoted much energy to finding and burning ditchweed. However, are these attempts worthwhile? Does ditchweed really pose the kind of threat that the United States government feels it does to US citizens and their children?
Ditchweed contains very trace amounts of THC, the substance found in marijuana that is responsible for the characteristic high. A study of feral hemp in Kansas revealed that the maximum percentage of THC found in the ditchweed studied was around half of one percent. The low ranges went much lower than this, down to one-twentieth of one percent. Most marijuana grown for the purposes of smoking and getting high contains a THC content of between five and ten percent, sometimes higher or lower depending on the strain and growth characteristics. That means that one would need to smoke at least ten times as much feral hemp in order to get a comparable high to marijuana. The low THC content of ditchweed has to do with its genetics and pollination. Since this feral hemp is the remnants of hemp grown on US farms many decades ago, the THC content was very low to begin with. Subsequent pollinations within an already low-THC population of plants would have at least ensured a stabilizing trend if not a decrease in overall THC content.
If ditchweed contains such small levels of THC, then why is the federal government so concerned with eradicating the remaining populations of ditchweed in the United States? Well, there are a number of reasons for this, but the primary one is that the DEA lumps all species of cannabis sativa together. This means that high-grade indica strains are indistinguishable from THC-sterile industrial hemp crops. So, in the eyes of DEA agents, ditchweed is just as dangerous to the US population as the high-grade psychoactive cannabis.
Why is this a problem? Well, a vast majority of cannabis plants destroyed by the DEA each year is ditchweed. In fact, data from the US department of Justice from 1991 to 1993 reveals that between ninety-one and ninety-seven percent of the plants destroyed were feral hemp plants. Unless the DEA has become a crack-squad of very marijuana-savvy individuals, then those figures have unlikely changed significantly over the past decade. So, it remains that our Drug Enforcement Agency has spent large sums of money and countless man-hours eradicating plants that have no potential for producing psychoactive effects in the people who choose to harvest and smoke them. This would be the equivalent of trained drug enforcement agents walking around a field and pulling up as many dandelions as they could find, if a new rare strain of dandelion was discovered to make people hallucinate. How does the DEA get money in its budget for such pointless and misguided activity? Congress approves budgets constructed either from taxpayer money or foreign loans in order to fuel the war on ditchweed.
The war on ditchweed has serious implications not just for the United States taxpayer. By putting this much attention on ditchweed, the DEA is actually encouraging American youth to increasingly try to get high off of a neutral plant. This runs along the same principle of the glue-sniffing conundrum. Most kids have no idea that they can get high off of sniffing glue or spray paint until they are told they can in drug awareness classes. With its charades and big burning piles of feral hemp, the DEA may indirectly encourage kids to trespass in order to obtain ditchweed. In a natural sense, destroying ditchweed is not particularly beneficial for certain kinds of wildlife. Many birds depend on the plant for nesting material and roosting, as well as for the nutritious seeds in their diet. A study conducted by the National Wildlife Federation determined that half of the surveyed birds that use feral hemp were in decline between 1965 and 1995.
Ditchweed is therefore, as its name implies a weed. If the plant has no psychoactive properties, then it seems reasonable that the DEA could be putting tax money toward a better cause. There is still heroin and crack on the streets, there are still meth labs. How much could those drugs be reduced in the United States if our government agencies stop spending so much time pulling feral hemp out of the ground in Wisconsin?