The Squares Lose: Hemp Flag to Grace Capitol Building on July 4th

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If you're near the Capitol on the Fourth, celebrating your patriotism and whatnot, or if you see images from Washington of the building during broadcasts of John P. Sousa performances, take a look at the flag on top of the dome. That flag, ladies and gentlemen, will for the first time in decades be made of hemp.

The Washington Post reports on the patriotic move. (Its headline includes the word "high," do you get it?)

Colorado hemp advocate Michael Bowman is the man responsible for getting the flag, made from Colorado-raised hemp and screen-printed with the stars and stripes, up there.

He cooked up the idea while lobbying Congress this year to include pro-hemp measures in the farm bill. That legislation failed, of course, but the seed of the hemp flag had been planted.

Not literally; that legislation was up only two weeks ago, and hemp takes longer than that to grow. (The more you know.™)

Hemp advocate Bowman couldn't have gotten the flag flying without the help of Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado. The Capitol has a program through which members of Congress can send in flags to be flown above the Capitol. (No bigger than 8' by 12'; no flags on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day.) Polis sent in Bowman's.

During debate on the Farm Bill last month, Polis also used the flag to emphasize his point about the need for expanded industrial hemp research. In his speech on the floor (which you can see at right), Polis points out that the first American flag ever made, the Betsy Ross original, was made of hemp. Polis's amendment passed. The bill to which it was attached didn't.

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That this is newsworthy is a reflection of the country's oddly bifurcated approach to marijuana laws. Hemp and marijuana are different plants that look similar. The latter, as you may be aware, can get you high. Both were outlawed by Congress in the 1930s when the legislative body was going through its reactionary anti-marijuana phase. (The Post indicates that this is perhaps the first time a hemp flag has flown over the Capitol since.) Opponents are leery of expanding the use of hemp, in part because growing hemp could mask the growth of marijuana (as Rep. Steve King of Iowa suggests in his response to Polis). Advocates of marijuana legalization support the expanded use of hemp, in part because doing so could serve as a step toward broader acceptability of its intoxicating cousin. If your first instinct is to debate that latter point in the comments, feel free.

This milestone, such as it is, is a weird one, the sort of thing that seems interesting/amusing now but may very well someday be used as one of those "remember how weird people used to be" anecdotes in a trivia board games. Earlier this year, we made an image showing the progression of marijuana laws over time (see below). If this pace continues, which there's little reason to think it won't, marijuana decriminalization legislation should arrive at the Capitol fairly soon.

The hemp flag won't be there to greet it. Every year, 100,000 requests to fly a flag are made. On Thursday, the first hemp flag in 80 years will fly for a few hours and then be taken back down again and put back in its box, its point made.

Top photo: A dorky cotton flag flies over the Capitol in this file image. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.