When we talked with Sam H. Clauder II a year or so ago, he was no happy campaigner. He now says he had sunk $25,000 of his own money into the bid to get a voter initiative on the state's November 1998 ballot legalizing hemp, a wonder plant with a plethora of environmentally friendly industrial and agricultural uses. But the effort was floundering. Tons more money and publicity were going toward legalizing marijuana—hemp's distant cousin—for medicinal purposes. To add insult to insolvency, a quarter-million-dollar pledge to the industrial-hemp campaign was withdrawn. Ultimately, the proposition failed to make the ballot. Fastforward to June 1999. Clauder's downright chipper. The Garden Grove political consultant and Democratic Central Committee member maintains that his Coalition for Agricultural and Industrial Renewal (CAIR) can get legislation onto Governor Gray Davis' desk that would have farmers planting hemp by the end of winter 2000.
But before he'd elaborate, Clauder laid one ground rule: he would only talk with us if we agreed to refer to the resource he's pushing as "industrial hemp," the non-bongable variant of the illegal substance that makes Dark Side of the Moon a must for any record collection. The CAIR logo features farmers, not the marijuana leaf. CAIR literature makes it clear smoking industrial hemp will cause a headache, not a head rush. The CAIR Web site's personnel page includes a photo of an overweight, middle-aged Middle American in a suit (it's Clauder), not a dreadlocked, tie-dyed denizen of a Dead concert parking lot. "The biggest challenge of this campaign," Clauder said, "is to make a distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana."
After the initiative bid failed, CAIR planned to turn hemp—excuse me—industrial hemp into a campaign issue in the '98 election. When it became apparent Democrats might (as they did) sweep and take control of the Legislature and governor's office, Clauder & Co. acquiesced to party leaders who didn't want to give Republicans a chance to cast hemp support as proof Democrats are soft on drugs and crime.
However, in talking with all the major candidates "as high as the governor," Clauder says, it became apparent there was keen awareness in Sacramento of industrial hemp's benefits. That persuaded him to go the legislation route. In March, the California Democratic Party endorsed CAIR's Industrial Hemp Renewal Act. The campaign is currently working with Assembly and state Senate leaders to find a bill that can be amended to include industrial-hemp legalization, Clauder says.
While waiting for politicians to pick up the hemp seed and run with it, he's leaning on another power player in California: agricultural interests. Overwhelming support from one of the state's strongest lobbies could make the legislation a slam-dunk.
"As a Democrat in Orange County, I've worked for many losers," said the veteran of political campaigns dating back to 1971. "I'm 48 now. I don't have time to work for any more losers. I am not taking a chance where we will have a loss of any kind."
Clauder's worked for Democrat and Republican campaigns. He's been characterized as an opportunist. Some Democrats fear he joined the central committee to legitimize his industrial-hemp campaign, not because he's a true believer. (You've got to wonder how politically astute it is seeking validity from a party whose standard bearer the past several years has been a former pot smoking—though not inhaling—draft dodger.)
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But wherever Clauder's coming from, he makes a strong case for industrial hemp. The plant can be made into rope, paper and fabric. Hemp oil can be converted into nontoxic paints and clean-burning fuel. De-hulled hemp seeds are an excellent food source.
So don't throw the baby out with the bong water.
Clauder resents any suggestion that he's stuck with a cause that appeared DOA just a year ago out of potential personal gain.
"I have two sons, and I have a grandchild on the way," he explained. "I'm doing this because of the environmental impact. We all need to pitch in to a certain extent. Destruction of the planet will eventually lead to destruction of the species. We have great alternatives to self-destruction. We need to put more attention, time and money into those alternatives and less attention, time and money into those that lead to destruction."