Hemp fans look toward Lyster Dewey’s past, and the Pentagon, for higher ground

By Manuel Roig-Franzia Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, May 13, 2010

KY HEMP

Hemp needed a hero. Needed one bad.

The gangly plant — once a favorite of military ropemakers — couldn’t catch a break. Even as legalized medical marijuana has become more and more commonplace, the industrial hemp plant — with its minuscule levels of the chemical that gives marijuana its kick — has remained illegal to cultivate in the United States.

Enter the lost hemp diaries.

Found recently at a garage sale outside Buffalo but never publicly released, these journals chronicle the life of Lyster H. Dewey, a botanist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture whose long career straddled the 19th and 20th centuries. Dewey writes painstakingly about growing exotically named varieties of hemp — Keijo, Chinamington and others — on a tract of government land known as Arlington Farms. In effect, he was tending Uncle Sam’s hemp farm.

What’s gotten hemp advocates excited about the discovery is the location of that farm. A large chunk of acreage was handed over to the War Department in the 1940s for construction of the world’s largest office building: the Pentagon. So now, hempsters can claim that an important piece of their legacy lies in the rich Northern Virginia soil alongside a hugely significant symbol of the government that has so enraged and befuddled them over the years.

All thanks to Lyster Dewey.

A small trade group, the Hemp Industries Association, bought Dewey’s diaries. The group’s leaders hope that displaying them for the first time on Monday — the start of what they’ve decreed the "1st Annual Hemp History Week" — will convince the universe that hemp is not a demon weed and was used for ropes on Navy ships and for World War II parachute webbing. The ultimate goal is to spur the government to lift the ban on hemp production, a policy that especially riles activists because foreign-produced hemp oils and food products can be legally imported.

Diary of daily progress

Dewey lived, at various times, in Washington’s Petworth and Shaw neighborhoods. In photographs discovered along with the diaries, he cuts a dapper figure in suit coats with vests and a top hat, or merrily pedaling a bicycle with the District’s iconic rowhouses behind him.

Dewey’s meticulously labeled diaries start in 1896 and end in 1944, the year of his death at age 79. They read like artifacts of a bygone Washington. In 1937, he goes "downtown by street car and up the avenue past the White House to see the beautiful reproduction of Andrew Jackson’s ‘Hermitage,’ which will be President Roosevelt’s reviewing stand tomorrow, then down to the Capitol to see the inaugural stands."

Adam Eidinger, a consultant to the hemp association, stores the diaries in two sturdy, combination-locked cases. Pages are held together by fraying oxblood leather covers; others live in drab, gray notebooks.

"I’m getting the impression he was very disciplined," Eidinger says. "He was hands-on — preferred digging around in Arlington Farms, rather than being in the office."

As early as 1914, Dewey writes of inspecting hemp at Arlington Farms. For nearly a quarter-century, he carefully notes his quotidian progress as a grower and hemp advocate: "Thursday, October 19, 1922. Fair, cool. Go to Arlington Farm on the 9 a.m. bus and work all day," he wrote. "Harvesting Kymington, Yarrow, Tochigi, Tochimington, Keijo and Chinamington hemp."

The most powerful piece of evidence for hemp activists might be a photograph contained in an album with a battered black cover. In it, Dewey poses next to a stand of 13-foot-tall hemp plants. The caption reads: "Measuring a hemp plant 4 m. high. Arlington Farm. Aug, 28, 1929." In a dress shirt with cuff links and tie, he looks every bit the part of the proud gentleman farmer.

Yard sale discovery

None of this might have come to light if not for sheer luck and a sequence of coincidences. It all starts last summer at a yard sale in Amherst, N.Y., 15 minutes outside Buffalo, where a man named David Sitarski was prowling for small treasures. For decades, Sitarski has dreamed of starting a Web site that archives historical artifacts from the Buffalo area.

Even though he’d recently been laid off from his computer-equipment manufacturing job of 20 years, Sitarski decided to pay $130 for the diaries and one of the two albums, thinking they pertained to Buffalo. He would have bought the second photo album, but another man snatched it up.

Six months later, Sitarski says, his wife spotted their yard-sale rival while running errands. Sitarski jumped out of the car and talked him into selling the photo album to complete his set. The man casually mentioned that there were hemp pictures within, and Sitarski started Googling. He didn’t make the Pentagon connection, but he quickly figured out that Dewey was a crucial hemp pioneer. Still jobless and needing money, Sitarski listed the material on eBay, asking $10,000.

A second man with a dream emerged: Michael Krawitz, a 47-year-old disabled veteran from the town of Ferrum in southwest Virginia. Krawitz has spent 10 years scheming to build a hemp museum that he hopes will inspire construction of similar museums throughout the world. "I picture myself with a team of people dragging some hemp artifact out of a mountain in Tibet," he says. He spotted Sitarski’s listing but, alas, there was no way he could afford it.

But the hemp association could. The group has a sugar daddy: David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which has grown from a $5 million company to a $31 million firm in the past decade since adding hemp oil to its products to "improve skin feel" and produce a smoother lather. Bronner agreed to pay about $4,000 for the trove — an easy call, given his court battles with the Drug Enforcement Administration when it tried to ban food products containing hemp. Bronner was also arrested last October after planting hemp seeds on a lawn at DEA headquarters.

"It’s kind of ironic that we dug up DEA’s lawn to plant hemp seeds and highlight the absurdity of the drug war, but you take it back 50 years and that’s what the government itself was doing," Bronner says in an interview from his company’s Southern California headquarters.

Krawitz tried to deliver the Dewey materials to the D.C. hempsters in February, but he got stuck in the "Snowmageddon" storm that paralyzed the area. Finally, when the weather cleared, he made it to Eidinger’s Adams Morgan apartment.

Feeling like this would be a Moment, they pulled out a video camera and began to sift through the materials with Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a nonprofit dedicated to changing hemp cultivation laws. Each turn of the page brought Dewey into sharper focus.

It didn’t take long for Eidinger to conclude they’d found "a major gem" and a kindred spirit. He thought: "I can totally relate to this guy."

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In Kentucky’s Senate race, ties to Mitch McConnell could be helpful or harmful

By Amy Gardner

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2010

 

 

MONTICELLO, KY. — When Senate candidate Rand Paul told a lunchtime crowd at Shearer’s Buffet that "we have to do things differently" in Washington and "bring ’em home and send some different Republicans," it wasn’t hard to make the jump from this rural area near the Tennessee border to the top Republican in the state, if not the country: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Paul, a "tea party" activist and the son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a former presidential candidate, is not the first person this year to blame leaders in Washington for the nation’s ills. What’s remarkable about this primary campaign is that McConnell isn’t even on the ballot. Paul is running against Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

McConnell, 68, is widely credited with building the Kentucky Republican Party — the GOP headquarters in Frankfort is even named for him. Just a few months ago, it seemed inconceivable that he couldn’t push Grayson, his handpicked candidate, to victory Tuesday. Now, not only is Grayson in trouble — he trails in the polls by double digits — but his association with McConnell isn’t helping.

"They go, and they stay too long, they lose their way, and as they do they become corrupted by the system," Paul, 47, an eye surgeon making his first run for office, told a group of about 30 supporters over breakfast at Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken in the tiny town of Albany. "The longer you’re there, the more you succumb to the power, the more you think you are somehow different or more important than the rest."

McConnell was unavailable for an interview, and his spokesman declined to comment for this article. But Grayson rejected the idea that the race has become a referendum on McConnell or Grayson’s connection to him. "He’s actually got more D.C. ties than me," Grayson said of Paul.

He’s also sure that McConnell is an asset, despite his five terms in office. They’re both so sure, in fact, that the senator, after months of behind-the-scenes support, jumped in last week with a public endorsement.

(Six Republican candidates are on the ballot, but polls show the race is between Paul and Grayson. Similarly, five Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination the same day, but surveys find that the contest is primarily between Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway.)

Grayson has numerous connections to McConnell. McConnell urged the younger Republican, a lawyer from the Cincinnati suburbs, to run even before outgoing Sen. Jim Bunning (R) decided last year to retire. (Bunning is supporting Paul.) They share a pollster and a media consultant, and Grayson’s father, a bank president, is a longtime McConnell supporter. The view among some who back Paul is that Grayson would be little more than a yes man for McConnell.

"We’re sick of McConnell," said Winna Ramsey, 50, a radiology technician from Monticello who came to hear Paul speak at Shearer’s. "Rand Paul is not a career politician. He’s got the people’s interests in mind, not the special interests. He’s a breath of fresh air from what I can see."

Grayson, 38, bristles at such characterizations and is exasperated that his record of fiscal and social conservatism is going unnoticed. Grayson opposed the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program legislation in 2008 that bailed out U.S. financial institutions; as secretary of state he slashed spending in his office; he served on the board of a pregnancy crisis center that counsels against abortion. He also notes that much of Paul’s momentum is the result of out-of-state donations from his father’s supporters.

Still, Grayson struggles to connect with potential backers. At the headquarters of a hardwood flooring company in London, Ky., one of the owners lamented the state of the economy, and Grayson responded: "Oh, it’s terrible." Local circuit court clerk Roger L. Schott, who was escorting Grayson, tried to prod the candidate. "What are we going to do to change that, Trey?" Afterward, the businessman, Jim Begley, said Paul seemed to have more answers.

Paul’s campaign stops are feisty affairs at which supporters hoot and cheer as he weaves his personal biography and a list of grievances with Washington into a populist call to arms. The founder of the antitax organization Kentucky Taxpayers United, Paul rails against what he describes as Washington’s unsustainable spending, crippling debt, career politicians with no term limits, a "socialist" health-care law and a failure to close the nation’s borders to illegal immigrants.

Paul has become a national hero of the tea party movement by opposing new taxes and deficit spending and supporting such ideas as the abolition of the Department of Education and amending the Constitution so that children born in the United States to illegal immigrants would no longer become citizens automatically. A victory for him on Tuesday would further energize a movement already pumped up by the defeat of Sen. Robert F. Bennett in Utah’s Republican primary last weekend.

"Greece is defaulting right now on their debt," he told the breakfast group. "One of the next things you’ll see is chaos on the streets. You’ll see violence. . . . And it can happen even in America if we’re not careful."

But Paul’s libertarian streak could lead to breaks with conservatives on some issues. He opposed the war in Iraq. He has spoken in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. A pro-Grayson advocacy group, trying to portray Paul as out of step with mainstream Republicans, is running a television ad featuring a chiming cuckoo clock.

McConnell’s advisers say the senator remains popular among Republican voters, and Paul typically doesn’t mention him by name. But his crowds are all too glad to make the connection. And the candidate got as close as ever to a direct critique of McConnell during a debate on Monday, when he and Grayson were asked whether they would vote for McConnell to keep his post as Republican leader. While Grayson answered that he would vote "proudly" for McConnell, Paul said, "I’d have to know who the opponent is and make a decision at that time."