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Dr. Bronner Takes Hemp Fight To White House

June 14, 2012 1:13 p.m.


David Bronner, CEO Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps

Related Story: Dr. Bronner Takes Hemp Fight To White House


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Anyone who's ever seen a package of doctor Bronner's magic soap know this is is a product with a message. The poems, philosophies, and catch phrase all-one make the soap products manufactured in Escondido unique. So unique, in fact, that an independent documentary has been made about what the company claims is America's top-selling natural brand of soap. This week, the company's CEO, David Bronner, brought a new message to Washington DC in a make shift cage on wheels, Bronner parked in front of the White House and processed industrial hemp. He is here to tell us how and why he staged this event, and David, welcome to the show.
BRONNER: Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Our listeners can take a look at the video of David Bronner in the cage on our website at And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you have a question for David Bronner, his protest in Washington, or about the magic soap, you can give us a call. David, first tell us more about this protest. How did you come up with this idea?
BRONNER: Well, we've been advocating for over a decade now for a change in federal policy that would recommercialize industrial hemp farming in the United States. This country has a long history of farming hemp. Of both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were hemp farmers. It was in the top four agricultural cops until the turn of the last century. All the covered wagons were canvas, canvas comes from cannabis. The declaration of independence was drafted on hemp paper. So in the early last century, the cotton gin really elevated cotton as the preferred fiber over hemp. But with the advent of the hemp decorticator, that promised to bring hem back in a huge way. But at the same time then, you had the whole marijuana tax act, and the kind of racism around Mexican immigrants and marijuana. And hemp got caught up in that and hemp farming basically disappeared from U.S. soil.
CAVANAUGH: I guess I'm asking you specifically, why a cage and why Washington DC?
BRONNER: Right. So with Obama's administration, Obama touts that his policy in contradiction to his predecessor was going to be based on sound science, not driven by hysteria or political agendas that are devoid of rational owner scientific basis. And we had high hopes. Obama has an Illinois state Senator voted twice for industrial hemp cultivation. And we really felt like, wow, we're finally going to have Ia change in federal policy and American farmers are going to catch up with the rest of the world and begin growing industrial hemp. And here we are in the fourth year of his administration, we recently got an answer from his drug czar that was double speak about conflating industrial hemp varieties of cannabis, marijuana varieties, and it was just like -- just incredibly frustrating that this kind of drug warrior irrational hysteria is still driving policy under this administration. And then govern brown just recently vetoed the third California bill to legalize industrial hemp farming in California, this time with a message saying that federal policy is asinine and absurd, but we will not put California farmers in jeopardy.
CAVANAUGH: It sounds like your frustration has increased and increased. Take us back to the idea where you got the idea to go into a cage, with industrial hemp, in front of the White House, and start to process industrial hemp had. It's one thing to be frustrated with the law, it's another to come up with that.
BRONNER: Sure. Well, it's civil disobedience. It's a way of focusing intention on the absurdity and injustice of this law. The specific cage is there to protect me from police interrupting my harvesting the seeds, which we pressed into oil, which is the oil that superfats our soaps, and makes the lather less drying and very silky smooth. It's basically some kind of protection from police, law enforcement interference.
CAVANAUGH: How long were you there? How long were you --
BRONNER: It was about a tree-hour process. We knew kind of what methods they'd use, and we made sure or locks -- they weren't going to be able to snip them. They thought they were, and they kept threatening me, and I'm, like, you're not going to be able to do that. And these officers, they're, like, look, we understand what you're saying. But it's time to leave. And I said, no, it's not time. There's more media coming. I'm still educating people. And ultimately they brought out the big saw with the firefighter, and that's when the game was up. But that took them three hours
CAVANAUGH: They brought out a chainsaw.
BRONNER: It's like a huge -- I don't know what. It's a 2-foot sandpaper, diamond sandpaper skill saw thing. That goes through anything.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you were in there, you had industrial hemp in there with you, and you were processing it. What were you making?
BRONNER: I was -- I basically had a home oil press, a kitchen oil press, and I was harvesting the seats off these Canadian nondrug cult vars. And the flours of industrial hemp do not look like marijuana flowers. All the energy in an industrial farming variety is going toward making seeds. It's not like that dense marijuana, it's like a loose leaf structure with a lot of seeds. So I was harvesting the seed, illustrating here is the difference, here's what these plants look like.
CAVANAUGH: You had some sort of processors in there, right?
BRONNER: Yeah, then a little hand-cranked oil press that was very difficult, actually, to use and didn't yield a whole lot of oil. But it was about making the point, illustrating that this is just normal activity. You can do this in your home, much more efficiently with a bigger industrial press am
CAVANAUGH: And you had some French bread in there too to put the oil on. Did you get to serve it to anybody?
BRONNER: It was French meadow brand hemp bread.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, hemp bread, I didn't realize that!
BRONNER: Yeah. And no one was taking me up on the offer. I think having 30 cops around scared people a little bit. But it was great, I had a PA and was able to really layout some facts and educate people. And I think that a lot of the enforcement, you know, by the end of the action, they were very considerate, and I think respectful of what I was trying to do. And yeah, I just get the feeling that we're on the cusp of change, and it's ridiculous that this administration doesn't see that. Of I understand the debate around medicinal and recreational. But you don't look at industrial. Where is the controversy? Why can't they just do the right thing?
CAVANAUGH: Andrew is calling from Ocean Beach. Welcome to the show.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi, great show as usual. I just wanted to give this guy big props on what he was trying to -- get his point across. It's a giant irony for the country to be hurting for energy, going fighting, all this stuff, when hemp is there that could be taking the place of so many -- not just medicinally, but energy, building, and oil products. So hats off to this guy, and if there's anything else we could do to keep it going, let's keep it going, hemp, hemp, hooray!
CAVANAUGH: Thanks very much for the call. How do you use industrial hemp in your magic soap?
BRONNER: So it's a superfatty ingredient. So one of the main market drivers for hemp seed is the omega three essential oil fatty acid content. OMelia 3 is an essential fatty acid that the American diet is chronically deficient in. Traditionally doctors will recommend certain type was fish oil supplements. But at the same time, they're advising against eating too much of the oil supplements because of mercury and other environmental toxins that concentrate up the food chain. Hemp is one of very few significant alternative dietary sources of the omega 3 fatty acid, and that's what's really driving the market growth. That and as a cosmetic product, it's a triple unsaturated fatty acid. And just means it's a very smooth oil.
CAVANAUGH: Where do you have to get it?
BRONNER: I have to get it from Canada. Over year, we're sending over $100,000 a year to Canadian farmers to supply us our hemp oil. We initially were buying from Europe. But Canada reindustrialized hemp in 1998. So the Canadian farmers are just laughing all the way to the bank as we hand them the world's largest consumer market for hemp products, and it's captive to the Canadians, basically.
CAVANAUGH: We have another caller on the line. Francisco is calling from imperial county.
NEW SPEAKER: Hello. I just want to inform people that people are very not self-educated about the hemp, industrial, and about all the fatty stuff that has to do with it. And it's true what that man is saying. And I just want to mention to the whole community that he's not lying about the fatty acid and all this mercury in fish and stuff.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you.
NEW SPEAKER: And people need to be self-educated about that, and they will be very informed.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call, Francisco. We asked a representative of the drug enforcement agency to join us. No one was able to come on the show today but they did send us a statement. "DA's position is that hemp is a form of marijuana. All marijuana plants contain THC. While certain portions of the cannabis plant are exempt from the definition of marijuana, one has to grow the whole plant in order to get these exempt portions. " So they say growing hemp is growing marijuana which under federal law is a schedule 1 controlled substance. Do you disagree with that statement?
BRONNER: It's fine all the way to the end. How can Congress specifically exempt hemp fiber, seed, the hemp industrial, clearly intending that American farmers would grow the plants to supply those parts of the plant? But the DEA does this orwelian double talk like, well, hemp and marijuana are part of the same species, so hemp is marijuana and thus you can't grow hemp. How could Congress exempt these portions of the plant and not intend American farmers to supply those exempt portions? And that's -- this is where there's this delivered misinterpretation of current law by the drug warriors to prevent American farming of industrial hemp.
CAVANAUGH: Let me bring in KPBS reporter Tom Fudge. He's doing a feature on your protest and your cause. You've been doing some research, Tom, about what's going on in Washington DC regarding legislation to maybe make more industrial hemp legal.
FUDGE: Yeah. Let me just add one thing to what you said before. You quoted the DEA. The office of drug control policy awl also say hemp and marijuana are part of the same species of cannabis plant. While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in marijuana, all parts of the plant including hemp contain THC. People like David would argue that if you want to get high smoking industrial hemp, you probably have to smoke an acre of the stuff. According to my sources, industrial hemp has the THC content of between .5 and 1% where's marijuana has levels anywhere from 3% to 20%. So anyway, that's that. In terms of legislation, there is a man named Senator Ron widen, who has introduced a bill that would be an amendment to the farm bill, which would exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana. And Senator Widen's amendment will empower American farmers to allow them to once again grow industrial hemp. So this has been introduced by Senator Ron widen of Oregon. He has a cosponsor who is a Republican. And this is Mr. Rand Paul. He's a particular kind of Republican, he's a libertarian, so you might expect someone like him to be -- tike a different point of view on drug enforcement issues and social issues. But the fact that this does have bipartisan support is pretty significant.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly. And so that has been introduced, but it's winding its way through Congress as part of an agriculture bill; is that correct?
FUDGE: As part of the farm bill, which I think is the biggest expenditure that Congress approves, and so it's going to be a very small part of the farm bill. And it'll be very interesting to see how this is accepted by either side. Maybe David has a point of view of how people in rural areas, as opposed to urban areas, Republicans versus Democrats, might look at this.
BRONNER: You know, the industrial hemp issue has really evolved. I think most people have evolved on this issue, and if you look at medical marijuana, there's something like 80% support in the country. And industrial, you don't even poll it. Of everyone is in favor of industrial. It's really these regressive drug warriors. In the rural areas, there's a generational memory in history. Oh, yeah, my grandfather used to grow hemp. Kentucky. It's in the family. They talk about it. It's ditch weed.
CAVANAUGH: During World†War†II, you're talking about.
BRONNER: Yeah, we recommercialized hemp farming when the Japanese cut off our Philippine supply of hemp.
CAVANAUGH: Let me take a call. Ron is calling from Carlsbad.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you so much for having me. Just a question for you. I heard you talk about the Obama administration, and Senator Obama voting twice for it, then he gets into the position of president, and now the other individual who is have influence are balking at it. My question would be, based on industrial hemp and all the uses, I imagine one of the challenges as a smaller lobbyist, you're probably being faced with other lobbies that have a lot more power in the decision-making process. I would say they probably have bigger fish to fry. What's your thought?
BRONNER: Right, there's a calculus going on within the administration that they don't have -- they can ignore us. They're going into the reelection, and unlike the gay issue where Obama, and I'm very proud of him for doing so, has evolved finally in a progressive direction that I support, in the cannabis issue -- it's unfortunately, the calculus has been made thus far within the administration that they can afford to ignore it, and what are we going to do? Oh, we'll just still vote for him. And that's not true. Cannabis, there is a broad spectrum of people who support cannabis reform. And progressives like myself care a lot about it. And his vote is not ours -- he can't just count on it.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask, I have to wrap things up, but it doesn't sound like it from the calls that we're getting, but do you think there's any chance that this protest will hurt the image of doctor Bronner's magic soap?
BRONNER: No. We were pretty careful about how we go about it, and yeah, it's a little bit radical, but I think people -- again, this issue has really evolved for most of the country. And I think people realize that what I'm trying to do is -- this is not a drug, this is not any part of that larger controversial debate. This is about an important agricultural crop, especially in today's recession. It's past time that we leave last century, and the Reefer Madness of last century, we need to move on. It's just a very clear, I think, simple direct message.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you so much. I have been speaking with David Bronner, he is CEO of doctor Bronner's magic soap, and KPBS reporter Tom Fudge.
BRONNER: Thank you.