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Hemp on His Agenda


Long a favorite of hippies and hikers, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, first sold in 1948 by the original “Dr. Bronner,” is an all-natural, all-purpose cleansing product still hand-packed in California. E. H. Bronner, a passionately idiosyncratic soapmaker from Germany, used the labels of his products to spread a gospel of spiritual oneness while using part of his profits to finance social-welfare projects. Current president David Bronner ’95 has followed, mostly, in his grandfather’s footsteps since taking over in 1998, continuing the social activism and people-oriented business practices that have been company policy from the beginning. For instance, the firm still gets most of its publicity through word-of-mouth. “No slick ad campaign could replace the marketing power of [my grandfather’s] devotion to unifying humanity,” he asserts. “[We] represent real blood and love, as opposed to the products of empty, faceless, megalith corporations, and our customers respect us for this.”
But Bronner has made one major change: in October 1999, the family’s trademark soap was reformulated to include hemp oil, which he says “improves the moisturizing e≠ects dramatically.” The change is consistent with the company philosophy as he sees it: industrial hemp, he explains, “has the potential to be the primary fiber source for [the paper industry]—enabling us to avoid clear-cutting what remains of Earth’s old-growth forests.” Hemp’s widespread, legal use in cosmetics, Bronner believes, will hasten its integration into other industries—not only paper manufacturing, but also the production of textiles, fiber-composites, bio-plastics, and bio-ethanol.
Currently, products made from industrial hemp can be imported into the United States, but not hemp itself—it’s classified as a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Bronner scorns the o∞cial arguments for outlawing industrial hemp, stressing that “no amount of industrial hemp will generate psychoactivity.” This isn’t breaking news: a 1997 Washington Post article, for example, explained that unlike marijuana, which contains 4 percent to 7 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that makes you high), industrial hemp is only 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent THC.
Under Bronner’s leadership, the company has begun actively supporting industrial hemp, sending soap samples to high government officials and asking for their aid. He acknowledges, however, that his goal of legalizing industrial hemp for business use is closely entwined with his personal support for legalizing marijuana. In fact, that support for marijuana led to his present job. After graduation, he spent several months in Amsterdam, where, he recalls, his cannabis-smoking meditations “led to a full-blown awakening of social conscience and ecological awareness, and I realized that if a company like Dr. Bronner’s were to offer me a job, I would go for it in a flash.” When he joined his family’s company shortly thereafter, he finally had the opportunity to merge business and his version of social action.