“I never lie to my son,” insists Diane Fornbacher. And for the long-time cannabis activist and mother living in the town of Collingswood, New Jersey, that means telling the truth about the world’s most versatile plant, to her children as well as the world.
Thus, Fornbacher’s son, now 10-years-old, saw everything.
“He sees that I have legal hemp products in my house,” says the devoted mother.
Fornbacher also provided her child with period-accurate strategy games playable on his computer so the young student (whom she asked to remain anonymous) could learn the importance of industrial hemp strains to the early history of the United States.
Nor did she ever make a secret of what she does for work, sharing photos of her volunteer efforts promoting hemp products at events like Collinsgwood’s eco-friendly Green Festival; in fact, her booth had attended the festival at the invitation of a town commissioner for years. In sum, this hardworking mother made sure her son’s education did not lack for a solid grounding in the importance of hemp.
She even taught her son the difference between industrial hemp and psychoactive forms of cannabis. And that is how the trouble started.
On Earth Day in 2012, when one of Collingswoods’ third grade classes discussed ways to help the environment, Diane’s normally reticent boy suddenly sparkled. Raising his hand with enthusiasm, he suggested that the country grow hemp to save the planet.
The teacher was confused. What is hemp, she asked, apparently ignorant of the mainstay cash crop which supported the economy of the English colonies for two centuries. The boy answered as he had been taught by his mother. “It’s just like marijuana,” he said. “But you can’t get high from it.”
The reaction was swift and immediate. Pulling the child into the hallway, the teacher began asking questions of the confused student. Insisting that the conversation would be “our secret,” she asked whether “mom has any plants growing in the basement.” Thinking of the marigolds which Fornbacher had tried unsuccessfully to grow in the basement before frost ended when he was just a toddler, her son answered yes.
The same week, Fornbacher’s father died. Despondent and distraught, she was preparing to go to the funeral the week after when she heard a knock at the front door.
She heard her husband answer the door and begin speaking to two women, one of whom announced a belief that the parents kept a marijuana grow in the basement. “We really need to get inside the house,” one of them said, “to make some checks.” It was Child Protective Services.
Now livid and grief-stricken, Fornbacher came down the stairs to demand that the officers leave immediately. CPS held their ground, implying that Fornbacher had something to hide. But the professional activist knew her rights and informed the pair that she would not let anyone from their agency into her home without a warrant or a court order. The two child safety officers left but returned shortly after with a member of the local police department, who asked Fornbacher to let them in. But still Fornbacher stood firm until, warrantless, all three officers left her to grieve her father in peace.
No charges were ever filed, no complaints were ever formally lodged, and CPS never returned to the home. But Fornbacher’s young son has learned an indelible lesson: every time he hears anyone mention “hemp,” he covers his ears and leaves the room.