Hemp: Lifeline To The Future

Reprinted from The Clarion


This uniquely versatile, productive and efficient plant would save the world.

The economic and environmental impact of using hemp in paper production alone would be of major consequence. Why is a plant that was proclaimed by Popular Mechanics magazine to have the potential to be manufactured into more than 25,000 different environmentally friendly products being systematically withheld from U.S. farmers? It is because the plant is hemp -otherwise known as marijuana - and for the last sixty years, it has remained the United States public enemy #1.

What is hemp?

Often described as marijuana's misunderstood cousin, industrial hemp is from the same plant species (cannabis sativa) that produces hemp. Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp has only minute amounts of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana its euphoric and medicinal properties. An indispensable raw material throughout our nation's history (In 1640, the governor of Connecticut declared that, "every citizen must grow the plant."), industrial hemp is acknowledged as one of nature's strongest and most versatile agricultural crops. Various parts of the plant can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics, and cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation and animal feed. In France, where more than 10,000 tons of industrial hemp is harvested annually, companies even use coated hemp hurds to restore and build houses. Besides its spectrum of commercial uses, hemp offers other advantages as well. It provides a much higher yield per acre than do common substitutes such as cotton and requires virtually no pesticides. In addition, hemp has an average growing cycle of only 100 days and leaves the soil virtually weed-free for the next planting. Currently, hemp is grown legally throughout much of Europe and Asia and is being cultivated successfully in test plots in both Australia and Canada.

Despite America's bureaucratic moratorium on industrial hemp cultivation, overwhelming evidence in favor of hemp production continues to emerge from this growing, international industry. Domestic sales of imported hemp products raked in an estimated $25 million dollars in sales in 1994 alone and the American farm bureau federation called hemp "one of the most promising crops in half a century." Fashion giants Adidas, Ralph Loren, and Calvin Klein added hempen goods to their clothing lines and Klein has predicted that hemp would become "the fiber of choice" for the home furnishing industry. The number of outlet stores selling hemp products has exploded in recent years and the amount of American manufacturers producing a variety of hemp-based goods ranging from socks to skin care is now numbers in the thousands. In addition, many nutritionists and health professionals are now singing the praises of the hemp seed, noting that it is second only to soy in protein and contains the highest concentration of essential amino and fatty acids found in any food. Most importantly, none of the countries that currently cultivate hemp for industrial purposes have reported experiencing rates of rising marijuana use because of their position regarding hemp.

Researchers trace hemp's history as an industrial crop back some 10,000 years when the fiber was first utilized by the Chinese to make ropes and eventually paper. Hemp's wide array of industrial uses first rose to prominence in America during the colonial era when many of the founding fathers espoused its versatility. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were strong advocates for a hemp-based economy and both cultivated the crop for its fiber content. Most of the sails and ropes on colonial ships were made from hemp, as were many of the colonists bible's and maps. The early settlers also used hemp seeds as a source for lamp oil and some colonies made hemp cultivation compulsory, calling its production necessary for the "wealth an protection of the country."

Hemp continued to be cultivated in America until 1937 when congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act outlawing marijuana. Although not a bill specifically aimed at industrial hemp production, legal limitations posed by legislation quickly put an end to the once prominent industry. Hemp production briefly re-emerged in 1942 when the federal government encouraged hundreds of American farmers to cultivate hemp for the war effort. Armed with a United States department of agriculture (USDA) film entitled "Hemp for Victory", thousands of farmers grew hundreds of thousands of acres of hemp for wartime needs. Unfortunately, when WWII ended, so did the governments allowance of hemp cultivation. By 1957, prohibitionists had reasserted a total ban on hemp production. The federal ban remains in effect today.

Hemp today

Although the federal government refuses to waver on hemp prohibition, the popularity and knowledge surrounding the numerous advantages hemp production holds for American industry and the environment is rising dramatically. Not surprisingly, even some politicians are beginning to catch on. In 1996, politicians in four states introduced legislation allowing for domestic hemp cultivation and by legislative session's end, both Hawaii and Vermont had passed measures promoting industrial hemp research. In addition, some activists such as Hollywood actor and hemp businessman Woody Harrelson have presented the federal government with high profile legal challenges that question the legitimacy of hemp prohibition. Its sometimes hard to believe, but just a few years ago there existed no such thing as a hemp industry in America. Today, hemp importers, retailers, manufacturers and products are springing up everywhere. Similarly, in 1995 only one state politician introduced legislation pertaining to hemp cultivation; it was defeated soundly. Just one year later, politicians in four different states proposed such legislation and garnered significant support.

Why Hemp?

Our world is drowning in the flood of disposable products promoted by the mass consumer culture. Many concerned citizens today are committed to working with eco-resources, such as hemp and flax that have served our ancestors well for many millennia. Our modern production systems have and development with our

Cotton is one of the most environmentally destructive agricultural crops, annually using over 275 million pounds of pesticides in the US alone. This is in addition to massive quantities of fertilizers, defoliants, growth regulators, general biocides such as methylbromide, and water. Hemp, in contrast, is the most environmentally positive of crops, one that actually leaves the soil in improved condition. Hemp grows tall and thick, shading and mulching the ground while its deep taproots break up and aerate the soil. This contributes to healthy microbial life and nutrient content in the soil, and the shading eliminates competing weeds. It is also naturally resistant to most insects, molds, and other pests.

We must wean ourselves from our fossil fuel dependence; working with plants in a renewable way moves us in that direction. Hemp can help us shift to a carbohydrate based sustainable economy. For one thing, it is a huge biomass producer and, as such, would benefit any biomass energy generation system. It can also be processed into construction materials and paper products, easing some of the unsustainable burden placed on our forests. An acre of hemp actually produces more than four times as much pulp for paper making than an acre of trees when figured on an annual basis.

Where does the DEA stand on the issue? Squarely in the middle of progress. Despite hemp's growing emergence as a worldwide economic industry, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) remains firmly opposed to any notion of revising the federal law to allow for its domestic cultivation. Currently, only the DEA has the power to license farmers to legally grow hemp. Not surprisingly, the DEA has continued to deny every permit for large-scale hemp farming within America's borders for the last 40 years. Recently, the DEA reaffirmed their opposition to hemp in a 1995 USDA "White Paper" regarding the economic viability of alternative crops. In it, the DEA stated that the agency is "opposed to any consideration of hemp as a legitimate fiber or pulp product." The paper further stated that current policy mandates any USDA researcher who wishes to explore the issue of hemp cultivation and research must first briefed by White House anti-drug officials. In addition, DEA officials have stonewalled several state efforts to enact hemp cultivation and research bills by threatening to arrest any farmers contracted to grow the crop.

Sorry, the statistics in our base article were old, but you get the idea. Go up on the internet and dig up the latest numbers, you'll be REALLY impressed.

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