Hemp has been grown for at
least 12,000 years for fiber (textiles and paper) and seed (food and fuel).
It has been effectively prohibited in the United States since the 1950s.
George Washington and Thomas
Jefferson both grew hemp. Ben Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper.
Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.
Because of its importance for
sails (the word ‘canvass’ is rooted in ‘cannabis’) and rope for
ships, hemp was a required crop in the American colonies.
Hemp was grown commercially
(with increasing government interference) in the United States until the
1950s. It was doomed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which placed an
extremely high tax and made it effectively impossible to grow industrial
hemp. While congress expressly expected the continued production of
industrial hemp, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics lumped industrial hemp with
marijuana, as its successor the United States Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA), does to this day.
Industrial hemp and marijuana
are both classified by taxonomists as Cannabis sativa L., a species with
hundreds of varieties. Cannabis sativa L. is a member of the mulberry
family. Industrial hemp varieties are bred to maximize fiber, and/or seed,
while marijuana varieties seek to maximize THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol,
the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) through several budding
sites for its flowers and leaves.
While industrial hemp and
marijuana may look somewhat alike to the untrained eye, an easily trained
eye can easily distinguish the difference.
No one would want to smoke
industrial hemp. Industrial hemp has a THC content of between 0.05 and 1%.
Marijuana has a THC content of 3% to 20%. To receive a standard psychoactive
dose would require a person to ‘power-smoke’ 10-12 hemp cigarettes over
a very short period of time. The large volume, high temperature of vapor,
gas and smoke would be difficult for a person to withstand, much less enjoy.
If one tried to ingest enough
industrial hemp to get a buzz, it would be the equivalent of taking 2-3
doses of a high-fiber laxative.
No marijuana grower would
hide marijuana plants in a hemp field. Marijuana is grown widely spaced to
maximize flowers and leaves; hemp is grown tightly-spaced to maximize stalk
and is usually harvested before it goes to seed. It is also the first place
where law enforcement officials would look.
If hemp does pollinate any
nearby marijuana, genetically, the results will always be lower-THC
marijuana and will contain unwanted seeds. When hemp is grown, nearby
marijuana growers will be upset due to the pollination by hemp fields; thus
causing marijuana growers to flee the area or grow indoors under lab-like
conditions (to keep pollen outside).
When U.S. sources of
‘Manila hemp’ (not true hemp; rather sisal and jute) was cut off by the
Japanese in World War II, the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Agriculture
promoted the “Hemp
for Victory” campaign to grow hemp in the U.S.
While the original ‘gruel’ was made of hemp seed meal, hemp oil and seed
can be made into tasty and nutritional products.
At a volume level of 81%,
hemp oil is the richest known source of polyunsaturated essential fatty
acids (the ‘good’ fats). It is quite high in some essential amino acids,
including gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a very rare nutrient also found in
Hemp can be made into quality
papers. the long fibers in hemp allow such paper to be recycled several more
times than wood-based papers.
Because of its low lignin
content, hemp can be pulped using less energy and chemicals than wood
requires, resulting in less pollution and energy consumption. Its natural
whiteness can obviate the need to use chlorine bleach, which means no
extremely toxic dioxin being dumped into streams. Rather, when required,
hemp can be whitened with hydrogen peroxide. Therefore, hemp paper is
acid-free, which can last 1,500 years. Wood-based papers have a shelf life
of 25-100 years.
Kimberly-Clark (a Fortune 500
company) has a mill in France which produces hemp paper preferred for bibles
and cigarette paper because it lasts a long time and doesn’t yellow.
Construction products such as
medium density fiberboard (MDF), oriented strand board, and even beams,
studs and posts can be made out of hemp. Because of hemp’s long fibers
(bundles of 7 feet long can be common), the products will be stronger and/or
lighter than those made from wood (a Douglas fir tree’s fiber is at best
3/4 inch long).
Hemp can yield 3-8 dry tons
of fiber per acre. This is four times what an average forest can yield.
The products that can be made
from hemp number over 25,000.
Hemp grows well in a variety
of climates and soil types. It is naturally resistant to most pests,
precluding the need for pesticides. It grows tightly spaced, out-competing
any weeds, so herbicides are not necessary. It also leaves a weed-free field
for the following crop.
A 1938 Popular Mechanics
article described hemp as a “New
Billion Dollar Crop.”
Hemp can be made into variety
of fabrics, including linen quality.
Hemp can displace cotton
which is grown with massive amounts of chemicals harmful to people and the
environment. fifty percent of the world’s pesticides are sprayed on
cotton. “Cotton, the natural fiber;” think again.
Hemp fibers are longer,
stronger, more absorbent, and more mildew-resistant than cotton. The
original Levi Strauss jeans made for the Sierra gold miners were made of
Fabrics made of at least
fifty percent hemp block the sun’s harmful UV rays more effectively than
Hemp can displace wood fiber
and save forests for watershed, wildlife habitat, recreation and oxygen
production, carbon sequestration (reduces global warming), and other values.
Many of the varieties of hemp
that were grown in North America have been lost. Seed banks were not
maintained. New genetic breeding will be necessary using both foreign and
‘ditch weed,’ strains of hemp that went feral after cultivation ended.
Various state national guard units often spend their weekends trying to
eradicate this hemp, in the mistaken belief they are helping stop drug use.
Henry Ford experimented with
hemp to build car bodies and interiors. He wanted to both build and fuel
cars from farm products. [See Popular Mechanics “Pinch
Hitters for Defense.”]
BMW is experimenting with
hemp materials in automobiles as part of an effort to make cars more
Seeking to put more
environment-friendly materials in its cars, Daimler-Benz may replace
fiberglass matte with industrial hemp. [See Popular Mechanics “Putting
Cannabis Into Cars.”]
Rudolph Diesel designed his
namesake engine to run on vegetable oils, including hempseed oil.
Hempseed oil once greased
machines. Most paint, resins, shellacs, and varnishes used to be made out of
linseed (from flax) and hempseed oils.
Much of the bird seed sold in
the United States has hempseed (it’s sterilized before importation), the
hulls of which contain about 25% protein of which is more easily digestible
than soybean protein.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement
Agency (DEA) classifies all Cannabis sativa L. varieties as
‘marijuana.’ While it is theoretically possible to get permission from
the government to grow hemp, DEA would require that the field to be secured
by fence, razor, wire, dogs, guards, and lights, making it cost-prohibitive.
The U.S. State Department
must certify each year that a foreign nation is cooperating in the war on
drugs. The European Union subsidizes its farmers to grow industrial hemp.
Those nations are not on this list, because the U.S. State Department
distinguishes the difference between hemp and marijuana.
Over 30 industrialized
democracies do distinguish hemp from marijuana. International treaties
regarding marijuana make an exception for hemp, and trade alliances such as
NAFTA allow for the importation of hemp.