Hemp: The Most Versatile Plant In The World That Is Still Prohibited (Most Of) America
The original drafts of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written on paper derived from it. The sails of Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, were made of fabric spun from it. Even early U.S. currency was printed on material extracted from it: hemp, a.k.a. cannabis, the most versatile plant in the world that, despite its significance as an early Americana, is still prohibited from being grown in most of America.
Some of our regular readers may already be familiar with the historical record of hemp, including its prominent role in American industry before the days of prohibition. But this important food and fuel crop is still largely misunderstood by millions of people. Not only is industrial hemp non-psychoactive, meaning that it cannot be smoked for mood-altering purposes in the same way as other strains of cannabis, but it also happens to be one of the most versatile plants known to man.
In his book The Great Book of Hemp: The Complete Guide to the Environmental, Commercial, and Medicinal Uses of the World’s Most Extraordinary Plant, Rowan Robinson uncovers the long-lost history of hemp, highlighting its ancient use as a natural treatment for fevers, insomnia and malaria during the Middle Ages, for instance, as well as its more recent use as a fiber source for making rope, clothing, paper and other materials.
“Hemp, Cannabis sativa, has been called man’s greatest plant ally,” explains the book. “It has been worshipped as a source of spiritual enlightenment and a sustainer of human life, but until recently hemp’s amazing past was virtually forgotten. Once at the foundation of civilization’s economy, it was not until the twentieth century that hemp was outlawed. But hemp is back.”
Hemp: the multi-billion dollar industry the government crushed
Up until the late 1930s, both hemp and cannabis were considered normal, everyday cash crops grown by farmers all across America. America’s founding fathers, in fact, grew hemp themselves, and early Reserve notes bore an image of American farmers growing and harvesting hemp. But somewhere along the way, things changed, and hemp became something of a dirty household word.
This redefinition of hemp was the product of a nationwide propaganda campaign known as “Reefer Madness,” led by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, which instilled widespread fear in the minds of the public about both hemp and cannabis. It was around this same time that the demonizing term “marijuana” came into existence, a derisive slang with racist origins that ultimately led to the complete prohibition of both cannabis cultivation and use.
“Hearst was a racist who used the little-known term ‘marihuana’ to describe what had always been commonly known as cannabis or hemp,” writes Laura Kriho in a recent piece for Boulder Weekly. “Hearst ran a very effective scare campaign to convince the public that ‘Mexicans and Negroes’ were smoking a new drug called ‘marihuana’ that was causing them to rape and murder white people.”
Somehow, hemp ended up being lumped into the same category as cannabis, and the two distinct, but related, plants ended up becoming illegal, the targets of a government-led “war on drugs” that continues to this day. And the societal consequences of this prohibition have translated into billions of dollars in lost revenues for an industry that, if once again recognized as legal and properly utilized, has the potential to literally save the planet and jump start the national economy.
“Hemp is of first necessity of the wealth and protection of the country,” Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s most well-known founding fathers, once stated about the importance of hemp.
Because Of It’s Many Uses, Hemp Has The Potential To Save The Planet
Cotton grows only in moderate climates and requires more water than hemp; but hemp is frost tolerant, requires only moderate amounts of water, and grows in all 50 states. Cotton requires large quantities of pesticides and herbicides–50% of the world’s pesticides/herbicides are used in the production of cotton. Hemp requires no pesticides, no herbicides, and only moderate amounts of fertilizer.
On an annual basis, 1 acre of hemp will produce as much paper as 2 to 4 acres of trees. From tissue paper to cardboard, all types of paper products can be produced from hemp.
The quality of hemp paper is superior to tree-based paper. Hemp paper will last hundreds of years without degrading, can be recycled many more times than tree-based paper, and requires less toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process than does paper made from trees.
Hemp can be used to produce fiberboard that is stronger and lighter than wood. Substituting hemp fiberboard for timber would further reduce the need to cut down our forests.
Hemp can be used to produce strong, durable and environmentally-friendly plastic substitutes. Thousands of products made from petroleum-based plastics can be produced from hemp-based composites.
It takes years for trees to grow until they can be harvested for paper or wood, but hemp is ready for harvesting only 120 days after it is planted. Hemp can grow on most land suitable for farming, while forests and tree farms require large tracts of land available in few locations. Harvesting hemp rather than trees would also eliminate erosion due to logging, thereby reducing topsoil loss and water pollution caused by soil runoff.
Hemp seeds contain a protein that is more nutritious and more economical to produce than soybean protein. Hemp seeds are not intoxicating. Hemp seed protein can be used to produce virtually any product made from soybean: tofu, veggie burgers, butter, cheese, salad oils, ice cream, milk, etc. Hemp seed can also be ground into a nutritious flour that can be used to produce baked goods such as pasta, cookies, and breads.
Hemp seed oil can be used to produce non-toxic diesel fuel, paint, varnish, detergent, ink and lubricating oil. Because hemp seeds account for up to half the weight of a mature hemp plant, hemp seed is a viable source for these products.
Just as corn can be converted into clean-burning ethanol fuel, so can hemp. Because hemp produces more biomass than any plant species (including corn) that can be grown in a wide range of climates and locations, hemp has great potential to become a major source of ethanol fuel.
Literally millions of wild hemp plants currently grow throughout the U.S. Wild hemp, like hemp grown for industrial use, has no drug properties because of its low THC content. U.S. marijuana laws prevent farmers from growing the same hemp plant that proliferates in nature by the millions.
From 1776 to 1937, hemp was a major American crop and textiles made from hemp were common. Yet, The American Textile Museum, The Smithsonian Institute, and most American history books contain no mention of hemp. The government’s War on Drugs has created an atmosphere of self censorship where speaking of hemp in a positive manner is considered politically incorrect or taboo.
United States Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, used products made from hemp, and praised the hemp plant in some of their writings.
No other natural resource offers the potential of hemp. Cannabis Hemp is capable of producing significant quantities of paper, textiles, building materials, food, medicine, paint, detergent, varnish, oil, ink, and fuel. Unlike other crops, hemp can grow in most climates and on most farmland throughout the world with moderate water and fertilizer requirements, no pesticides, and no herbicides. Cannabis Hemp (also known as Indian Hemp) has enormous potential to become a major natural resource that can benefit both the economy and the environment.