Today, many people find themselves fretting about how the environment is being destroyed while our resources are being used up and in "x" amount of years, they wont be available for future generations to enjoy the benefits of. There is, however, a resource that has great potential for saving us from our "Impending Doom". This savior resource is hemp. It is definitely the most versatile, and renewable natural resource we currently have at our disposal. It has seen massive amounts of use through out human history and has only recently (within the 20th century) been made illegal for us to grow in the US. Using hemp over other, more common feedstocks has many eco-friendly advantages, but first the DEA and other governmental agencies must understand its value and dissociation with marijuana.
Hemp has been grown for at least the last 12,000 years, making it one of the first cultivated crops in history. As far as American history is concerned, in James town and other colonies of the 1600's, "must grow" laws were passed to keep the struggling villages clothed and protected (White). Even George Washington grew it on 4 of his farms (Cloud). Hemp was especially important for the sailors of the day; since it's a very durable material it worked great for rope and sails. Two of the first versions of the Declaration of Independence were printed on hemp paper and Betsy Ross sewed the first US flag out of hemp fabric. Even the Settlers crossing the country had their wagons covered with hemp canvas (White). During WWII, the US Army and US Department of Agriculture promoted the "Hemp for Victory" campaign to grow hemp in the US to make up for a shortage of materials being imported (Kerr).
Due to a combination of ignorance, and the desire to keep the population protected, congress passed the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which included the banning of hemp. They were duped into believing they were banning the allegedly harmful drug, marijuana, to discourage its use. They didn't know that hemp and marijuana came from the same plant and they were never informed that they were actually outlawing hemp, a crop they were very familiar with (Deitch 146-151). It has effectively been prohibited in the US since the 1950's.
The difference between marijuana and hemp is greater then most of the population is led to believe. However, the ones that do know will say that the difference between the two is as great a difference between corn and roses. The relationship between the two that the government is concerned about is its THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol) content. Marijuana THC content ranges from 4% all the way up to 25%, while hemp THC content is 1% or in most cases, much less. However, not only does hemp have a lower THC content, it also has a much higher content of CBD (cannabidiol), which inhibits the ability to get a high from it (White). Another thing to note is that when hemp and marijuana cross-pollinate (because theyre the same species, Cannabis sativa, just different sub species) the CBD in the hemp decreases the amount of THC in marijuana. You would be "stark raving mad" to hide marijuana in the middle of a hemp crop (Cloud). When hemp crops are sewn, they're planted very close (as little as 4 inches apart) which maximizes stalk yields up to 20 feet tall. Marijuana on the other hand, is planted up to 6 feet apart, which maximizes leaf sizes (Distinguishing Hemp). This is one of the biggest differences between the two types of Cannabis that allows all the countries, which grow it legally, to tell them apart.
The best part about hemp is that its capable of replacing many feedstocks that are an endangerment to the environment and that it can provide the resources for over 25,000 different products. A problem with many of our current resources is that they are not renewable, or at least in a practical sense, and if they are, they usually contribute to a lot of pollution. The forests we clear cut to make paper products out of take decades to grow and theyre important because they provide, among other things, wildlife habitat, recreation, oxygen production, and carbon sequestration (Kerr). Cotton is one of the heaviest sprayed crops in the world, making up for some 50% of pesticide use in this country. While our petroleum resource is not only un-renewable, its also a high pollutant to use. Instead, we could be using hemp, which can single handedly stop worldwide deforestation (Wilke). It grows in a large variety of climates ranging from the deserts of Texas to the cold climate of North Canada and in most types of soils with little effort (White). Its fibers are considered superior to wood for making paper out of. It has a low lignin content, which allows it to be pulped using less energy and chemicals then wood, resulting in less pollution. Its natural brightness means much less bleaching and its acid-free quality, allows it to last 10 times longer then wood paper, up to 1,500 years. Hemp can yield 3-8 tons of dry fiber per acre, which is 4 times more then what an average forest can; and in comparison, hemp grows in 100-120 days, unlike forests that take decades. Finally, the long fibers of hemp allow it to be recycled many more times then wood-based paper (Kerr).
Hemp used for cloth is far superior to cotton. So much so that it may in fact be the answer to the worlds fiber shortage. It's, after all, well known in the textile industry to be a versatile and durable fabric (Wilke). The hemp fibers are longer, stronger, more absorbent and more mildew-resistant then cotton. Fabrics made of at least one-half hemp block UV rays more effectively then other fabrics. Since hemp is naturally resilient towards pests that eliminates the need for pesticide. The need for herbicide is eliminated because of the tight growing ability of hemp, it just chokes out the weeds, which is great for preparing the field for other kinds of crops that aren't so resilient. Thus, hemp is very often an organic crop.
As I mentioned before, our petroleum-based products use an un-renewable resource and they pollute heavily. As of current, we're mostly what is called a Hydrocarbon (includes petroleum and natural gas) economy, which means that the majority of the economy is supported by hydrocarbons. Well, anything we make out of hydrocarbons can also be made out of carbohydrates. This means that we can use hemp, with its long fibers, rapid growth, and versatile oil from seed, to provide an alternative to anything synthetic. The long fibers can be used for making composite plastics like fiberglass while the oil can be used as a fuel and the ethanol produced from hemp is a very clean car fuel. One of the best things about plastics from hemp is that they're also recyclable (Kerr).
Hemp is also very nutritious, as far as food is concerned. It's one of the richest known sources of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids with a volume level of 81%. It's also quite high in some essential amino acids, including gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a very rare nutrient also found in mothers' milk (Kerr). It's not uncommon to see, in a natural food store, food products like milk, breads, nutrition bars, and many others that contain hemp oil, seeds or some other form of it. Other products you can find that I haven't mentioned before include, but aren't limited to: building materials, technical products (paint, solvents, printing ink), shampoo, bath gels, beauty products, and many more. Really, what can be done with it is limited to our imagination.
So here we have this amazing plant, a miracle crop if you will, but the reason we aren't growing it in the US is because of the restrictions placed on the species Cannabis sativa by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). The DEA classifies all varieties as "marijuana", but it is theoretically possible to get permission to grow hemp, the DEA requires that razor wire, dogs, guards, and lights secure the crops, making it cost-prohibitive (Kerr). A commercial plant breeder, Dr David West, wrote in his report "Hemp and Marijuana, Myths and Realities" that:
Feral hemp, or ditchweed, is a remnant of the hemp once grown on more then 400,00 acres by U.S. farmers. It contains extremely low levels of THC, as low as .03 percent. It has no drug value... About 90 percent of the "marijuana" being eradicated by the federal government - at great public expense - is this harmless ditchweed. Might it be that the drug enforcement agencies want to convince us that ditchweed is marijuana in order to protect their large eradication budgets? (White)
The US is one of the only industrialized countries that outlaw the growing of hemp. The countries that do allow its growth include: Britain, Canada, China, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, France, and many more. China is the largest exporter of hemp paper and textiles (no surprise there). Back in 1994, French farmers harvested more than 100,000 tons of hemp, while Britain, which dropped the ban in 1993, is studying new markets for the hemp fiber. There has been a lot of progress in the states, however. Various state governments (Vermont, California, Colorado, etc.) have been pushing for state-by-state permission to grow hemp. Colorado even has a Hemp Production Act, which asks for a trial-farming permit, that has received endorsements from the American Farm Bureau Federation and many other groups (Wilke). So, pressure from the farming sectors, rather then the environmentalists, will be the great force that will carry the hemp movement to victory.
If, or more like when, the DEA decides to allow hemp farming to once again take place in the US, we will be able to begin a major turn in our ability to be environmentally friendly, and have it actually be practical. For a long time now people have been complaining about deforestation, pollution (from pesticides, car exhaust, and chemicals used in processing plants), and other harmful acts and how it often takes more effort, energy, or money to provide alternative solutions to these problems. With hemp, it is often just the opposite, in that it's more economical and convenient to use compared to the current resources. You can support the hemp movement with products now on the market, but when we begin to really use it in the US, we'll have all manner of changes for the products we buy and use every day. There's a reason humans have been cultivating hemp for thousands of years, and we really shouldn't have stopped doing it.