Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

The Argument in Favor of Industrial Hemp

By Andy Kerr

Column #19 - Go to next column

Length: 754 words

Published: 10 April 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain

Hemp has been grown for at least the last 12,000 years for fiber and food. It has been effectively prohibited in the United States since the 1950s.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. Ben Franklin manufactured hemp paper. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on it.

Hemp was grown commercially (with increasing governmental interference) in the United States until the 1950s. It was doomed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which placed a high tax on marijuana and made it effectively impossible to grow industrial hemp. While Congress expressly expected the continued production of industrial hemp, the bureaucracy lumped industrial hemp with marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are both classified by taxonomists as Cannabis sativa. Industrial hemp varieties are bred to maximize fiber, seed and/or oil, while marijuana varieties seek to maximize THC, the psychoactive ingredient.

No one would want to smoke industrial hemp which has a THC content of between 0.05 and 1%. THC in marijuana is between 3% and 20%. To receive a psychoactive dose would require a person to smoke 10 hemp cigarettes over an extremely short period of time—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 one would hide marijuana in a hemp field. Marijuana is grown widely spaced to maximize leaves; fiber hemp is grown tightly-spaced to maximize stalk. It's also the first place the cops would look.

If hemp does pollinate any marijuana, genetically, the result will always be lower-THC marijuana, not higher-THC hemp.

When U.S. sources of "Manila hemp" were cut off in WW II, the government supported growing hemp domestically.

Hemp oil and seed can be made into tasty and nutritional products. Hemp oil is the richest known source of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (the "good" fats). It's quite high in some essential amino acids, including the rare gamma linoleic acid (GLA), also found in mother's milk.

Hemp can be made into quality paper. The long fibers allow it to be recycled more times than wood-based paper. Because of its low lignin content, hemp can be pulped using less energy and chemicals than wood, resulting in less pollution. Its natural brightness obviates the need to use chlorine bleach, which means no extremely toxic dioxin being dumped into waters. Acid-free, hemp paper can last 1500 years. Wood papers last 25-100 years. Kimberly Clark has a mill in France which produces hemp paper for bibles because it lasts a very long time and doesn't yellow.

Construction products such as panels, beams, studs and posts could be made out of hemp. Because of longer fibers, the products will be stronger and/or lighter than those made from wood.

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 a following crop.

Hemp can yield 3-8 dry tons of fiber per acre. This is four times what an average forest can yield.

A 1938 Popular Mechanics described hemp as a "New Billion Dollar Crop." Back then a billion was real money.

Hemp can be made in to a variety of fabrics, including linen quality. It could displace cotton which is usually grown with massive amounts of chemicals harmful to people and the environment. 50% of all the world's pesticides are sprayed on cotton.

Hemp fibers are longer, stronger, more absorbent and more mildew-resistant than cotton.

Hemp can displace wood fiber and save forests for watershed, wildlife habitat, recreation and oxygen production, carbon sequestration (reduces global warming), and other values.

Henry Ford wanted to build and fuel cars from farm products. He experimented with hemp to build car bodies. BMW is experimenting with hemp materials in automobiles as part of an effort to make cars more recyclable.

Much bird has hemp seed (it's sterilized before importation), the hulls of which contain about 25% protein.

Hemp oil once greased machines. Most paints and finishes used to be made out of linseed (flax) and hemp oils. Rudolph Diesel designed his engine to run on hemp oil.

Over 30 industrialized democracies do distinguish hemp from marijuana. International treaties regarding marijuana make an exception for industrial hemp. Canada now again allows the growing of hemp. The Mounties are not concerned.

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