Throughout American history our country has come to rely on many different natural resources. With technology and the population increasing, the number of fossil fuel reserves and natural forests are going down. What America needs is a renewable source of fuels and fibers that will meet the growing needs of the future, but will not damage our environment. One of the most promising sources of fiber, fuel, and natural oil is hemp. Hemp, also known as Cannabis Sativa L, has been used in our country since the early 17th century (Schreiber 160). Although hemp is considered an illegal drug, many people forget that it is a part of our countrys history. Despite its negative connotations, hemp has the potential to revolutionize the paper, cotton, and fuel industries. Its long fibers can be weaved with others to make stronger clothing, while its pulp can be used to make stronger paper. It has been known as an important resource for thousands of years, and in the future, perhaps it will be again. Hemp is a plant that originated in Asia several thousand years ago (Schreiber 7). Its genus is called Cannabis, to which there are three sub species, Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. Hemp is of the sativa family, which normally grows to about 4 meters and has a hollow, fibrous stem.
When grown industrially, the male plant is used primarily because it grows tall and spindly, producing the most fiber, and allowing the farmer to plant more in a smaller area. The female plant is much shorter, and produces buds. Hemp is often confused with another plant of the same genus, Marijuana. Because of this confusion it is imperative that the differences between these two plants are understood. Although very similar, Marijuana is not the same plant as hemp (Williams 2). Marijuana, also known as pot, hashish, or weed, is grown for its buds and leaves, to produce psychoactive effects when introduced into the human body. Marijuana has high levels of THC (Delta-9 Tetrahydracannibinol), the ingredient that causes the user to be high. Whereas industrial hemp typically has a THC level less than one percent, marijuana can have levels up to twenty percent (Washuk 1). Med Byrd, head paper scientist at NCSU said, “You couldn’t get high off hemp even if you smoked a joint the size of a telephone pole.”
Hemp is also contains a substance called cannibidiol, which actually inhibits THC. Under current U.S. law the hemp plant is considered a narcotic, which makes it illegal to possess the plant, parts of the plant, or live unsterilized seeds. Under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, there was no chemical distinction made between the two substances. Because of this, hemp eventually became illegal when marijuana did. (Williams 4). While industrial hemp has been used for centuries to make rope, clothing, and other materials, it has never been used for smoking due to its lack of THC. Cannabis was used first in about 8000 BC for cloth and textiles, and by 2700 BC it was incorporated into most cultures for fabric, cordage, food and medicine. From 1000 BC to 1883 AD hemp was considered the world largest agricultural crop (Schreiber 159). Hemp didn’t just have its roots in other cultures either; it has been used in America for a very long time. The first recorded hemp plot in North America was planted in 1606 by a French botanist named Louis Hebert (Jenkins 1).
From the early 1600’s to 1859 hempseed oil was the most used lamp oil in the world. In early America, most colonies enacted “must grow” laws that made it illegal for farmers not to grow hemp. The first U.S. flag was sewn with hemp fabric in 1777 (Schreiber 161). Famous people such as Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington were avid hemp farmers. George Washington was once quoted saying, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere.” Back then, hemp was recognized as a versatile crop, yet today, with other countries allowing the production of hemp, the U.S. still considers this plant to be harmful. Today, Hemp is grown legally in 32 different countries around the world. While countries like England, France, China, Hungary, and Canada legally grow hemp by the thousands of acres, American farmers are forced to sit and watch while they barely break even on their own crops.
Estimated worldwide hemp sales in 1996 were around 100 million dollars (Kicklighter, 2). With hemp looking to be a promising crop, why would the United States not follow in the footsteps of other great nations? One reason is that U.S. law considers hemp and marijuana the same thing. This can be argued either way, but in the end it comes down to the fact that they are different. Until there is a change in law, hemp will be classified as a drug, and not a viable crop (Quinn 1). Even though many state governments do not oppose the legalization of hemp, the main opposition to hemp comes from the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), and the U.S. Offices of Drug Control Policy. Headed by General Barry McCaffrey, the USODCP claims that the promotion of hemp products, and the fight to legalize hemp, is nothing more than a smoke screen to legalize marijuana. Recently, the USODCP released a statement saying, “A serious law enforcement concern is that a potential byproduct of legalizing hemp production would be de facto legalization of marijuana cultivation.
The seedlings look the same, and in many instances the mature plants look similar as well” (Barnard 1). The DEA says that legalizing hemp would make it harder to enforce drug laws because marijuana and hemp look alike (Cauchon 1). Most hemp farmers from the 32 nations cultivating hemp would disagree. Although there are strong visual similarities in the strains, law officials from hemp producing countries have been trained to detect the differences in appearances of both plants, and have no trouble enforcing drug laws (Barnard 2). If the U.S. could use a system modeled after countries that have already legalized hemp, the industry could thrive and not infringe on drug control. This would allow hemps benefits to be fully realized by the world; benefits that far exceed most crops used today. There are thousands of uses for hemp, but there are three that would have the greatest effect on our society. Hemp can be made into fuel, paper, and clothing, which could drastically change the oil, logging, and cotton industries.
All three industries have had problems in the past dealing with environmental concerns, and hemp could provide an alternative that is environmentally friendly, while remaining cost effective (Schreiber 24). Since the invention of the engine and the oil furnace, America has relied on fossil fuels to power their cars and heat their homes. Even though there have been advances in solar and electrical energy, fossil fuels have become a significant part of our daily lives. It is believed that if present rates of use continue, in 200 years we will completely exhaust all of our oil reserves. Because of this, it is imperative that an alternative to fossil fuels is implemented so we do not run into a problem when all of earths’ oil is gone (Schreiber 24). One of the most feasible options is methanol, a clean burning fuel, which can be used to run combustion engines as well as run a furnace. Perhaps one of the best sources for methanol is hemp. Hemp produces ten times more methanol as corn, which is one of America’s main sources of it today (Schreiber 24).
Not only does methanol derived from hemp burn well, it doesn’t contribute to the destruction of the environment like fossil fuels do. Fossil fuels release damaging sulfur and carbon into the air, contributing to acid rain and the increase of “Greenhouse gasses.” Methanol does not. Another advantage of using hemp for fuel is the fact that America wouldn’t rely on foreign countries for the product. All the hemp needed to power our cars and heating systems could be grown on our own soil (Julin 5b). While hemp is being grown for fuel, it could also be grown for paper at the same time. The paper industry is one of the bigger industries in America today. It is estimated that by the year 2010, the paper usage of the world will increase 90 percent due to population increases. Andy Kerr, the former executive director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council said, “Hemp makes sense. We are already short on forests and it is going to get worse.
The demand simply cannot be sustained. We already have too many people consuming too much” (Washuk 2). With the need for more paper and decreasing forests, using hemp for paper instead of trees could help the shortage that will occur in the future. Hemp paper will not only take care of the shortage, but it will be marginally better than the previous wood-based paper. Hemp paper is not only stronger than wood based paper, but last much longer and does not require the dangerous chemicals that are used in the bleaching process. Due to its reliability, the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, as was the Constitution (Williams 3). Normal paper processing produces a nasty byproduct called dioxin, which is toxic and is extremely damaging to the environment. Not only is making hemp paper safer, hemp yields up to four times more paper per acre than trees (Julin 4a).
Thousands of acres of hemp could be planted for paper, while preserving our forests, which help contribute to our environment. One industry, which is certainly not new to America, is cotton. It has been used in America for hundred of years to make clothes, fabric, and many other things. Although soft, and reasonably priced, cotton is a soil-damaging crop which requires large amounts of fertilizer to grow. One half of pesticides that are used the U.S. are applied on cotton. These pesticides are commonly toxic and can damage the air and the earth (Julin 3b). One alternative to cotton for clothes and fabric is hemp. The stalk of the hemp plant can be used to make hemp clothing that is stronger and longer lasting than cotton clothes. Designers like Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani have added hemp clothes and bed linens to their product lines. In 1996 Adidas sold approximately 30,000 pairs of shoes made partially from hemp.
Although hemp clothing is much more expensive now, the price would drop as the demand became higher. One of the disadvantages of hemp clothing is that it is not naturally soft like cotton. It has more of a texture comparable to burlap, or canvas. When combined with other fabrics, or if it undergoes a special processing treatment, it can be made to be extremely soft (McGraw 1). This would make it more marketable and suitable for fine clothes, or anything that comes in contact with the skin frequently. In the future, the way our culture goes about daily tasks, the way we do things, is bound to change.
Our government is bound to change as well. Even though hemp is illegal now, its benefits are so numerous that it is just a matter of time before it becomes a thriving industry. What America needs a renewable source of fuels and fibers that will meet the growing needs of the future. Hemp can fulfill that need. It has the potential to make better clothes, better fuel, and better paper. Perhaps some day in the future, hemp will become the worlds leading crop again, as it once was.
Barnard, Jeff. “Hemps Profile Getting Higher But Marijuana Factor Still a Bummer.” Los Angeles Times [Electric Library] 23 August 1998 Cauchon, Dennis. “Canadian Hemp Isnt Going to Pot.” USA Today [Electric Library] 7 October 1998. Pg13A Jenkins, Phil. “Field Of Opportunity.” Canadian Geographic [Electric Library] 1 March 1999 Julin, Brian. “The Hemp FAQ.” www.cannabis.com/faqs/hemp1.shtml 1994 Kicklighter, Kirk. “Getting Hemp Over The Hump.” The News & Observer [Electric Library] 4 July 1998. McDougal, Jeanette. “Good Reasons to Stay Skeptical About Legalizing Industrial Hemp.” Minneapolis Start Tribune [Electric Library] 29 April 1999. Pg24A McGraw, Dan. “Hemp is High Fashion.” U.S. News & World Report [Electric Library] 20 January 1997 Pg54-56 Quinn, Patrick. “Greeks Seek to Weed Out Hemp.” The Associated Press News Service [Electric Library] 13 November 1998 Schreiber, Gisela. The Hemp Handbook. Great Britain: Vision Paperbacks, 1999. Williams, Ted. “Legalize It!” Audubon Magazine [Email] November 1999. Washuk, Bonnie. “Hemp Touted as a Better Paper Source.” Sun Journal [Electric Library] 5 April 1998.