June 9th, 2009 – Did you know that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not grow hemp? Many companies in the US recognize the superior quality of hemp for many nutritional and manufacturing products, yet are forced to import all their raw material hemp from other countries. Hemp not only provides more efficient means for making paper, building materials, cloth and food, it has a tidy little footprint when it comes to its impact on the environment.
* as USDA Bulletin No. 404 pointed out way back in 1916 that 1 acre of hemp produces as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees, over a 20-year period.
* Hemp can be used in place of cotton to produce fabrics from canvas to fine linen quality fabrics. Hemp produces 250% the amount of fiber that cotton does, and 600% the amount of fiber than flax when grown on the same amount of land. What’s more, hemp is a strong plant, native varieties of which grow on every continent, it does not require herbicides and pesticides. Worldwide, cotton production is responsible for between 25% and 50% of the world’s use of pesticides/herbicides.
* Hempseed is a good source of iron and calcium, as well as phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese when seeds are eaten whole and toasted. The oil in hemp seeds is about 20% protein and also a more complete source of essential fatty acids than common sources like milk, meat, eggs and soy.
These are just a few facts about the many uses of hemp, but it’s easy to see that hemp has beneficial properties and is easier on the earth than petroleum products and using trees and cotton for paper and fabrics. Hemp can be used to make paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction materials, health food and fuel! In fact, prior to the Industrial Revolution, various hemp by-products were used that have since been replaced by petrochemical products.
A Brief History of Hemp
Hemp usage dates back to the Stone Age, with hemp fiber imprints found in pottery in China and Taiwan over 10,000 years old. Ancient Asians used hemp to make clothing, shoes, ropes and early paper (there are specimens of hemp paper that have been found to be 200 years older than specimens of paper made from other woody plants).
Hemp has been cultivated for millenia in the Middle East and Asia. Until the middle of the 14th century, hemp cloth was more common than linen. In late medieval Italy and Germany, hemp was used in cooking as pie and torte filling, as well as boiled in soups.
Then in the 18th century commercial production of hemp really caught on in the West. During this era of colonial and naval expansion, hemp was needed in large quantities for making rope and sails. Hemp oil was used to form a watertight seal between the wooden planks of sailing ships, as well as to lubricate everyday items such as wagon wheels.
In the US, the Carolinas and Gulf states had very large hemp industries, second only to cotton. Spaniards first brought hemp to the West in 1545, though in 1607 Gabriel Archer observed hemp being cultivated by native peoples and commented on the native hemp’s superior quality.
Thomas Jefferson and George Washington cultivated hemp. Benjamin Franklin created the first American paper mill which made only hemp paper. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.
In the early 20th century, hemp-derived cellulose was promoted as an affordable and renewable raw material for plastics; Henry Ford even built a prototype car from biocomposite materials, using agricultural fiber such as hemp. The most successful and emerging industrial use of hemp fiber is taking place in the automobile industry in the form of biocomposites used to manufacture door panels, luggage racks and other secondary structures of automobiles, replacing heavier more dangerous fiberglass composites. Hemp fiber made into biocomposites by Flexform in Indiana has been used in millions of car and trucks in North America. Also becoming increasingly popular is injection molding, insulation, horticultural growth mats, mulch, animal bedding and mortar made from hemp fiber.
During WWII, hemp was used extensively for canvas, uniforms and rope. The early 20th century saw many advances in synthetic fibers such as nylon for making ropes. These discoveries played a part in phasing out natural fibers, as commercial greed continues to play a primary role in the US’s refusal to legalize hemp cultivation.
While the war on drugs has certainly played a part in the legal status of hemp cultivation, commercial greed is central to both hemp cultivation and the so-called war on drugs.
Cannabis started to be regulated in the US in the early 20th century. For a more complete legal history of marijuana and hemp see this Wikipedia article. In the 1930s there was great financial interest in pushing the criminalization of hemp into federal courts. The decision of the United States Congress to pass the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was based on reports, hearings and testimony derived from articles in newspapers own by William Randolph Hearst, who had substantial financial interest in the timber industry which supplied his newsprint. The American Medical Association was opposed to the to the Marijuana Tax Act because of the taxes imposed on medical cannabis, which the association recognized as having several beneficial effects. Other public figures, such as New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia were strong opponents who openly contradicted the lies propogated in earlier reports and sensational news stories about the supposed madness and addiction issues related to marijuana.
Yet over the next 30+ years, commercial interest and power would dictate the continued criminalization of hemp. In the 1970s many places in the US started to decriminalize cannabis possession. In the 1990s more areas decriminalized medical cannabis, and the legal battles between local law and federal regulation continue on into the 21st century. Beside the continued debates over medical marijuana, the issue of hemp cultivation has usually been lumped together with high-THC marijuana, though hemp grown for nutritional and industrial uses has less than 0.3% THC.
U.S Behind other Nations in Utilization of Green Hemp Cultivation
Canada, China, Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria, Australia and Spain all produce hemp for its many industrial and nutritional uses. These nations fully acknowledge the many beneficial uses and applications of hemp, and what’s more, they recognize the benefits to the environment that choosing sustainable sources for fuel and manufacturing materials provides. With all the evidence pointing to the environmental solutions that hemp provides, why in the world is the US not stepping up to the plate and replacing non-sustainable materials with hemp wherever possible?
Many people blame the fact that the US refuses to acknowledge the difference between industrial grade hemp (which has 0.3% THC or less), and hemp grown for medicinal, spiritual and recreational uses (which has THC levels between 6% and 20%). With all the financial interests of oil companies and manufacturers of synthetic plastics and construction materials, it’s no wonder that the US is behind all other industrialized nations when it comes to hemp production.
An increasing number of US companies are using hemp materials to produce everything from fabrics for clothing and textiles to highly nutritious, affordable foods and supplements, yet these companies are forced to import all of their hemp from other countries. Legalizing hemp production in the US would lessen our dependence on foreign sources of hemp, as well as clean up the country’s act when it comes to all the industrial pollution created during the manufacturing of synthetic petroleum products and processing of crude petroleum.
What you can do
Vote Hemp is a national non-profit advocacy group dedicated to removing barriers to industrial hemp farming in the U.S. through education, legislation and advocacy.
Write to Congress
Check out the Vote Hemp site to read the latest hemp legislation alerts or jump right to the ‘Write to Congress’ page to take action now.
Choose Hemp Products Over Conventional Items Made from Wood, Cotton and Petroleum
In the coming months we will be adding articles related to industrial hemp and hemp products. In the meantime, why not think about replacing some of the items you use all the time with more sustainable hemp products. Many companies are manufacturing hemp products that are also certified fair trade items, so while you’re at it, choose hemp productswhose manufacturers pay their workers adequate wages for supporting their families.
Some items common items you might consider switching to hemp versions:
Those reuseable grocery shopping bags are a great way to cut petroleum products our of the shopping equation, but an even greener solution is to use fairly traded hemp shopping bags. don’t throw out your other reuseable bags, but consider replacing worn out grocery bags with something like the roomy and sturdy Hemp Shopping Bag from Taraluna. It comes in natural as well as green and navy blue colors.
Green Field Paper makes some different weights of hemp printing paper. Because the U.S. must import the hemp used in paper like this, it is currently more expensive than paper made from wood pulp. If you can afford to do so, consider replacing wood pulp printer paper with hemp printer paper like Hemp Heritage Paper (about $30 for 500 pages), which is made from 25% hemp fiber and the rest is post consumer recycled paper. Support industrial hemp advocacy groups like Vote Hemp to help U.S. companies get access to affordable U.S. grown hemp.
Hemp seeds and the oil within the seeds provides an attractive source of additional protein, particularly for vegetarians and vegans. Hemp provides more nutrients and more complete essential fatty acids than soy. To add protein and essential fatty acids to your diet, try adding shelled hempseeds or hemp protein powder to your diet. I’m a big fan of hemp seed butter, which is a very easy way to add the nutritive benefits of hemp to your diet.
There are a growing number of hemp clothing and apparell items available from Amazon and retailers like Hempest.