Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What About Hemp?

Hemp: A strain of Cannabis sativa that contains less than 0.3 % THC by weight. Its fibers and oil can be used in a wide variety of products.

Did you know that growing hemp is legal in the United States? Yes, it’s true, sort of. Kind of. In theory. Federal law and the laws of eight states currently permit the growing of industrial hemp. There’s only one little catch: You are required to get a license from the DEA in order to be allowed to grow hemp, and the DEA does not grant licenses (the last hemp license was issued in the 1950s). Until recently, the DEA justified their denial of license requests by saying that growing hemp was illegal in the state from which the request came. Since that’s no longer a valid justification, they now just ignore requests. See for example this recent case where two North Dakota farmers (the first state to legalize hemp) played by all the rules and were still ignored and eventually refused a license. They sued the DEA, but of course their case was dismissed.

So why is the United States the only industrialized nation in the world that does not allow industrial hemp, which is not a recreational drug, to be grown. I mean really, not the crazy, nonsensical reasons given by the DEA. Doesn’t anyone here realize that hemp is arguably the most valuable non-food crop known to mankind? I’m not exaggerating. From the beginning of time through the 1950s, hemp was grown pretty much everywhere by pretty much everybody. It still is, except of course in the U.S. And at one time it was even required to be grown by farmers here. Why? What makes it so valuable? What can it be used for? The following is nowhere near an exhaustive overview, but I think is more than enough to answer these questions.

How about using hemp seed oil as a substitute for petroleum products? That’s right, virtually anywhere petroleum is used, hemp oil can be substituted. Hemp provides a biodegradable, renewable source of clean fuel that could reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And let’s not forget another major use of petroleum products, plastics. Just imagine the positive effects on the environment that would result from the use of biodegradable plastics. Oh, did I mention paints and varnishes, which up until the 1930s were made with hemp oil?

What about textiles? Anything that can be made from cotton can be made from hemp fibers, and has been until recently. Not only are hemp fabrics more durable than those made from cotton, but hemp is easier to grow, requires fewer polluting fertilizers, and is much less labor-intensive to harvest and process. And let’s not forget the ever-popular rope.

And then there’s paper. Paper made from hemp costs about half of what it costs to make paper from trees. Part of the reason is because it grows so much faster than trees—a hemp plant’s growth in one season is equivalent to a tree’s growth in 20 years. It also requires the use of fewer fertilizers, and the paper produced is more durable and more flexible than paper made from trees.

Last but not least is hemp as a source of nutrition. Hemp seeds contain 25 percent protein, second only to soybeans. And they are high in essential fatty acids (whatever those are), such as omega-3. A variety of hemp-based food products—such as snack bars, milk, oil, and protein powder—are already legal and available in the U.S. However the hemp used to produce these products must be imported.

So, just let me make sure I understand this correctly: Hemp can reduce our dependence on foreign oil, help reduce our trade deficit, boost our agricultural economy, provide a renewable and clean alternative to fossil fuels, reduce the use of chemical fertilizers thus helping clean up the environment, save trees, save labor, and save money. And it’s good for you. So please explain to me one more time why it’s not permitted in the U.S.

This brief little overview just barely scratches the surface of all the uses and benefits of hemp. For more information, check out the North American Industrial Hemp Council’s web site.

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