As the Bible says, there is nothing new under the sun. This is certainly true in regards to hemp. As far back as 8000 BC, hemp was cultivated for textiles in Mesopotamia and beyond. Chinese literature refers to hemp cultivation in the third millennium BC. By 3000 years ago, Hemp was used for a multitude of purposes throughout the world, and not just to make cloth. The leaves, seeds, and roots of the prolific plant were used as an anesthetic during surgery and as medicine for conditions ranging from a simple cough to convulsions. There is even ample documentation of the use of hemp to ease contractions during childbirth!
The everyday use of hemp would not end until the twentieth century. And why would it? Hemp has countless uses and can be cultivated in various climates. In fact, hemp was brought to the New World by the Puritans on ships that, more likely than not, had sails and ropes made from hemp fibers. In Jamestown in the year 1619, farmers were ordered to grow hemp. In the early settler days, hemp seed was even used as a form of currency. Our founding fathers would later cash in on the crop: George Washington wrote about farming hemp on his lands and Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that manufactured hemp paper.
Nothing new under the sun.
So what happened? As part of the Cannabis family, hemp was demonized along with its cousin during the reefer madness era of the early twentieth century. Getting high off hemp is physically impossible as it does not contain enough TCH, so why was this age-old crop criminalized?
Let’s start with a media mogul named W.R. Hearst. Hearst also happened to be heavily invested in the timber trade. Hemp, as an efficient alternative to cutting down trees in order to make paper, posed a threat to the profits of Hearst and his cronies. Another influential figure who played a key part in the criminalization of hemp was none other than John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil who viewed hemp-sourced ethanol as competition.
The financial chaos caused by the Great Depression in the 1930s made it all the more crucial for the likes of Rockefeller, Hearst, and other industry titans to stamp out the competition. What do you do with a threat that you cannot outright destroy? You engage in manipulative techniques to sway opinions of the public and those in power. W.R. Hearst, with his influence in print media and considerable wealth, was in a position to do both.
Thankfully, we have been seeing great changes in regards to cannabis in recent years, changes that show no sign of slowing or stopping anytime soon as more and more states and countries see that the benefits of the plant outweigh the risk. But what does this mean for hemp?
The uses of hemp cannot be summed up in one post. The number of products that can be manufactured from this useful plant number into the tens of thousands, including food, medicine, and even building materials. However, I have outlined here eight reasons why hemp has the potential to help build a better world:
- Hemp clears more carbon dioxide from the air than most plants, thereby reducing the greenhouse effect. It does this by storing the carbon within itself for the plants entire lifespan. The carbon remains sequestered within hemp products, unable to be released back into the atmosphere.
- Because hemp is biodegradable, products made from the crop will quickly break down, returning to the earth instead of rotting away in a landfill or being dumped into the ocean.
- Because hemp is sturdy, it does a stellar job of keeping the weeds away on its own, requiring less pesticides than many other crops.
- Hemp seeds can be pressed into biodiesel and used as a fuel compatible with most forms of transportation. Fermented stalks can be made into ethanol, as well.
- Hemp is simply efficient. One acre of hemp can produce up to ten times the amount of paper that an acre of trees can. Hemp is ready to harvest within months, while trees can take a decade or more to reach maturity.
- Hemp is convenient. Not only does it grow in a variety of climates and soil types, hemp grows closely together, taking up less space and requiring less farmland. Since it improves soil health, new crops can be planted soon after the hemp is harvested.
- Hemp seeds are good for you. An ingredient in numerous health foods, the seeds are rich in the Omega-3s, the fatty acids that help prevent and manage heart disease.
- It is a non-toxic material that can be used in construction, including insulation. Its woody inner core is used with lime to make “hempcrete” which is used in building walls and structural supports. Hemp seed oil can even be used as a finish.
So where does hemp stand today in regards to legality? As of 2014, the Farm Bill was amended under President Obama to allow the cultivation of hemp for research purposes, keeping federal restrictions on growing hemp for commercial use in place. Despite federal law, however, seventeen state governments from California to North Dakota to Vermont have allowed farmers to enter the commercial hemp trade. Meanwhile, there is a strong movement in D.C. to end federal prohibition. In June of this year, the Senate Agriculture Committee, led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, passed a bill with provisions to fully legalize the cultivation and trade of hemp.
According to the World Resource Institute, 20,000 hectares of forests are being chopped down every day to make our goods and to clear more land. There is a Texas-sized garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. While groundbreaking progress is undoubtedly being made in regards to attitudes towards hemp, one can’t help but wonder just why on Earth it took so long, or feel outraged at the fact that thousands of years of usage was suddenly halted by corporate greed.
When will we stop criminalizing Mother Nature?