Hemp 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 …