By Kimberly Smith
In a world where farmers leave land empty during rotations, pesticides are harming valuable insect populations, and toxins and waste are ruining the environment, there is hemp. A crop that takes very little effort, land, fertilizer, and pesticides, while removing radioactive material from the soil and carbon emissions from the air. A crop that was once widely grown in the United States. A crop that is produced into “green” products. A crop that can heal the Earth!
Many people still shy away from hemp due to its association with its “cousin” marijuana, which is a different variety of the same species, Cannabis sativa, L. This is like comparing pugs and German shepherds (same species, different varieties). “Industrial hemp,” refers to cannabis grown for the use of its fiber, oil, and seeds (hemp, n.d.). Hemp and marijuana have obvious visual differences, primarily in height and shape (hemp tends to be tall, with few leaves, whereas marijuana tends to be shorter, with more leaves and flowers). These distinctions result in different production and uses of these two distinct varieties of the plant (Johnson, 2015; University of Minnesota, 2009). Additionally, hemp differs in genetic and chemical makeup. It contains less than 0.3% of the psychoactive compound THC (compared to 10% to 30% for marijuana), which gives it no psychoactive effect or “high.”
Hemp was once legally and widely grown in the United States. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both written on hemp paper, and the colony of Jamestown required citizens to grow hemp (Kolosov, 2009). In 1937, the Controlled Substances Act took away farmers’ ability to grow and produce hemp in the United States. However, during World War II, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urged farmers to grow hemp in support of the war effort by releasing the film “Hemp for Victory” in 1942. Furthermore, farmers who grew hemp were excused from military duty. Until recently, the U.S. has had to depend on other countries to grow and produce hemp for Americans. On October 22, 2014 Murray State University in Kentucky made history when they harvested and baled the first industrial hemp crop legally planted in the United States since around World War II (Wright, 2014). A few states have grown hemp under study programs, and many have legalized growing and production of industrial hemp, and many more have legislation pending.
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of hemp products. If passed, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, with companion bills in the U.S. House and Senate, is written to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and give farmers the right to grow this valuable crop (Ferner, 2015). Farmers can choose to either completely specialize in hemp, or add it to their rotation. Higher yields for crops planted after hemp in rotation are believed to be due to hemp’s deep root system (Piotrowski & Carus, 2011). Hemp plants are typically grown very close together, which deters weed growth, and is very resistant to insects. This plant is environmentally friendly, needs very little fertilizer or pesticide, and yields an average of 5 tons of fiber per acre (USDA, 2002.).
One of hemp’s most promising properties is absorbing toxins, radiation, and greenhouse gases from the environment during its growth cycle and after it is manufactured into some products. At the Chyrnoble site hemp has been used for the process of phytoextraction, which means planting specific crops to remove dangerous metals from the soil of hazardous waste sites (Huang & Cunningham, 1996). Also, once the hemp plant is manufactured into hempcrete, a building material made from hemp fiber, it absorbs greenhouse gases as well as prevents mold growth. Over one hundred years, a ton of hempcrete is estimated to absorb and sequester approximately 249 kilograms of carbon dioxide in addition to the carbon dioxide it absorbs during crop growth (Holms & Wingate, 2002). All we have to do is grow it and build with it!
From building materials to vehicle parts to paper, hemp is produced into many commodities that are also good for the environment. The materials in hemp vehicles are biodegradable and can increase fuel efficiency. They weigh about thirty percent less than currently used materials while maintaining a higher strength-to-weight ratios than steel and could simply be buried and consumed naturally by bacteria instead of rusting in a junk yards (Onion, 2014). With such an easily reproduced resource for use as ethanol of biofuel, just think of the habitat destroying fossil fuel extraction practices we can replace it with. Likewise, many trees can be saved by using hemp for paper. This is far more sustainable as hemp is higher in cellulose by fifty five percent and is quickly reproduced (Dewey & Merrill, 1916). It is an endless supply, whereas our natural habitats reducing more and more each year.
Hemp can help our farmers and our planet! If the 2015 Industrial Hemp Farming Act passes, farmers can make their own choice, provide jobs, and improve the environment! Please talk to your legislators about hemp and its benefits today, and show them you mean business by voting hemp with your dollars!
Dewey, L. H., & Merrill, J. L. (1916, October 14). USDA Bulletin #404.
Ferner, M. (2015, January 22). Bill Aims to End Federal Ban on U.S. Hemp Production. Huff Post Politics, Retrieved from www.huffingtonpost.com
hemp (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 02, 2015, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hemp
Holmes, S., & Wingate, M. (2002). Building with Lime: A practical introduction
Johnson, R. (2015, February 2). Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity. Retrieved from Congressional Research Service website: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32725.pdf
Kolosov, C. A. (2009). Evaluating the public interest: regulation of industrial hemp under the controlled substances act. UCLA Law Review, 57, 237-274. Retrieved from http://uclalawreview.org/pdf/57-1-5.pdf
Onion, M. (2014, June). Hemp cars could be wave of the future. Retrieved from ABC News website: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=98529&page=1&singlePage=true
Piotrowski, S., & Carus, M. (2011). Ecological benefits of hemp and flax. Retrieved from nova-Institute website: http://eiha.org/media/2014/10/Ecological-benefits-of-hemp-and-flax-cultivation-and-products-2011.pdf
USDA. (2000, January 2). Industrial Hemp in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/328230/ages001ei_1_.pdf
University of Minnesota (2009). Hemp and marijuana: Genes producing THC, active ingredient in cannabis plant, identified. Science Daily. Retrieved January 2, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915113538.htm
Wright, J. (2014, October 23). Hemp harvested in MSU pilot program: Numerous officials take part in national bioenergy day. Murray Ledger & Times. Retrieved from http://murrayledger.com/news/hemp-harvested-in-msu-pilot-program-numerous-officials-take-part/article_503dafa8-5a5c-11e4-8a3f-73a1ba763df0.html