Hemp, the US illegal super crop
A History Channel documentary DVD, called Secrets of the Founding Fathers, tells how the colonists grew hemp, cannabis sativa, as a main crop along with tobacco. It also depicts George Washington and the Declaration of Independence signers as drunken, drugged, sex-craved, power hungry, quarreling members of secret societies like the Freemasons.
We do know that the story about hemp is true and we could learn from history that growing industrial hemp is a great idea. Hemp was used in the 1700’s for ship sails and rope, the first flag, clothing known as homespun and still found in revolutionary war uniforms and boots, paper as in the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and the old Bibles. We know they smoked tobacco so there is an excellent chance they also smoked hemp.
Thomas Jefferson wrote this journal entry at his home at Monticello in Virginia on December 29, 1815, “Flax is so injurious to our lands, and so scanty produce, that I have never attempted (using) it. Hemp, on the other hand, is abundantly productive and will grow forever on the same spot.” Both he and George Washington advised their countrymen to use hemp for lamp oil and uniform and clothing fabric. Jefferson found it cheaper than cotton cloth and clothed his laborers in hemp. George Washington was said to be more familiar with the plant as a drug. No one knows his reason for saying, “Make the most of the hemp seed, sow it everywhere.”
The Chinese started using hemp for making paper around 8,000 BC and their totally hemp documents still exist. Hemp fiber endures. Herodotus wrote that Thracians used wild and cultivated hemp fiber for a garment cloth which he compared to linen.
On YouTube, the documentary is uploaded in 11 parts. In part 6 of the Secrets of the Founding Fathers video, it says “Hemp was the single most useful crop in colonial America.” According to Richard Davis, the curator of the U.S.A. Hemp Museum, it took 80 tons of hemp, or 350 acres of hemp, to outfit one sailing ship. The word canvas comes from cannabis.
One acre of hemp yields four times the paper of one acre of trees. Hemp is one of the fastest growing biomasses, springing up ten to twenty feet tall in four months. It repels weeds, so needs no herbicides. It has few insect enemies, so needs no or few pesticides. Half of pesticides used in the U.S. are for cotton growing. Hemp building materials are stronger than wood and can be manufactured cheaper than wood, so building costs can be reduced and trees saved. Hemp oil can be used to make paint, varnish, ink, lubricating oils, and plastic substitutes, and most hemp products are nontoxic, biodegradable, renewable. Hemp is classified as a carbon negative raw material, can be grown in all fifty states, needs little water, and hemp fiber is ten times stronger than cotton.
Hulled hemp seed is one of the most perfect foods. Its amino acid profile is complete in that it has all twenty-one known amino acids, including the nine essential ones the adult human body cannot produce, in large enough quantity and ratio to meet the human body’s needs. It has more protein than meat, milk, eggs and soy, and is ideal for vegans and raw foodists. Hemp is eaten as seeds or made into hemp milk, ground hemp flour, hemp ice cream, hemp protein powder, and hemp oil. One tablespoon of hemp oil daily easily meets essential fatty acids (EFA) human requirements with its proportions of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. And yet the hemp plant, even for food purposes, remains illegal to grow in the United States, with most organic hemp seeds sold here being grown in Canada.
1957 was the year of the last legal U.S. hemp crop. The restrictive U.S. Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 shut it down. It was a competitive threat to the wood products industry and new patentable synthetic fibers more profitable than hemp. Now there is an Industrial Hemp Movement to use hemp products as alternatives for building, food, fuel, fabric, health and beauty aids, and paper.
The state of Washington in November 2012 and Colorado on December 10, 2012 made marijuana legal, and 18 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized the drug. Colorado’s constitutional amendment legalizes “the personal use and possession of up to an ounce (28 grams) of pot by adults 21 and over. It also allows users to grow up to six plants at home.” Ultimately Colorado will permit cannabis to be commercially grown, sold by state-licensed producers and distributors, and taxed like alcohol sales.
All the G8 countries except the U.S. (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom) produce and export industrial hemp. Hemp remains illegal under United States federal law, but in 1999 the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) did permit Hawaii’s one-quarter acre of industrial hemp surrounded by chain length fencing with razor wire top, and a 24-hour infrared security system.