Imagine a plant on our planet that can be made into materials of rope, paper, textiles, and even oil, with positive environmental results, is low-input sustainable, and produces no negative greenhouse gas. This plant is hemp, and can make “4 times the raw materials than trees”(http://hempethics.weebly.com). One of the oldest domesticated plants in human history, and not until recently has been stigmatized and deemed illegal because of it’s close, highly controversial relative, cannabis. Both plants have a variety of different remedies, but are entirely two different plants with differing benefits. Over 25,000 different products can be made from hemp, it can help decrease deforestation, and also has a strong resistance to pests. Hemp could be beneficial in many ecological and economic areas.
If the United States is pushing for a “greener” future, hemp possesses many sustainable and renewable characteristics that it could be one of the paths to reach that destination. Hemp requires little to no pesticides, no herbicide controls or erosion of the topsoil, and produces oxygen. Furthermore, hemp can be used to replace many potentially harmful products, such as tree paper,the processing of which uses chlorine bleach, which results in the waste product, dioxins, which are carcinogenic, and contribute to deforestation. Hemp can help replace cotton, which is usually grown with massive amounts of chemicals harmful to people and the environment. 50% of all the world’s pesticides are sprayed on cotton. These advantages only begin to touch on all of the ecological benefits that can be achieved through the hemp industry.
Hemp was one of the first products used as parchment, dating back to some of the first bibles made as well as the Declaration of Independence. Henry Ford even built a prototype car from bio-composite materials, using agricultural fiber such as hemp. Industrial hemp can be created into an industry that can make products ranging from health foods, organic body care, clothing, construction materials, biofuels, to plastic composites. Sustainable hemp seed, fiber and oil are still used in raw materials by major companies, including Ford Motors, Patagonia, and The Body Shop, to make a wide variety of products. Unfortunately, most hemp product manufacturers are forced to import hemp seed, oil and fiber from growers in Canada, Europe, and China because American farmers are prohibited by law from growing this low-input sustainable crop. In 2012 the U.S. hemp industry was valued at an estimated $500 million in annual retail sales and growing for all hemp products, according to the Hemp Industries Association, a non-profit trade organization consisting of hundreds of hemp businesses.
Visualizing all the incredible and achievable benefits from this resourceful plant, its hard to even imagine why there are restrictions surrounding this plant. Cannabis and hemp look almost identical to the untrained eye, cannabis contains percentages of THC (the chemical compound that gets you high), while hemp contains factions of a percent of the chemical. This may be known to researchers of hemp, but not to the broader public, with politicians believing that legalizing hemp is the same as legalizing cannabis. Legislation is becoming more lenient towards hemp and cannabis, thus opening the door to a brighter ecological and economical future for hemp.