America’s Annual Hemp History Week takes place from June 2 through June 8, 2014 with activities in every state that continue to educate more Americans about the benefits of hemp. Uses ranging from building materials and fuel; to clothing and food, show hemp as an ecofriendly solution that provides economic opportunity for American Farmers and American Manufacturers. It is ironic that this versatile sustainable crop that US law once required farmers to grow, is today an outlawed crop – a result of a misguided Federal Policy created in the 1930’s.
Hemp has a global history with use as early as 8000 B.C. to create fabric. By 2700 B.C. hemp was also being used to make rope, food, and medicine. Years following saw hemp used for sailcloth, lamp oil, and paper. Hemp paper was used for both the Gutenberg and King James Bibles, and artists including Rembrandt and Van Gogh painted on hemp canvas. With the first hemp law enacted in Virginia, American farmers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had to grow hemp, and by the eighteenth century could actually be jailed for not doing so. Notable American fore-fathers were involved with the growth of hemp as a viable crop. One of the first hemp paper mills was started by Ben Franklin; hemp fiber was used to make clothing for George Washington’s army, fabric for the first flag, and paper used to draft the Declaration of Independence; both Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations; Abe Lincoln used hemp seed oil as lamp fuel; and hemp was accepted in America as a legal tender of currency. In 1850 there were about eight thousand large hemp plantations in America covering about two thousand acres, and an uncounted number of small farms also growing hemp. By the end of the 1800’s engines, such as the one produced by Rudolph Diesel, used vegetable and seed oil fuels- hemp being the most efficient of these. And in the 1930’s Henry Ford saw biomass fuels as a future including hemp in his biomass conversion plant.
The demise of hemp began in the late 1800’s / early 1900’s. The use of drugs for recreational use was introduced into the US with ‘smoking’ parlors opening in several major cities. Smoking of the hemp female plant blossom for relieving pain and the increased use of cannabis in medicinal over the counter remedies led to the Food and Drug Act of 1906 requiring the labeling of any over the counter product containing cannabis. An influx of immigrants into the US after the Mexican Revolution in 1910 introduced marijuana for recreational purposes. With the hardships endured during the Great Depression, fear and resentment of these immigrants intensified and the marijuana associated with them was blamed as the cause for violent crimes. This unwarranted fear was harnessed for campaign efforts against hemp started by industries in direct competition. Key figures with interests in paper pulp, cotton, liquor, oil, and fuel all wanted the competition from hemp eliminated. Negative hype towards hemp continued and in 1937 Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act that criminalized the growing and unauthorized use of marijuana. Interestingly enough, until the late 1960s the US government saw the cannabis plant as having two varieties, Industrial Hemp and marijuana. After the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, hemp was no longer recognized as being distinct from marijuana. Once referred to as the ‘Billion-Dollar Crop’, hemp and its value to the American economy was wiped from existence.
There are two distinct varieties of cannabis- marijuana and hemp, just as a Siamese Cat and a Tiger are different varieties of the cat species- Felidae. The flowering tops and leaves of the psychoactive variety, known as marijuana, has a high THC content that causes the psychoactive effect in the nervous system. Industrial Hemp is a different variety with a very low THC and is grown for its fiber, seeds, and oil. The benefits of Industrial Hemp are many. Known as a carbon-negative raw material it enriches the soil with essential nutrients; creates more oxygen than any other crop; and controls weeds. Producing up to 25 tons per acre per year, hemp quickly replenish and can be grown in a variety of climates and soil conditions without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Every part of the Industrial Hemp plant can be utilized to make an array of products including textiles, paper, food, medicine, building materials, paint, detergent, oil, ink, and fuel. Legalization of Industrial Hemp cultivation in the US would have a huge positive impact on the US economy and natural resources including; lessening of foreign imports with more made in America products; providing an alternative energy source; minimizing demolition of our forests; and providing a food source for humans and livestock.
Many states have examined the benefits of Industrial Hemp and have begun processes for getting hemp once again a major US crop. Colorado and Kentucky are on the forefront of this push with hemp farms springing up throughout Colorado and test projects happening in Kentucky. Hemp History Week is a perfect opportunity to check out activities in your state and on-line to learn more about the amazing benefits of hemp.