For most people, myself included, hearing the word “hemp” makes us think marijuana. Or in other words, as the great Snoop Dogg articulates, “that real sticky icky icky.” While most also know that the drug marijuana comes from a plant called cannabis, the same people don’t know much about the plant itself. If I were to ask your average 37 year old New Hampshire man where exactly on a cannabis plant the marijuana is located, he would probably have no clue. My point is, amongst plants that people actually know to exist, cannabis is easily one of the most misunderstood due to its association with weed.
Believe it or not, there is so much more to this incredible plant than the THC which gets you stoned (nooooo waaaay brooooo). In fact, humans have been cultivating and using hemp (the common name for cannabis) in a variety of ways for over 12,000 years. Despite our long history with this plant, the United States has made it illegal to grow (but not buy) hemp. That’s right, we can buy as much hemp as we want, but we aren’t allowed to grow it here in the US. The more you learn about the benefits of using industrial hemp, the more you will begin to see how absurdly backwards the laws are that prevent its cultivation.
What is hemp good for?
As I have just alluded to, there is much more to a cannabis plant than the buds that get you baked. Interestingly, the characteristic leaf image that commonly signifies marijuana, is not the part you smoke. That chronic OG Bubba Kush is actually the flowers of the female plant, which are the reproductive organs of cannabis. The plant also has seeds, stalks and flowers which can be used for a variety of purposes (also to be found in the marijuana of lower-income stoners).
Fibers from the cannabis plant are some of the strongest natural fibers known to man. It is no surprise then, that these fibers are used to make paper, rope, clothes, and even structural building materials. Hemp has been used in the textile industry for nearly 8,000 years and is often noted for its ability to generate clothes that are durable and long-lasting. Fibers from the cannabis plant can also be used to make an easily renewable paper which is much more environmentally sustainable than the process we use now which involves chopping down trees and bleaching the subsequent wood pulp with toxic chemicals. It is also interesting to note that several of the most important documents in history were written on hemp-based paper. Because the cannabis fiber is incredibly strong, it can be used to make plastics and building supplies. Henry Ford himself used hemp fibers to make some of his original Model T’s, and hemp is still used in the production of fiberglass today. In fact, you may have even ridden in a car containing hemp products. Cannabis fibers are so strong that you can even make “hempcrete” out of it. Fucking hempcrete!
You can also do a lot of things with the seeds from a cannabis plant. Most notably, they can be made into seed oil, which contains an incredibly nutritious supply of protein and essential fatty acids. You think the only way to get a buzz from cannabis is by smoking it? These seeds can also be used in making alcoholic beverages: beer, cider, vodka, whiskey you name it. Perhaps not surprisingly, cannabis is also now being used as a plant-based biofuel. I think the question is not what can hemp be used for, but rather what can’t it be used for. Now if this plant is so awesome, why is it illegal to grow it?
Why is it illegal to grow hemp in the US?
The history of hemp in the United States is pretty fascinating. Some of the first presidents of our country grew hemp, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. If the previous ensemble on the benefits of hemp didn’t convince you that it should be legal, then this fact certainly should. Anyways, come the 1930s, there were a few big business tycoons who wanted nothing to do with cannabis. The main leader of the anti-cannabis charge was a dude by the name of William Randolph Hearst. You may remember him from some garbage time history class as a very influential newspaper mogul. He had invested a large amount of money in acreage for timber in order to supply paper for his newspapers. It was becoming well known that hemp was a much cheaper and better source for the production of paper. However, since Hearst had already invested so much money into timber, he had to make sure that he wouldn’t lose on his investment and thus managed a clever little ploy. If you are one of those people who still has your high school US history textbook memorized, then you might remember that Hearst was quite adept at a tactic called “yellow journalism.” Basically yellow journalism is a bunch of hand-waving to get people all emotional about a topic without any substantial evidence. Interestingly, Hearst, a potent racist against Mexicans, actually coined the term “marijuana” which originally was used to describe a Mexican tobacco plant. Thus, he got people to associate the plant not with the beneficial “cannabis” but with the violence-causing, used-by-Mexicans “marijuana.” Now let’s altogether raise our middle fingers and repeat after me. Fuck you Hearst.
Another key player in the demonization of cannabis was the DuPont corporation which supplied Hearst with all the chemicals needed to bleach wood pulp as it is being processed to paper. If you were to use hemp to make paper, it would avoid this bleaching process. Additionally, the DuPont corporation had also just started churning out synthetic fibers known as nylon. As we discussed earlier, hemp can be used to make an incredibly strong natural fiber, therefore posing a threat to nylon for control of the fiber market. All of this adds up to an incredible plant accruing some very powerful enemies. You can guess what happens next.
The final two characters in this tragic story are Harry Anslinger and his uncle, Andrew Mellon. Mellon was the financial backer of the DuPont corporation and thus had obvious reasons to support the criminalization of cannabis. Anslinger was the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and underwent a decade long campaign to demonize marijuana. He made outrageous claims such saying that cannabis could make you violent and overly sexual. If you’ve ever been high, you know that the last thing you want to do is be violent. As for being overly sexual, well, there’s some truth in that, but it also severely impairs your ability to attract members of the opposite sex (at least for me). The end result of the formation of team Hearst, DuPont, Mellon, and Anslinger was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which officially made it illegal to grow cannabis unless you paid a severe tax. This was the law of the land until Lyndon B. Johnson made cannabis outright illegal in 1967. Understanding the connections between these 4 people, it becomes pretty obvious that cannabis was made illegal for almost entirely financial reasons.
Taking into account just how useful hemp is and why it got criminalized, we should all be a little pissed off that we aren’t allowed to grow this plant. There are even strains of cannabis that produce no THC at all. And yep, you guessed it–can’t grow those either. Luckily, the tides are beginning to turn. Some awesome dudes out in Colorado don’t give two shits about what the DEA says and are beginning to grow the good stuff anyways. Our message to you is to learn the facts before you make a judgment. Knowing what you know after reading this post, spread the good word to your friends and family so that we can fix the errors of our greedy predecessors.
Hemp is #geared.