It's High Time We Legalized Hemp - and Here's Why
By Laura Hogg
From the NatuREport Blog Series
Welcome back to NatuREport! This week in the news: houses made of hemp are growing in popularity, but the crop is still illegal to grow in the United States. With its multitude of uses, one has to wonder – why?
To put it mildly, there’s a pretty big stigma against hemp in this country. Hemp is the butt of jokes, relegated to the domain of hippies. So let’s get this out of the way: it’s true. Hemp does belong to the family Cannabis sativa, and is thus a cousin to high-in-THC marijuana. But, as one Huffington Post commenter humorously (and truthfully) pointed out: “There isn’t enough THC in hemp to get a fly high.” Let’s squash that little misconception, shall we?
Unfortunately, despite the fact that it’s impossible to get high from hemp, under Federal law it’s still illegal to grow hemp in the United States. It’s classified as a controlled substance and is strictly regulated (though, of course, it is not illegal to own hemp products – my boyfriend is not a criminal because he owns hemp lotion, and I haven’t been jailed for munching on hemp seeds).
So why is it illegal?
As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons for hemp’s illegal status:
1) Back in the 1930’s, William Hearst decided that hemp was too much of a competitor for his wood-based paper company, so he launched a smear campaign that tapped into prevailing racist attitudes. He created an association in people’s minds between marijuana and its harmless cousin, and then printed cartoons depicting lazy Mexicans smoking weed and stories about how those marijuana-addled Negroes were out raping white women.
2) It, you know, kind of looks like marijuana. Plus, the two plants are related.
I would hope that I don’t have to point out the ridiculousness of point #1. And point #2 makes about as much sense as jailing both a guilty man and his innocent brother, because they bear a passing resemblance to one another.
An environmentalist’s dream
So what exactly are we missing out on, here? To sum it up quickly: hemp is a hardy plant that grows strong and quickly, requiring few pesticides and no herbicides. As it grows, hemp also replenishes soil with nutrients and nitrogen and helps prevent soil erosion. Suitable climate zones for growing hemp include…well, most of the world, excluding northern Canada/Alaska/Greenland, the Sahara desert, Brazil, and Russia. In fact, hemp was the largest cash crop until the 20th century.
Oh, and it’s also carbon negative – meaning that it actually permanently removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So next time you hear politicians freaking out over what they should do about global warming…think about that.
Building a case for hemp
But the reason that hemp has been making headlines lately is because it’s about as environmentally friendly a building material as you could ever hope to find. Yep – you could live in a house made out of hemp. And it would be a comfortable life, too. When mixed with lime and water, it forms something called “hempcrete,” which is energy efficient, nontoxic, and resistant to fire, insects, and mold. Check it out:
Besides being a homebuilder’s dream, hemp can also be made into the following:
- Fabric (it regulates body temperature better than cotton, and has anti-microbial properties than enable it to be used for medical bandages)
- Animal bedding
- Cooking oil
- Environmentally-friendly, biodegradable plastic (This is the end result of using petroleum-based plastics, by the way)
- Food (there are 13 grams of protein per 5 tablespoons of hemp seeds, and they’re super high in omega-3s)
- Paper (the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper)
- Canvas (ever notice how similar the word canvas is to cannabis? Turns out that’s not a coincidence.)
- Automobile parts (yes, really. Here’s a car made out of hemp. Henry Ford himself designed and produced a hemp car – in 1941 – said to be “ten times stronger than steel.”)
- Water and soil purifier
- Weed controller
Some people have raised concerns that a hemp field could easily be a cover for a drug-growing operation. Sentiments on marijuana laws aside (I personally am pro-legalization, but that’s a different story), I think that, realistically, we can all agree that any hemp fields would probably be strictly regulated by the government. Any Mary Jane would be swiftly weeded out.
The more I read about hemp and its uses, the less sense it makes to keep it illegal to grow. Yes, hemp is related to marijuana – but to put it bluntly, it’s time for America to get over it. With our planet heating up rapidly and current methods woefully inadequate to stop it, we cannot afford to remain on our high horse.