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Hemp is the term for the plant Cannabis sativa which lacks sufficient quantities of tetrahydrocannabinol to make somebody high. While the plant does appear to have many potential industrial uses it also has a lot of environmental woo surrounding it.
Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated plants. It is known for its strong and coarse fibers and has traditionally been used in the production of textiles and paper. Ropes have traditionally been woven from hemp and the term "canvas" actually derives from cannabis. In the United States it became illegal to grow hemp because its cousin Mary Jane is effectively a different strain of the same plant.
Hemp is a very versatile plant and is attractive for commercial use for a variety of reasons. Proposed uses include as a biofuel, a source for plastics , as a wearable fabric (beyond use in denim), as building materials, and even in foods and food supplements.
The plant appears to have many possible commercial and industrial uses; however, many of its boosters tend to promote the plant almost as a cure-all, possibly beyond what would be reasonably expected. That is because they largely have a different agenda, marijuana legalization. Their hope is to use hemp as a sort of back door to show that their favorite plant has more uses than to get people high. Many of these claims stem from the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, by Jack Herer. In it, Herer promotes a conspiracy theory that claims that William Randolph Hearst, financier (and former Secretary of the Treasury) Andrew Mellon, the DuPont Corporation, and Bureau of Narcotics regulator Harry Anslinger conspired to destroy the hemp industry because Hearst believed that it would destroy his vast timber holdings (for use as newsprint) and that DuPont's new product, nylon, would not succeed. Meanwhile Hearst would use his newspapers to scare people about marijuana to ensure corporate profits. The conspiracy, while plausible, does not hold water. In 1937 hemp accounted for less than 2,000 acres (8.09 square kilometers) and nylon's main use in the 1930s was for women's stockings. In short, anti-Mexican racism was the real reason for marijuana prohibition in the United States.
In 2004, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) attempted to make the importation of hemp oil and seeds illegal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against the DEA on 6 February 2004.
Hemp may in fact have several commercial industrial uses that could be worth pursuing in the future. However, many other commercial crops also have alternate uses and the reasons for their successes or failure are not always because of conspiracies. Also, its up to six times as expensive.
- The Straight Dope "Is hemp (nonpharmacological marijuana) the answer to our environmental problems?"
- "Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America"
- "Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy"
- "Hemp For Victory" - 1942 US Department of Agriculture film produced to encourage farmers to grow hemp for WW2 effort.
- That would have been Bob Marley's 54th birthday, mon!