The Cornucopia of Industrial Hemp

by Shelby Hieter

May 7th, 2014

It has been illegal since 1937, labeled as a dangerous drug, not to be taught or written in history textbooks, for it’s believed to be an inappropriate, scary, and taboo topic among the youth of this country. Children in our nation have been missing out on the horrifically hidden history surrounding the amazing plant, cannabis sativa , also known as hemp, industrial hemp, or (the more derogatory name) marijuana. Important historical figures such as the founder of Ford Motor's, Henry Ford, whom was a boisterous promoter of using hemp (and other plant materials) for building and fueling automobiles, demonstrated that hemp was ten times stronger than steel and could replace the need for the unsustainable materials we continue to extract and use today.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the only founding fathers to openly oppose slavery, owned one of the first hemp paper mills. Former Republican President, Abraham Lincoln , once wrote:

“Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica.”
President Bush Sr., whom strongly opposed cannabis, owes his life to a hemp made parachute after abandoning his burning aircraft during his WWII military service. Even Alexander Hamilton is noted as saying:
“[hemp is] an article of importance enough to warrant the employment of extraordinary means in its favor.”
In fact, all of America's founding fathers and colonists grew hemp for both its industrial uses, and may have unabashedly smoked hemp as a leisurely activity, as it was a mandatory and important agricultural commodity in Early American history. Hemp was so important that it was how first generation American’s paid taxes, and it was even ground up and used in all dollar bills.

The history of hemp is so fascinating that justice cannot be given in a nutshell. There are over 25,000 uses for hemp ranging from paper, plastic, building material, cosmetics, and food. What is most unfortunate is the times of yore, when farmers unashamedly revered hemp for its diversity of uses, had been so quickly forgotten, thrown out of our common day history books all because of the fear mongering propaganda that emerged from one man's racism, and a journalists unabashed use of false reporting. Harry Anslinger and his partner-in-crime William Randolph Hearst, owner of numerous newspaper companies, are most commonly blamed for the prohibition of cannabis satvia and the industrial hemp production. William Hearst, whom was criticized for “yellow journalism”, using sensationalism and untruths to sell stories, is notably scrutinized for his corporate business deals with the DuPont family and the timber industries competing against industrial hemp production. Considered fact by some and conspiracy by others, the reason for Dupont's deal with Hearst and Anslinger, were mainly for the profiteering of Dupont's patented plastic, paper, and plant products in which hemp oil and paper were the main competitors. If the prohibition of marijuana had not been successful it would have made all of Dupont's patents worthless.

Marijuana Propaganda Poster

The propaganda and fears continue to play in the minds of some still fearful their granddaughters may come home with their arms around a ridiculously pleased Jazz singer, become an axe-wielding murderer, or morph into a deranged drooling werewolf. However, today's modern fear surrounding marijuana has lessened as 58% of American's polled in 2013 , agree that cannabis should be federally legal. We are living on the edge of a closed gate, waiting for the park to open. Prohibition of marijuana is coming to a close, and soon, industrial hemp will be legal for farmers to grow, once again, just like in the times of old.

Don't think children are old enough to learn about cannabis? Well, I beg to differ. We teach children sexual education at around age 10 or 12, and we talk to them about drug safety, so when do we start teaching them about industrial hemp? I say, as soon as possible, and let me tell you why:

I've been a supporter of hemp since 1995. As a child, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, my passions growing up included my love for trees and monkeys. I was fully aware of the current and ongoing destruction of the Earth's rainforests as well as the decimation of the woodlands in my own backyard. I even remember sitting in my great-grandmother's kitchen, watching the Public Broadcasting System's special on the redwood tree-sitter, Julia Butterfly Hill , who in that moment of exposure became a hero that I admired as much as my favorite female primatologist, Jane Goodall. Like many children my age, I loved animals and felt it our destiny to change the world.

When I was about 10 years old, I opened an Encyclopedia for an in-class assignment, I happened to pick “H,” and turned to the pages labeled “Hemp.” Never had I heard or experienced marijuana, but I was so compelled by those few pages, I realized at that moment that there was something deeply wrong with the world I was living in. I thought that any adult who ignored the facts and cornucopia of uses surrounding hemp was either evil or ignorant. Of course, I now understand the problem isn't “adults” because, as a child, I thought only my grandparents were worth listening to; the problem was (and still is) the enforcers and followers of these draconian and nonsensical laws. I could not understand why they would continue to keep hemp illegal if it could save trees.

Staring down at my school's Encyclopedia section labeled “hemp,” I could feel fireworks bursting back-and-forth in my neocortex. I was both furious and excited, upset by the government’s “ignorance” and the idiocracy I had to live with, but also motivated by the possibilities of industrial hemp. Perhaps it was at this moment I became a true rebel with a cause, I was overwhelmed by my discovery, and recognized that in my adult life, hemp could be legal once again, and was hopeful that my generation would be the ones to save the remaining forests and, of course, the animals.

Perhaps my way of thinking was ahead of its time, or maybe I was right on schedule? In my innocent defense, I'd like to make clear that never had I been exposed with the smoked flowers of marijuana until my senior year of high school. As a child advocate for industrial hemp, never once had I distinguished the two as one and the same, and now, thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill, written by Oregonian Representative, Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado), and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky), industrial hemp has finally been recognized as an industrial crop once again and is no longer linked to the medical and psychoactive drug, marijuana.

Thanks to Blumenauer and the other supporting state representatives, institutions of higher education, that reside in states currently allowing the production of hemp, can now grow and study cannabis sativa on campus. The Farm Bill is only a small win for the industrial hemp and cannabis movement, as it does not fully liberate hemp; laws still have a ways to go. For starters, the Farm Bill section 7606, conditions that colleges have only five years to petition, establish curriculum, follow state requirements, and resource materials, such as the still pseudo-illegal hemp seeds. The state of Kentucky is helping their students and universities get ready to study various avenues from material uses to nutritional and medicinal effects, while students in other states are finding it difficult to obtain approval from their facilities attorneys and administration. Advocates of hemp are still wondering what will happen after the five-year window established in section 7606 of the Farm Bill. Farmers are hoping they will get the chance to start growing as soon as possible.

It is only a matter of a time before our computer printers are spitting out hemp paper, our water bottles, clothes, and cosmetics are made of sustainable hemp oils, and our electronics, cars, and houses are built and assembled using all hemp materials, and be stronger and last longer than any house made of processed wood, requiring no loss of forests.

For as long as I've been studying and learning about hemp, I am constantly surprised by the amazing facts and history surrounding a plant that, I believe (and feel safe to finally say), Yes! Hemp will save society and help us clean up our planet. Industrial hemp will save our nation from current unsustainable practices, and replenish our eroded top-soils. Hemp can nourish our bodies, minds, and keep us warm at night. It can power our cars, replace our plastics, and save our forests.

Learn more about hemp, as I firmly believe it will change the way you see the world. The future of hemp is looking brighter every day. The only way to change hemp and cannabis laws in your state is to vote in your local elections, and pass on to your friends and loved ones the amazing information surrounding the historical value cannabis played in the lives of our ancestors ancient and centuries past.

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