are prohibited by law from growing a low-input,
sustainable crop common in Europe and Canada with
tremendous economic potential: industrial hemp.
Hemp cannot be commercially grown
in the United States because it is erroneously
confounded with marijuana. In fact, industrial
hemp and marijuana are different breeds of Cannabis
sativa, just as Chihuahuas and St. Bernards are
different breeds of Canis familiaris. Smoking
large amounts of hemp flowers can produce a headache
but not a high, or as Ruth Shamai of Ruth's Hemp
Foods says, "I've personally stood in a burning
field of hemp, and if you wanted a buzz you'd
have to drink a beer."
Most Western countries distinguish
industrial hemp from marijuana on the basis of
THC (the chief intoxicant in marijuana) content
and permit the growing of non-psychoactive low-THC
hemp for fiber and seed. Straightforward European
Union and Canadian regulations prevent attempts
to camouflage marijuana in hemp fields and limit
THC levels in hemp flowers to 0.2 percent and
0.3 percent, respectively; THC levels in marijuana
flowers are generally between 3 percent and 15
But the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) lumps low-THC hemp with marijuana.
As a result, although the United States permits
trade in nonviable hemp seed, oil, and fiber,
it is the only major industrialized nation that
prohibits the growing and processing of hemp.
It is time to clear up the misunderstanding,
change the law, and clear the way for ecologically
sustainable, economically viable opportunities
for American farmers and businesses.
Why Industrial Hemp?
Notoriety obscures the history and value of hemp.
Hemp has a long history in America, from the first
plantings in Jamestown, where growing hemp was
mandatory, to the hemp sails of 19th-century clipper
ships and the hemp canvas covers of pioneer wagons,
to World War II's massive "Hemp for Victory"
program. Hemp is a major part of humanity's agricultural
and commercial heritage, having been used extensively
for millennia in cultures around the world.
Hemp seed was known long ago
for its healthy protein and rich oil. The stalk's
outer fiber was used for clothing, canvas, and
rope, and textile rags were recycled into paper
pulp. The Declaration of Independence was drafted
on hemp paper, and the finest Bibles are still
printed on hemp-based paper. The woody core fiber
of hemp stalks was used for construction and fuel.
In the early 20th century, hemp-derived cellulose
was promoted as an affordable and renewable raw
material for plastics; Henry Ford even built a
prototype car from biocomposite materials, using
agricultural fiber such as hemp.
Beginning with the passage of
the "Marihuana Tax Act" of 1937 and
continuing after the World War II "Hemp for
Victory" program, misplaced fears that industrial
hemp is marijuana and harassment by law enforcement
discouraged farmers from growing hemp. The last
crop was grown in Wisconsin in 1958, and the Controlled
Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 formally prohibited
Today, driven by entrepreneurial
spirit and the desire to build a new industry
for a new age, hemp has reemerged. A diverse but
increasingly unified and politically influential
group of interests supports the commercial growing
of hemp, including farmers, businesses, nutritionists,
activists, and green consumers.
Hemp is not a panacea for the
world's social, economic, and environmental woes
— no single crop can do that. But with focused
and sustained research and development, hemp could
spur dramatic change. Renewable, fast-growing
hemp could allow major industries to reduce their
dependence on nonrenewable, fast-disappearing
resources and move toward sustainable production.
Today's hemp-based fabrics are nothing like 18th-century
canvas sailcloth (canvas derives from the Latin
cannabis). Hemp fiber, blended with everything
from Tencel to organic cotton, can be used to
create textiles as different as terrycloth, flannel,
and luxurious satin brocades. Hemp fiber offers
greater durability and breathability than cotton,
which accounts for 25 percent of the pesticides
sprayed on the world's crops. Hemp-based textile
products on the market include apparel and accessories
such as T-shirts, pants, dresses, baby clothes,
bathrobes, and shoes; housewares such as blankets,
shower curtains, and rugs; and sundries such as
hammocks and pet supplies.
Technical Hemp Fiber
and Core Products
The most successful emerging industrial use of
hemp fiber is in the automobile industry. "Biocomposites"
of nonwoven hemp matting and polypropylene or
epoxy are pressed into parts such as door panels
and luggage racks, replacing heavier and less
safe fiberglass composites. European hemp fiber
made into biocomposites by Flexform in Indiana
has been used in more than a million cars and
trucks in North America. Automotive applications
alone are expected to push European hemp cultivation
to over 100,000 acres by 2010. Emerging technology
for injection molding of natural fibers is expected
to accelerate growth of this sector. Hemp fiber
is also used for insulation and horticultural
growth mats, and hemp core is used in animal bedding,
mortars, and horticultural mulch.
The low impact of the farming and processing of
hemp stalks and the high strength, length and
yield of the bast fibers make hemp, a traditional
source of high-strength specialty paper, a favorite
in today's ecologically aware market. Pulp made
from hemp's bast fiber is superior to short-fiber
wood, and is an ideal additive to strengthen recycled
post-consumer waste (PCW) pulp, thus expanding
PCW's use. Tough and durable, hemp content paper
can be finished to a smooth-surfaced sheet with
as good as or better print qualities than virgin
wood-based paper. The markets for hemp content
paper are growing, including not only high-quality
PCW printer paper, but also ecological product
packaging, brochures and promotional materials
for progressive businesses.
Ethanol — ethyl alcohol, currently produced
by fermenting cornstarch from kernels —
is gradually replacing toxic Methyl Tertiary Butyl
Ether (MTBE) in the United States as a high-octane,
pollution-reducing gasoline additive. As a source
for ethanol, corn kernels are economically viable
only because of high federal subsidies. In the
next two to five years, the energy-efficient production
of ethanol from cellulosic biomass such as wheat
and rice straw, hemp, flax, and corn stalks will
become commercially viable. This process also
generates much lower overall emissions of the
greenhouse gas CO2, and because most automobile
engines can run on 15:85 ethanol:gasoline blends
without modification, ethanol will help nations
worldwide meet their greenhouse gas reduction
goals. Hemp grown for both seed and biomass has
a stalk yield of up to 3.5 tons per acre, which
would make it an economical source of cellulose
for ethanol production. Farmers in the Midwest
could welcome hemp as a pofitable addition to
their marginally profitable soybean and corn rotations.
Increasingly found on store shelves, shelled hemp
seeds ("hemp nuts") and cold-pressed
oil have exceptional nutritional benefits and
rich flavor. They are used in salad dressings,
nutrition bars, flour, breads, cookies, granola,
meatless burgers, nut butter, protein powders,
chips, pasta, coffee blends and frozen desserts.
Virtually all hemp nut and oil in U.S. foods are
imported from Canada.
An impressive 33 percent of the
hemp nut is high-quality protein, providing all
essential amino acids in a reasonable balance,
making it an attractive component of a meat-free
diet. Hemp also contains significant amounts of
the vitamin E complex and trace minerals such
as magnesium, iron, and manganese.
But hemp seeds are valued primarily
for the exceptional fatty acid composition of
their oil, which makes up 30 percent of the whole
seed and 44 percent of the nut. Studies link many
common ailments to an imbalance and deficiency
of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the typical
Western diet: too much omega-6 and not enough
omega-3. Consuming sufficient omega-3 in the right
EFA ratio has impressive benefits, including:
reducing cholesterol, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis
and sudden cardiac death, reducing the need for
insulin among diabetics, decreasing the symptoms
of rheumatoid arthritis, promoting mood improvement
in bipolar disorders, and optimizing development
Hemp oil contains the most EFAs
of any nut or seed oil, with the omega-3 and omega-6
EFAs occurring in the nutritionally optimal 1:3
ratio. As a bonus it offers the higher-potency
omega derivatives GLA and SDA. Fish and fish oils
are recommended because they provide the omega-3
derivatives SDA, DHA, and EPA. But concern over
the contamination of fish by mercury and other
environmental toxins has led the FDA to warn pregnant
women and nursing mothers to restrict their fish
intake. Hemp's omega profile means that using
hemp nut and oil as a staple food is a good alternative
to fish: One tablespoon of hemp oil in a shake,
salad, soup, or sauce provides 3 grams of omega-3,
more than the 2 grams per day recommended by the
U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Virtually all common vegetable
oils, such as soy, corn, sunflower, safflower
and olive oil offer a much less desirable omega
balance, i.e., not enough omega-3. Even walnuts,
touted in recent media due to the FDA's qualified
endorsement of their omega-3 health benefits,
contain significantly less omega-3 and in a lower
ratio to omega-6 than hemp seed. Of the commodity
vegetable oils, only flax seed contains more omega-3,
but flax does not have hemp's optimal EFA balance.
Because it is more easily digestible with a longer
shelf life and a nutty natural flavor, hemp nut
also offers a greater range of culinary options
than flax seeds.
Hemp Body Care Products
Hemp oil's high and balanced EFA content also
makes it an ideal ingredient in body care products.
The EFAs soothe and restore skin in salves and
creams and give excellent emolliency and smooth
after-feel to lotions, lip balms, conditioners,
shampoos, soaps, shaving products, and massage
oils. Recent Canadian research shows that hemp
oil has potential as a broad-spectrum ultraviolet
What Can I Do?
Here are two simple ways to help hemp blossom
in the marketplace: Buy hemp! Vote hemp!
Buy hemp! Hemp foods
and body care products are carried by large chains
such as Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe's
and by thousands of smaller independent natural-food
chains, stores, and co-ops, and even by some mainstream
grocery stores. Outdoor retailers, ecological
specialty stores, and some department stores carry
hemp clothing. See the wide range of hemp products,
and their makers, listed in the Hemp Industries
Association's (HIA) Members Product Directory
Search for local retailers at http://www.hempstores.com.
Vote hemp! Be informed,
talk to your state and national representatives,
and tell your friends and family about the benefits
of hemp for a sustainable economy and healthy
environment. Fourteen states have passed legislation
supporting industrial hemp. What's the status
of your state? See http://www.votehemp.com/state_legis.html.
Activists are working to shift
federal regulation of industrial hemp back to
the Department of Agriculture and out of the hands
of the DEA. Donations to support this effort can
be made online at the Web site of Vote Hemp, the
industry's lobbying group, where you can also
find sample letters and easy ways to contact elected
officials; see http://www.votehemp.com.
TestPledge, DEA and the
Right to Eat Hemp Foods
Under the Hemp Industries Association's (HIA)
TestPledge program (see www.testpledge.com),
U.S. hemp food companies voluntarily observe trace
THC limits in hemp nut and oil. These conservative
limits protect consumers from workplace drug-testing
interference; they are based on a study, jointly
commissioned by a Canadian governmental program
and industry members, published in the Journal
of Analytical Toxicology (Nov./Dec. 2001).
Nonetheless, fueled by drug war
ideologues and hysteria, the DEA has attempted
to ban hemp foods. Hemp food manufacturers and
the HIA have won a series of legal battles, culminating
earlier this year in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals ruling that the DEA ignored Congress'
specific exclusion of hemp fiber, seed and oil
in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), exempting
them from the DEA's control. The court viewed
the trace amounts of THC in hemp seed as insignificant
and irrelevant, just like the trace opiates in
poppy seeds, which are similarly exempted from
the CSA and which the DEA hypocritically ignores.
Fighting the DEA's attempted
ban has cost hemp companies over $200,000, but
they are prepared to spend what it takes to fight
any further appeal to the Supreme Court. "The
public and the media should question the DEA's
waste of tax dollars in trying to crush the legitimate
hemp food industry," says Eric Steenstra,
president of the hemp industry's lobbying organization,
Vote Hemp. "A Bush administration appeal
will fail and only further embarrass the DEA.
Appealing the decision is a last-ditch effort
to save face at the expense of taxpayers and limited
law enforcement resources." Visit www.votehemp.com
for up-to-date information.