Adam Kelner: Hemp is the solution to many of our environmental woes
By Adam Kelner
Dependency on fossil fuels? Unnecessary. Deforestation caused from the production of paper? Not anymore. Ability to replace almost all major nonrenewable raw materials? Absolutely. An excellent source of nutrition with high protein content? Of course! An opportunity to stimulate the global economy out of a global recession? Undoubtedly. Untapped potential in medicinal research and development? I think you get the point.
A brief history
The miracle product described above is no other than hemp. Unexploited, misunderstood hemp—a plant product victimized by political pressure exerted by financial tycoons in the United States in the quest for maintaining profits from various billion-dollar enterprises. Andrew Mellon appointed Harry J. Anslinger to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1930. Using a higher level of Mexican immigrants using marijuana for recreational purposes as a scapegoat, the seemingly endless list of miraculous properties that hemp offers were lost for (at least) the next 85 years. On April 14, 1937 the Prohibitive Marihuana Tax Law was brought to the House ways and means committee. By September of 1937, all hemp production had become illegal.
The multitude of uses hemp offers is astounding with over 25,000 uses estimated. With the potential to be used as biomass fuel with no residual sulphur released during combustion, hemp has the ability to replace our current use of fossil fuels entirely with no additional net CO2 being added to the atmosphere. Hemp fibre is more durable than any other plant-derived fibre, including cotton and wood. With deforestation occurring at roughly three percent per year, hemp paper has the ability to replace paper produced from wood, which could help curtail the current global rate of deforestation. On top of this, the production of hemp clothing could cut down on clothes miles, provide an alternative to importing cotton, and create employment. In fact, one acre of hemp can produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees over a 20-year period.
The length of time required for full maturity of a hemp plant to be reached is roughly 100 days, making it an incredibly renewable resource. A hemp plant can be grown virtually anywhere and doesn’t require any pesticides for growth. In fact, hemp benefits the soil in which it is grown, enriching it with nutrients as it draws minerals buried in the soil up to the surface. Hemp plants with low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can be grown, with no psychedelic affects on the human brain being possible.
Hemp seeds are edible, being rich in vitamins and minerals as well as containing a high protein content. The use of hemp seeds as a dietary supplement include benefits such as lowered blood pressure, better digestion, weight loss, an increased level of energy, promotion of healthy cholesterol levels, and harmonious blood-sugar levels. On top of the nutritional aspects hemp offers, it is also largely drought resistant, making it a globally valuable source of sustainable food.
Barriers to entry
How can a plant that is so beneficial with so many utilities continue to be largely unexploited as a result of past prerogatives of profit protection? After 85 years of illegality, the use of hemp for any purpose has been etched into the minds of the majority as a “dangerous” product, with the image of marijuana use predominantly influencing this train of thought. It is this ignorance, and ultimately the asymmetry of information that continues to levy itself upon the freedom on the hemp plant.
Infrastructural considerations and implications must be taken into account as well. All pulp and paper mills could easily be converted into mills for the industrial production of hemp, retaining the level of employment in that industry. However, cotton farmers are not so lucky; the inexpensive nature of hemp is sure to have a drastic effect on their levels of income and thus must be addressed when (not if) hemp production is fully legalized.
It has been 85 years since industrial hemp was made illegal. Imports of hemp products are now permitted but its production is still banned in North America. It is time for “reefer madness” to end. It is indeed madness that prevents us from utilizing a plant that provides so many solutions to our environmental woes.
Adam Kelner is a student at the University of British Columbia.