The History and Future of Hemp

The History and Future of Hemp


Cannabis can be found and grown on virtually every continent on the planet.8 Long before record keepers began retaining the memories of time, hemp grew wild across the globe, thriving in humid and tropical regions. Archeologists are unable to say for sure when cannabis cultivation began, but the oldest known written records regarding cannabis come from the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2727 B.C. For over 10,000 years, cannabis has been a crucial part of many diverse groups medical, economic and spiritual practices. In societies where cannabis had been discovered, they generally focused on five main uses for the incredible plant. These uses included hempen fibers, oil from the seeds, the seeds as food, a medicine, and for its narcotic abilities.

Hemp has been embedded into American soil ever since Puritan times. The Puritan colony of Plymouth relied heavily on hemp. Hemp fiber was used in the lines, sails, and caulking of the Mayflower that brought over the Puritan settlers, who carried with them hemp seeds for planting in the “new” world. Each warship and merchant vessel required miles of hempen line and tons of hempen canvas, making it the material of choice for maritime travelers. Hemp has always been a vital community resource.The British relied on hemp so profoundly that ship captains were ordered to disseminate hemp seeds wherever they traveled so that repairs could be made virtually anywhere as it deemed necessary. In 1535, Henry VIII established a law requiring all colonies to grow hemp in order to feed the country's need for the commodity. As a British colony, the Americas quickly began relying on the crop as well. By the mid 1600’s hemp had become an essential part of the economy in New England and in the colonies south of Maryland.  Later on in Jamestown Virginia, a law similar to that of the crown was enacted, requiring residents to plant hemp. Massachusetts and Connecticut passed familiar laws in 1631 and 1632.

In the years leading up to the revolutionary war, the colonies produced mass quantities of cordage, cloth, sacks, canvas and paper from hemp fiber. The first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were consequently written on hemp paper. Betsy Ross’s flag was made from hemp fiber as well. The necessity of hemp soared when war broke out in 1775. Young republic farmers were compelled to grow hemp by patriotic duty and were even able to pay taxes with the crop. George Washington grew hemp on his plantations and encouraged others to follow suit. Thomas Jefferson had a knack for the plant as well, having bred hemp seed varieties and inventing a special brake for crushing the plant stem during fiber processing.

Kentucky farmers produced a majority of American hemp until the mid 1800’s, when the demand for sailcloth and cordage declined as steamships hijacked the sea. When the civil war came to a conclusion in 1886, Kentucky stood out as the only state with a prominent hemp industry until the brink of World War I. Following a pattern of influx, when World War II broke out in 1914 the hemp industry once again was booming. Hemp was used in everything from protein to sails to rope and was considered a wartime necessity; however, when war ceased, the industry came to a brief standstill before being upheaved by dirty politics. In 1937, the federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, aimed at regulating the narcotic varieties of cannabis. As a result, this law passed over the regulation of hemp production to the Department of Revenue, which was then responsible for licensing all hemp growers. “(The Marijuana Tax Act) didn’t really affect us as growers, other than we had to pay a small tax and sign a paper stating that we wouldn’t use the plant as a drug,” explains hemp farmer, Junior Prange. “What really killed the hemp industry in the 1950s was the availability of cheap synthetic fibers.”1 Prior to the invention of cotton gin in the 1820s, roughly 80% of the world’s textiles, fabrics, and clothing were made of hemp. Before the crippling hemp tax that the US government passed in 1937, most bank notes and archival papers were made of hemp due to its durability and a majority of paints and varnishes were made from hemp seed oil.3 World War II triggered the final burst in American hemp-fiber production. The USDA’s Hemp for Victory campaign successfully convinced growers to once again embrace hemp. The federal government embarked on an ambitious mission that involved the construction of several new hemp processing plants. Unfortunately, before the project was fully put into motion, the war ended, and with it the demand for domestic hemp fiber. Many Midwestern towns with bitter farmers were abandoned with empty or partially constructed plants and cancelled hemp contracts.

Prior to the 1920s, the only way to process hemp was by hand. The labor required to produce hemp was strenuous and expensive, proving to be economically unviable in comparison to synthetic products that were now being mass produced with cheaper labor expenses. Despite the costs, a modern conservationist by the name of Henry Ford continuously advocated for hemp and possessed a hemp plantation on his estate in Dearborn Michigan. Hemp-based plastic were used in the body of his 1908 Model T, retaining far greater tensile strength and durability compared to steel. In 1917, George W Schlichten automated hemp processing with an invention that he called the hemp decorticator. This development led Ford to set up the first biomass fuel production plant in Iron Mountain Michigan. He ran the first Model T on corn-based ethanol, but quickly recognized hemp's potential as a cheaper and more efficient fuel source. A team of his engineers in Iron Mountain developed processes to extract not only ethanol from hemp, but also charcoal, tar, ethyl acetate and creosote. Despite the obvious benefits, Ford’s plan was derailed by the 1919 Prohibition against alcohol paired with the growing political power of the oil companies. By 1920, gasoline had replaced ethanol as the popular fuel of choice.

Almost simultaneously, the munitions company DuPont was patenting synthetic fibers and plastics derived from petroleum. The mere existence of Schlichter's hemp decorticator and automated hemp processing plant posed a major threat for DuPont. Their products mimicked those previously made of hemp and DuPont also obtained commercial interest in promoting wood-based paper production due to the patent that they held on sulfates and sulfites used to produce paper pulp. They also held the patent on tetraethyl lead, which allowed gasoline to burn easier in the engine that Ford had originally intended to run on ethanol. William Randolph (who owned a logging company, paper manufacturing plant and an American newspaper empire) plotted with Andrew Mellon ( president of Mellon Bank and DuPont’s major financier) and DuPont to essentially kill hemp. In 1930 Mellon had effectively climbed the political chain to the position of US Secretary of the Treasury. As Treasury Secretary, Mellon created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, then, in an act of blatant nepotism,  appointed his nephew Henry Anslinger to command it.

Between the years 1935 and 1937, Anslinger and other DuPont puppets in congress secretly wrote a bill to tax hemp. At the same time, a massive media campaign demonizing a new drug called marihuana was launched. This dangerous new drug supposedly turned Mexicans and black jazz musicians into deranged killers, and they released ads preaching their lies. Anslinger's other angle was that white girls would be turned wicked once they'd experienced the evil pleasures of having a black man's joint in between their lips. "Colored students at the Univ. of Minn. partying with female students (white) smoking and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution," he noted. "Result, pregnancy." 4 Several propaganda films like ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936), ‘Marihuana: Assassin of Youth’ (1935) and ‘Marihuana: The Devil’s Weed’ (1936)  were designed by these same industrialists to create an enemy out of marihuana. Reefer Madness was one of the most atrocious films. It depicted a man going crazy from smoking marijuana and then murdering his entire family with an ax. The goal of all of these films was to instill fear in the hearts of citizens in order to gain public support so that anti-marihuana laws could be passed without objection. This outright racist propaganda was able to fool congress, the public and the mass media into believing that marihuana was a new, dangerous drug that had the potential to destroy society. Following the public being drowned in lies fed to them by their government, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was pushed through congress on a friday afternoon before any representative had even read the bill.  A prohibitive $100-an-ounce tax on cannabis was enacted with the passing of the bill. "I believe in some cases one cigarette might develop a homicidal mania," 4 Anslinger testified.

In a turn of events, after Japan embargoed the sale of hemp, jute and other fibers essential to the war industry, the Marihuana Transfer Tax was waived. The US government reverted back to their previous wartime gusto and openly encouraged americans to grow hemp out of patriotic duty. Farmers who planted it were even promised exemption from the draft. It wasn’t until 1970 that the Controlled Substances Act officially equated hemp with the drug marijuana and hemp cultivation became illegal. Despite the fact that in that same year, the Marihuana Tax Act was declared unconstitutional. The Nixon-era escalation and declaration of the war on drugs led to New York’s draconian Rockefeller drug laws, which was passed in 1973 as a part of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s “tough on crime” appearance. These “tough on crime” laws established federal mandatory minimums, resulting in the state prison population overcrowding. The private prison industry had no problem with this, opening new facilities and signing contracts with the states requiring them to hand over x amounts of prisoners or they had to pay a hefty fine. This successfully motivated cops to arrest more people and judges to sentence those arrested to absurd, yet mandatory, sentence times. Following an apparent pattern, racial discrimination was entwined into most prison sentences, leading to over 90 percent of the state’s drug prisoners being latino or black. Most of which are behind bars for minor drug possession charges.

Marijuana and hemp both come from the same species of plant: cannabis sativa. After growers discovered that the plant’s flowers can have psychoactive effects, cultivators began growing separate strains of the plant, creating the separation between hemp and marijuana.6 “Surely no member of the vegetable kingdom has ever been more misunderstood than hemp,” says David P. West in a report for the North American Industrial Hemp Council in 1998. “And nowhere have emotions run hotter than the debate over the distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana.” 9 To date, the only justification that the DEA is able to muster up regarding hemps current legal status is that law enforcement would have a difficult time distinguishing between hemp and marijuana. This statement, however, is a serious insult to the DEA’s intelligence due to the fact that in countries where hemp is legal ( China, New Zealand, Canada and 27 other countries) law enforcement has no difficulty distinguishing between the two plants. The reason for this is because the two breeds of cannabis sativa have distinguishable differences that are easy to spot. Hemp is a thin, tall plant with a few prominent branches below the primary branches at top and is grown in rows about a foot a part. On the other hand, marijuana plants are short, bushy and must be grown six feet apart for optimum yield.  The leaves are different as well. Hemp has seven long thin leaflets, while marijuana has only five that differ in size.

Under the Federal Controlled Substance Act, the classification of marijuana does not include hemp or seeds “incapable of germination.” In the case Indus. Ass’n v. DEA, the Ninth Circuit held that the DEA cannot regulate all hemp products containing trace amounts of THC because congress did not regulate the non-psychoactive hemp when originally drafting the Controlled Substance Act. 5 As a result, the manufacturing, distribution and possession of hemp is not federally illegal; however, growing hemp is prohibited without a permit from the DEA. This is due to the fact that at some point in the life cycle of the cannabis sativa plant the plant will eventually produce marijuana, along with hemp. The permits needed for growing hemp have been sparsely distributed; however, a sliver of hope emerged for the hemp industry in the form of the 2014 federal farm bill. This Obama-era bill allowed industrial hemp cultivation without a permit from the DEA if done by a state Department of Agriculture, or by a college or university for research purposes. This act also defined industrial hemp as having less than 0.3% of THC, compared to marijuana, which has 10-35%. As a result of the difficult process ahead of industrial hemp entrepreneurs, America has become the largest importer of hemp, which we mainly receive from the largest global producer of the plant: China.

Compared to cotton, hemp is a much more viable option economically and environmentally. Annually, one acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as roughly two to three acres of cotton. Hemp fiber is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long, and will not mildew. The growth and cultivation of cotton is a strenuous and environmentally taxing process, but hemp puts back nitrogen into the soil, while cotton can deplete the lands nutrients. Cotton will only grow in moderate climates, requires a great deal of water and vast quantities of pesticides and herbicides to bloom. In fact, roughly half of all pesticides are used in the production of cotton. In contrast, hemp can grow virtually anywhere and is a reliable farm crop in all 50 states. Hemp also doesn’t require the use of any herbicides or pesticides and its need to water is far less than that of cotton.

In the use of production, one acre of hemp will produce as much paper as two to four acres of trees. Industrial hemp can be grown in four months, while trees can take decades. All paper products can be made from hemp, and the quality of hemp products is superior to those of wood. Hemp paper will last thousands of years before degrading, can be recycled more times than wood products and requires less toxins in the process of manufacturing. If the public were to revert back to our previous methods of writing on hemp paper, then the forestry industry may take a massive hit. Using hemp as a replacement for wood products could potentially solve the issue of mass deforestation and help save humanity from destroying themselves.

Hemp seeds have a plethora of nutritional benefits. They can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, made into hemp milk or tea and can be used in baking. Hemp contains a high portion of amino acids and is comprised of 23% protein. Essential minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Sulphur are found in hemp seeds.  They are also high in dietary fibre and are able to provide Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), Linoleic Acid (LA) and Linolenic Acid (LNA) as well as Gamma Linolenic acid (GLA). The fat contained in hemp seeds is considered the optimum balance, having 56% Linoleic and 19% Linolenic. EFA’s are essential for the human body in order to maintain a healthy being. However, the body is incapable of producing EFA’s, making it necessary to ensure that they are consumed by the body as a part of a balanced diet. Due to hemp seeds digestibility, scientist are suggesting that they could be used in medicine to block disease and treat malnutrition. Research is currently underway studying EFA’s ability to possibly treat cancer and help support the immune system of those battling HIV. A deficiency in EFA’s has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, impaired wound healing, breast pain, hormonal imbalance, premenstrual syndrome, multiple sclerosis, skin and hair disorders.

Hemp can provide two types of fuel: hemp biodiesel and hemp ethanol/methanol. Ethanol is made from things such as grains, sugars, starches, waste paper and forest products, while methanol is made from woody/pulp matter. Through the process of gasification, acid hydrolysis and enzymes, hemp can be used to make both ethanol and methanol. Biodiesel is a renewable energy alternative to fossil fuels that is composed of a group of long chain fatty acids called mono-alkyl esters. It’s a highly efficient diesel replacement that is produced by the process of transesterification, which is a chemical reaction between vegetable or animal fat and alcohol in the presence of a catalyst to produce biodiesel. Unlike diesel produced from petroleum, it contains a very low level of sulfur, making it an air safe alternative. Additionally, biodiesel requires no modifications to the diesel engine. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel that will run in any conventional, unmodified diesel engine. It’s able to be stored anywhere that petroleum diesel is stored and is actually safer than conventional oil to handle. Biodiesel is biodegradable as sugar, is 10 times less toxic than table salt and has a flashpoint of about 300 F compared to petroleum diesel fuel, which has a flash point of 125 F. Biodiesel can be made from domestically produced, renewable oilseed crops. Crops such as apples, potatoes, corn and maize can be converted into biofuel; however, the most efficient biofuel converter is hemp. 97% of hemp oil is able to be directly converted into biodiesel. When the fuel is burned in a diesel engine, biodiesel replaces the nasty exhaust odor of petroleum diesel with the friendly smell of hemp, popcorn or french fries. Biodiesel is 11% oxygen in weight and contains no sulfur, while also being the only alternative fuel in the US to complete EPA Tier I Health Effects Testing under section 211(b) of the Clean Air Act.7

Put simply, oil greed is killing our planet. An article from the Guardian states that only 90 companies worldwide produce over ⅔ of the planet's entire man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Of those, the five worst offenders are all oil companies. 10 Chevron alone has contributed to 3.52 percent of global warming emissions. In 2001, after merging with Texaco, Chevron dumped millions of gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador. They were fined $9.5 million for the atrocious environmental damages that their reckless act caused. That, however, is not the end of their rap sheet. In 2002, Chevron was fined two million dollars by Angola for oil spills, then again by the U.S for violating the Clean Air Act in 2003. This company is also responsible for a crude oil spill in 2011 off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Chevron was fined $2 million for the incident after more than 15,000 people sought medical treatment due to respiratory problems caused by the spill.10 ExxonMobil is the second greatest contributor to CO2 and CH4 emissions, having released 3.22 percent of all global emissions. This company has caused several oil spills throughout the globe, with the biggest one being the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which is considered to be the most damaging oil spill to have ever occurred. Over 250,000 animals died, not to mention the billions of salmon and herring eggs that were destroyed as well. In this region, floating oil cans till be seen.

Oil companies such as Chevron and ExxonMobil are just part of the horrendous problem. Greed for oil has led to middle eastern conflicts, further destabilizing a region that is under nearly constant siege. However, due to human greed, oil companies will not stop drilling until the demand for the commodity ceases to exist. Hemp biofuel is a safe fossil fuel alternative and could potentially eliminate the need for traditional oil sources. I noticed a majority of this information while writing my position paper from the perspective of Fiji for an upcoming Model United Nations conference. The paper was about the Promotion of Sustainable Transportation and I wanted to suggest the use of hemp biofuel as an alternative. I wrote, “Fiji recognizes the detrimental effects that the continued use of fossil fuels will have on the planet, and consequently our fellow nation states, as well as our own Island Nation. Due to this, Fiji proposes that the funding and support of fossil fuels is redirected to the production, distribution and allocation of hemp products. Hemp is the world’s most versatile plant. One acre of hemp will grow the equivalent of biomass as 4.1 acres of trees in a 20 year period. It can yield 10 tons per acre in four months, and because of its rapid growth, it acts as its own defense against weeds with little to no chemical assistance. Hemp Seeds also improve the soil in which it is sown. By the process of pyrolysis, biomass material made from hemp can be burned to produce fuel oil. This method will produce 80 gallons of renewable gasoline fuel for every dry ton of biomass, as well as, charcoal. This charcoal can be used as a raw material for organic fertilizer. Most importantly, hemp has the capacity to replace petroleum. The United Nations has reported the need to reform farming, which hemp has the potential to completely transform. Not only could Fiji produce enough biomass material from hemp to significantly cut their imports of petroleum, but with it, a new industry will rise; promoting economic prosperity and placing Fiji in the front lines of the Hemp revolution. In order to achieve this goal, previous laws prohibiting the plant must be amended. Fiji urges fellow nation states to follow suit and switch to a new, renewable hemp-fueled industry that has the capacity to significantly cut down on global emissions.” I personally felt that this was the best option for the nation-state, unfortunately, after my head delegate direct my attention to an article on Fiji's war against marijuana, my dreams of Fiji running on hemp came to a halt. As a delegate, I am expected to take on the true position of my nation-state, which was tragically not in favor of hemp. After groveling for a few days I changed my concluding paragraph and instead suggested biking for cheaper and cleaner transportation. I ended up winning an award on that paper, but, to say the least, I was bitter. One night after being rudely awakened by the burdens of being a woman and grumbling to myself about the idiocracy of certain world leaders, I had an idea. What if there was a hemp biofuel gas station? I thought on this for roughly two seconds before jolting out of bed and conducting four hours of research on the topic. By 6am, I had begun the formation of Hempish.

My idea is for a hemp biofuel gas station titled Hempish to open in Washington. All of the biofuel distributed at the gas station will be grown and processed locally. Meaning that for every hempish gas station to open, a corresponding farm and biofuel processing plant will open as well. On the farms, the required amounts of hemp will be grown and processed to fuel the town's needs. We will be partnering with local colleges in order to accommodate the IHRP research requirements needed in order to grow industrial quantities of hemp. The studies done will vary due to location. No pesticides will be used and we will be teaming up with local beekeepers to pollinate our hemp. Farm animals will be kept as well and will be treated 100 percent cruelty free with compassion and love. A variety of hemp products will be sold at the store. A plethora of vegan and gluten free products will be offered as well. Unlike the corporate giants that run our planet, I am not a greedy snob. My employees will be taken care of and my company will boost the economy. I intend on first opening in Washington before franchising out. I want hempish to boom nationally before spreading oversea. I intend on opening hempish stations in countries with weak infrastructures and economies. These places will never be able to stabilize unless positive companies move in and help them revive themselves. Since nobody else will do it, I suppose I will. My goal for hempish is to eventually replace Chevron and ExxonMobil.

Now, while my goals are high, I lack an essential factor needed in opening a multi-billion dollar corporation. That factor is money. I am a poor millennial who can barely afford to fill my own gas tank let alone open a hemp biofuel gas station. Luckily, the solution to this problem appeared to me in the form of a picture of george washington smoking a blunt, also known as, the Marijuana Show. This show was started by a self made millionaire lesbian couple that wanted to help what they call “ganjapreneurs”. Due to the current hemp and marijuana laws, opening a cannabis business is excruciatingly difficult. They were aware of this and decided to help. Their show has been called the “shark tank for week”. Ganjapreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of investors and pray that they get a yes. As if a message from god, auditions for this illusive show happened to be at the exact moment I thought up this company. So, I did what any individual trying to save the world with a hemp biofuel company would do. I auditioned for the show. I recorded a video of me pitching my idea to the producers, then made another 14 minute long video explaining my company and myself, and have now waited for over two months for their decision. I impatiently facebook messaged them about two weeks ago and asked when I would hear back from them.

They said June.

It’s June.

If I am lucky enough to get on the show then I have a strong feeling that the judges will invest in my idea. I am one of the hardest working people I know and I am dedicated to saving this planet with love. If successful, I will incorporate what I have learned from this class into the foundation of my company. You have always taught us that there has to be a healthy balance between the environment and the economy. I firmly believe that my company offers the perfect balance. Hempish has the potential to reinvent the way people think about hemp, and the world.