Hemp and the Environment

It was a cash crop for many of the founding fathers of the U.S. It has applications in food, building materials, paper, jewelry and fuels. It has environmental applications such as clearing impurities out of wastewater, weed control without pesticides, and even cleaning nuclear contamination. But it could have had a huge impact on the world’s environment that is largely unknown today.

Hemp has a fascinating history because of its connection to marijuana. Both hemp and marijuana contain the psychoactive component THC, but hemp’s concentration is much lower.

Sale of any cannabis product was made illegal in 1906. The Uniform State Narcotic Act of 1935 also restricted the use of cannabis products as a drug. But hemp could still be justified for other uses, most notably paper.

In 1937, at the urging of Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the DuPont family, a tax was levied on the hemp industry. Hemp was viewed as a threat to the production of paper from trees. Hearst owned extensive timber lands while Mellon had invested heavily in the production of nylon recently developed by DuPont. Nylon was developed to compete with hemp as a fiber. The legislation was actually written by the DuPont Corporation.

The effect of the tax on hemp was to limit its use in the making of paper. As we know now, trees have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide. What might have happened if hemp became the primary source of paper as America’s industrial base expanded and emitted more and more CO2?

Just imagine the following advantages of hemp over paper.

  • Hemp matures in 3-4 months while trees don’t become useful for paper production for at least 20 years
  • Hemp-based paper does not require the same toxic chemicals for manufacturing
  • Hemp-based paper can be recycled up to 8 times compared to only 3 times for wood-based paper
  • Hemp yields are much greater than wood-based yields.

While the Act was declared unconstitutional in 1969, imagine the environmental impact that the deforestation of America has had on our current global climate crisis.

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“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?” – Henry Ford

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