Today’s subject for the next President of the United States is hemp. At Free the Commons! we have no fear that legalizing industrial hemp would turn our nation into a population of Doritos-munching slackers. On the contrary, we believe that industrial hemp is an eco-friendly agricultural product that could prove a boon to local agri-economies across the United States. Hemp should find a place on our next President’s agenda.
Hemp has been grown for thousands of years all around the globe for a variety of purposes, and was a popular cash crop in the United States until made illegal in the 1930’s. Hemp is most often used for its high quality fiber to produce paper, rope, and fabrics. Hemp can also produce food – the seeds are high in protein and good fatty acids. The seeds can also be used to produce oil. Hemp is of course most well-known for its medicinal and hallucinogenic properties.
Hemp is regarded as an eco-friendly crop because it’s very fast growing, uses little water, and generally does not require the application of pesticides or herbicides. The benefit of hemp is that it is a versatile, high yield crop; as a result, you get a productive, multiple-uses crop that doesn’t require harmful inputs and needs a comparatively small footprint of land to grow. This Slate article from 2011 provides a pretty good summary of how hemp stacks up against competitive crop substitutes, such as organic cotton, which is a good but very water-intensive crop.
I understand very well the politics of hemp, but I view most of the concerns as a smokescreen. There are some 2,000 varieties of hemp plant, and many of them are quite low in the THC compound from which marijuana is derived. The plant varieties grown as a crop are far different in appearance and potency than are those varieties cultivated for drug use. We need to get past the fear of agricultural hemp.
Currently, China is the world’s leading producer of industrial hemp, followed by Canada and Australia. America, as the world’s agricultural superpower, could easily overtake the world market in hemp production. From my point of view, we’d do ourselves and our planet a huge favor if we dumped the growing of corn for ethanol and legalized the growing hemp for fabric, paper, clothing, and food.