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Industrial Hemp: Once Promoted, Now Maligned (or "Scorned")

Chapter 1: Hemp for Victory Part 1
Credit: Department of Agriculture, 1942

Chapter 2: Hemp for Victory Part 2

Chapter 3: Hemp for Victory Part 3

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By Public WebWorks Staff and wire reports

Industrial hemp is one of the longest and strongest natural fibers in the plant kingdom. It is also one of the most versatile plants, with approximately 25,000 uses, ranging from paper to textiles to cosmetics. In addition to being a versatile crop, industrial hemp is also economically viable and environmentally preferable. Industrial hemp is not a drug. Though it is the same species as marijuana, it is a completely different variety of plant (similar to comparing a Chihuahua with a St. Bernard).

Although industrial hemp is experiencing a renaissance in most of the industrialized world including France, England, Germany and Canada, in the United States, industrial hemp continues to face a de facto ban on commercial cultivation. So while farmers from across the world grow a crop that is used to make auto body parts for Mercedes cars or beauty care products for the Body Shop, farmers facing a farm crisis in the United States are stymied from pursuing a potential alternative crop.

Although the medieval policies set by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) currently restrict the growing of industrial hemp in the United States, it wasn't always that way. During World War II, when the Philippines fell to Japan, the U.S. armed forces needed an alternative fiber supply for its rope, canvas, and other products. Therefore, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ran a "Hemp for Victory" campaign which aggressively urged farmers to grow the crop. As a result America grew hundreds of thousands of acres of industrial hemp during the war years. However, once the war ended, the federal government ceased issuing the licences required to grow the crop.

Today, while American farmers are forbidden from commercially growing this crop, American manufacturers are allowed to import hemp from China and other nations and to manufacture hemp products. In the current farm crisis, farmers need alternative crops and hemp will likely be as or more profitable than other commodity crops. Moreover, the market for industrial hemp is predicted to increase rapidly. For instance, the use of natural fibers in biocomposites (such as automobile parts), has been forecasted to grow by 15 -20 percent annually. And, hemp is expected to be an important commodity for this market due to its favorable strength to weight ration.

In addition to being a potentially economically viable crop, industrial hemp can also benefit the environment. Its use in auto biocomposites decreases energy consumption and increases recyclability compared to glass-filled auto parts. It can replace wood fiber in most applications, such as building products and paper, aiding forest conservation efforts. It can minimize toxics in the environment, because when used in pulp for paper, its natural brightness avoids chlorine bleaching which produces dioxin a powerful environmental toxin. It is also an excellent crop, that needs few, if any pesticides and herbicides, and used in rotation, it chokes out weeds. Therefore, crops grown on the same field after hemp have shown increased production yields. Furthermore, industrial hemp also has a potential to be one of the bio-based fuels which could replace petroleum as a fuel source, thereby benefitting both national security and the environment.

Unfortunately, the United States will not be able to take advantage of these many benefits anytime soon due to the backwards American policy that lags behind other industrialized countries.

Related Links
Resource Conservation Alliance's hemp page
North American Industrial Hemp Council
Global Hemp
HEMPTECH: The Industrial Hemp Information Network:

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