We should care about hemp

During World War II, the U.S. government encouraged Americans to grow hemp for the war effort.

Last week the University of Missouri’s Missouri Student Association hosted a debate called “Heads vs. Feds,” a debate tour focusing on the legalization of marijuana. Steve Hager, long-time editor of High Times magazine, spoke on behalf of the legalization of marijuana, while former DEA agent Bob Stutman took on the prohibitionist side of the argument. It was an interesting debate, and there wasn’t much mentioned that I’d never heard before. However, there were a few things that Bob Stutman said that really stuck with me.

First, Bob said that he doesn’t believe anyone belongs in prison for possession or use of any drug. This was huge for me to hear. He got a lot of applause for this statement, to which he joked, “I bet none of you thought you’d be applauding the Narc tonight!” I think this is a pretty significant step forward in prohibitionist thinking, and though I know Bob doesn’t speak for the DEA, I hope that he’s not alone in that belief as far as prohibitionists go.

Second, Bob said something that really got me thinking concerning industrial hemp. He said that most of us didn’t want pot legalized because we need it for medicine or we want farmers to be able to produce hemp. “Most of you want pot legalized because it’s your drug of choice,” he told us. Hard to argue with. But his next statement fell like a brick in my lap: “None of you really care about hemp.”

I thought about that statement for a while. I thought about all the legalization discussions and efforts I’ve seen in the past. The focus is usually on one of two things: either that marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco and everyone should be able to use it, or that there are many people suffering with conditions that could be made better by marijuana. Bob has a point; it seems that not many of us really care too much about hemp. Which is sad, I think, because the cannabis plant has so many more uses than for use as a drug. I’m going to lay out a few of the primary reasons hemp should be the backbone of our country’s agricultural economy, because even if you’re on the fence about legalizing weed, everyone should care about hemp.

1. Hemp is green (no, really)

Everyone knows that plants are on the opposite end of the respiratory cycle from animals. Animals breathe in oxygen (O2) and release carbon dioxide (CO2) while plants take in CO2 and release O2. Dense jungles such as the Amazon are responsible for most of the oxygen produced on the planet, and they also filter many greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere. However, new plant growth requires much more CO2 than mature forest plant life, and a single hemp plant would filter out more CO2 from the atmosphere than a single mature tree. Growing and processing hemp actually will have a reversing effect on the carbon cycle, and can slow the rapid atmospheric increase of CO2. Read more info here.

2. How is it better than fossil based fuels? Let us count the ways…

Over 80% of all the greenhouse-related emissions in the United States come from CO2. These emissions come from burning fossil-based fuels to generate electricity or to power transportation. Here’s a couple graphs that illustrate where all these greenhouse gases come from:

Coal produces the most carbon emissions per unit of energy obtained, followed by petroleum and then natural gas.

Though only about half of electricity produced in the U.S. comes from coal, over four fifths of electricity-related carbon emissions are from burning coal.

We can see that for the non-fossil fuel chunk of the graphs on the left, there is no corresponding carbon emission output. That’s because burning non-fossil fuels doesn’t release carbon gases. These fuels are plant-based biofuels, and hemp is one of the easiest plants to convert to biodiesel fuel. When Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine, he intended it to be fueled primarily by plant and vegetable oils. His own engine was actually powered by peanut oil. Why are we allowing ourselves to be dependent on non-renewable sources of energy from foreign countries when we could grow all the fuel we need right here in this country? Hemp-derived biofuel would be cheap, renewable, non-toxic, and best of all, would produce absolutely zero carbon gases. Our mission should be to increase the non-fossil fuel uses across the board in this country, and hemp is the cheapest and most efficient way to do that. For more on hemp vs. petroleum, check out this link.

3. Eco-friendly source of plastic

Almost all of today’s plastics are manufactured from petroleum, the same non-renewable resource we are burning to make electricity and fuel. The thing is, hemp can not only be a renewable source of plastic, but a stronger one. Henry Ford himself invented a car using a soybean and hemp based plastic for building materials and fueled by plant oils. The result was a car so durable that it didn’t even dent when Ford took an axe to it.

Henry Ford taking an axe to his soybean and hemp car. "the axe bounced, and there was no dent…"

Read all about the future possibilities of hemp plastics here.

4. Save the trees, grow hemp!

For many years a top concern among environmentalists has been deforestation. About 4 billion trees are cut down each year just to make paper, which represents about 35% of all the trees harvested each year. Instead of cutting down all those trees that take decades to regrow, why not make a majority of our paper from hemp that can be regrown in a year? Ben Franklin owned a paper mill that produced hemp paper. Thomas Jefferson drafted our Constitution on hemp paper. Paper from plants like hemp and flax last centuries longer than wood-based paper. An acre of hemp can produce the same amount of paper as 4 acres of trees. With forests slowly being leveled all over the world, it’s time to find a real solution more effective than any recycling program: manufacturing hemp paper instead of wood paper. More hemp paper facts here.

I could really go on and on about the uses of hemp all day long, but these are to me the most pressing reasons to grow hemp. I’ve already outlined the reasons conservatives should join the legalization battle. Today I extend my hand to environmentalists. To the champions of climate change reversal efforts: We have a solution! To the advocates for cleaner and renewable energy efforts: We have a solution! To those worried about our country’s dependence on arbitrary foreign oil prices: We have a solution! And to my friend the Lorax who speaks for the trees: We have a solution! Hemp for victory!

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