There’s a lot of talk these days about legalization of marijuana, but not nearly enough discussion about the status of industrial hemp. Since the plants are genetically related, people often mistake the purposes of one for the other. Specifically, many believe that legalization of industrial hemp is the same as making marijuana widely accessible, and that allowing cultivation of hemp will lead to an increase of drug abuse.
First, I am not an advocate of recreational drug use; I don’t even drink alcohol. But hemp contains 1% or less of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in marijuana. Trying to get an effect from smoking hemp would be like trying to get drunk on non-alcoholic beer. But because hemp is similar to marijuana, and can look the same to an untrained eye, it is often guilty by association. We must not make the mistake to throw out a plant with amazing potential due to this.
People also assume that even if hemp is different, it will encourage growth of marijuana, arguing that these plants will be hidden amongst the hemp. But marijuana is grown further apart to allow the leaves to develop, which is where the THC resides. In contrast, hemp is planted close together so as to cultivate more stalks, which is the part of the hemp plant that is needed for the various industrial uses.
What are some of these applications? Can one plant really be so valuable so as to justify legalization amidst all this fuss? In a word, yes. Hemp has a long history of cultivation and practical uses that should not be discarded simply due to misinformation or mistrust. Hemp’s products are also extremely eco-friendly and sustainable, which makes its use desperately needed in these times of environmental destruction.
It is an incredible fiber, which can be used for rope, clothing, and paper. The fibers in hemp clothing are stronger than cotton, and block UV rays more effectively than other types of cloth. Due to the length of the fibers, hemp paper can be recycled several more times than paper made from a wood base. In 1916 it was suggested that by the 1940s trees would no longer be needed for paper as hemp can produce a yield of four times of fiber as that of an average forest.
Hemp requires less processing, and fewer chemicals in the process than wood or cotton. It can help save forests and displace cotton production, which requires large amounts of pesticides. Hemp does not, due to more natural resistance to pests than other crops. Also less herbicide is needed because hemp grows so close together than there are simply fewer opportunities for weeds to encroach on the plants. It is a very flexible crop, able to adapt to various growing conditions throughout the world.
Hemp had a part in the fledgling automotive industry before its cultivation was needlessly squelched. Hemp can be used to grease mechanical parts, decreasing the need for petroleum products and their environmentally damaging properties. Henry Ford idealized hemp plastic to be used in the production of vehicles, and BMW is trying this today in an effort to make cars more recyclable. Rudolph Diesel’s prototype engine was designed to be fueled with hemp oil. We simply must look to biodiesel fuels for the future with their clean emission footprint.
There’s more. Hemp is a superfood. You may know of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, and how you can get them from flax or chia seeds, but the amount in hemp blows them both away. There is also hemp tofu, yogurt, milk, oil, nut butter, protein powder—the list goes on. Just to reiterate, you will not experience psychological effects from consuming hemp as the THC percentage is miniscule. (Nor will you test positive on a drug screening; you’re more at risk from a poppy seed bagel.)
Indiana has a strong agricultural heritage. We must take action to make certain Indiana quickly becomes the frontrunner in the cultivation of this lucrative crop before other states win the race. As of 2014, Indiana legalized production of industrial hemp but it is unclear whether any is actually being grown or if we are waiting on federal approval. We need to ensure there are no barriers to hemp production as this would be a way to revitalize our state: Plants could be grown in southern Indiana, and processed into various products in the more industrial north. This arrangement would have nothing but benefits for all Hoosiers.