Industrial hemp: You could swear by it on the original Gutenberg Bible printed on it, the Declaration of Independence that was drafted on it, or even the first American flag that was made of it. Currently, most industrialized nations do swear by it. Except one: the land of the free. Now may be the time for us to support hemp’s emancipation.
Hemp was grown on U.S. soil dating back to the European colonization of the continent, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson being two of our most famous hemp farmers. However, in 1937, something changed. There is some murkiness as to the reasons why hemp went from vital crop to banned plant in this decade and depending on who you ask you will receive different reasons for this. Some will say that hemp was banned for political reasons, specifically because its growth and production were competing with plastic and wood-based paper industries. As it happens, there was an influx of propaganda confusing hemp with marijuana around the same time. Fast forward to today and we will find that that hemp is still illegal under its current definition in federal law due to its confusion with marijuana.
Currently, concerns are increasing related to the availability of and environmental damage associated with petroleum-based plastic and wood pulp paper. For this reason, groups are coming together to work toward legalizing hemp farming throughout the United States.
The economy of this country is based on consumption, with many of those resources imported across borders. Cultivation of hemp as a cash crop has the potential to be a vital homeland industry that could help alleviate anything from the oil crisis to deforestation as it is a product that could be used to create food, fabric, paper and even oil.
Hemp is Not Marijuana
Hemp is not marijuana and it won’t get you high; it’s a party-foul in that sense if you will. You don’t have to worry about failing any drug tests after consuming it because it carries no drug value. To clarify, hemp comes from non-drug varieties of cannabis. Both hemp and marijuana are known botanically as Cannabis sativa, but hemp contains only minute amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Drug-type varieties of cannabis contain 5-25% THC while hemp has 0.03% to 0.1% THC. In fact, many of the most prominent hemp food companies guarantee the hemp seeds they use contain 0.00% THC.
Although industrial hemp may resemble marijuana in look, it has little in common with its illegal cousin and banning it because of its relation with marijuana is like banning poppy seeds because they could have the potential to make heroin.
Hemp as a Health Food
Although hemp won’t get you high, its health benefits may lift your spirits. Hemp seeds are the edible part of the plant which can be pressed, milled or roasted to create nutritious food including milk, butter, cheese and oil. These seeds contain all essential amino acids and are a balanced source of Omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Essential Fatty Acids have this name as they are essential for a number of physiological functions but they are not produced by the body, even from their component parts, they must be ingested in their active form. There are specific ratios of Omgea-3-6-9 that are important in our diet and the standard American diet tends to be lacking in Omega 3s. Essential fatty acids are important for cell membrane and skin integrity; and they are the building blocks for many hormones and neurotransmitters, making them important in functions such as regulation of blood pressure, immune system function, mood and hormonal balance. They are also anti-inflammatory, which is important since inflammation is currently identified as a causative factor or aggravating agent in many diseases.
Hemp seeds and oil also contain the fatty acids sometimes known as super-omegas, including steridonic acid (SDA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which are important fatty acids for optimal hair, nail and skin health. The irony is that the health benefits of this legal variety of the plant may make consumers feel so good that they may not need the actual drug cannabis.
Hemp has unique qualities that create a distinction between it and other health foods. Ashley Koff RD, a registered dietician and health and nutrition expert, explains that, “Hemp is a high-quality and easily digestible protein, but unlike soy and quinoa, it is carbohydrate-free which makes it a great tool for someone following vegetarian, vegan or raw diets seeking to get optimal energy with balanced nutrients.”
While hemp has a nutty flavor and can be consumed as a seed or oil, it’s not a nut, so it does not tend to aggravate people who have nut allergies and/or sensitivities. It is also a good option for people who have soy or many other types of food sensitivities. Hemp is gluten-free and can be easily certified as a kosher food.
There is a concern, though, within the conscious hemp community, that hemp remain free from becoming genetically modified or over-processed, as has been the case for other foods that have become lucrative cash crops, such as corn and soy. According to some sources, these cultural and economic staples have become increasingly void of nutritional value and as GMOs are even detrimental to our health and to the environment. At present, all major hemp companies and products are organic and non-GMO.
Don’t Panic, it’s Organic
Touted as a green fiber, hemp can be grown with eco-friendly methods. It has both dense foliage and the ability for plants to be sown close together, which limits weed growth and the temptation to use herbicides. Since the plant generally grows in height by as many as ten to twelve feet over a 100-110 day growing cycle, hemp produces an abundance of fiber in comparison with other textile crops. While other industrial crops deplete the soil, hemp is believed to be good for the soil because its deep roots benefit bioremediation efforts, remove toxins and even return nutrients, making it good for crop rotation.
Today, over thirty countries produce industrial hemp including Australia, China, Great Britain, France, Russia, and our neighbor, Canada. There are currently tens of thousands of acres of hemp grown within Canada’s provinces and hundreds of farmers are employed in this effort, according to figures provided by Manitoba Harvest. Several manufacturers and marketers have grown from start-up companies to well-established businesses, demonstrating the economic possibility in hemp growing. Canada’s example suggests that hemp growing and harvesting could have a significant impact on the US economy over time. Because its uses as a crop are enormous, its impact could be seen by farmers to manufacturers to marketers. Companies including Ford Motors, Patagonia and The Body Shop are already using imported hemp in car parts, clothing and body care products. Furthermore, hemp may have even greater value as a potential source of renewable energy and as a raw material for biodiesel and ethanol.
Current estimates of U.S. retail hemp sales exceed $360 million. Allowing U.S. farmers to grow and sell hemp seeds may reduce the cost of hemp foods to the consumer. An additional benefit is that companies like Living Harvest Foods will “be able to better promote sustainable agriculture in the U.S., support local farming and fuel the economy,” according to Living Harvest Foods CEO Hans Fastre.
Harvesting Hemp for Food
Mike Fata is the president of Manitoba Harvest and one of the pioneers who worked to legalize the Canadian hemp industry in the 1990s. A personal health crusade inspired his activism. At the age of eighteen, Fata’s no-fat diet allowed his weight to drop from 300 to 160 pounds. However, this extreme solution left him very ill, leading him to investigate the importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs) within a healthy diet. He researched different sources of these fats and discovered that hemp is one of the richest plant sources of these vital compounds. After adding hemp to his diet, his weight and general health stabilized while his energy levels increased. When this happened in 1998, Fata says he “knew that the non-fat diet was going to be a fad and the ‘Right Fat Diet’ was going to emerge. Sure enough it has, as Omega 3 and 6 EFAs are now prized – and along with them hemp.”
Fata and Manitoba Harvest cofounder Martin Moravcik, went on to work with the government in province of Manitoba to legalize hemp. During their crusading efforts, they found that the predominant challenge was educating people to understand that hemp is not dope. They gathered scientific evidence regarding hemp’s THC content from sites where it is grown around the world, such as Europe and Asia, and shared that information with the governmental agencies. This evidence convinced law enforcement and government officials that hemp did not contain psychoactive chemicals and that the hemp seed was truly a functional food. After winning over the provincial government in Manitoba, the province supported Fata and Moravcik in their successful effort to lobby the Canadian federal government, which has allowed for the current legalization of growing commercial hemp, with regulations.
Fata notes that they are facing similar challenges with the US legalization efforts, but finds communication with the US federal government much more difficult than the Canadian government. According to Fata, it will only “be overcome with the hard science if the right people will listen.”
The Legislative Conundrum
Seventeen states including Oregon, North Dakota and Vermont have passed legislation favorable to hemp farming even though industrial hemp production remains prohibited under federal law. Like medicinal marijuana distributors who are vulnerable to being shut down by the feds at any given moment, farmers who are currently growing hemp in these seventeen states risk being raided and shut down.
For now, the potential for hemp to provide as an alternative sustainable resource for development is being pursued elsewhere, whether in Canada or overseas. Social entrepreneur Matthew Sablove, founder of Re3-Generation.com, is pursing hemp cultivation in Southeast Asia. Re3-Generation is a start-up focusing on supporting and expanding the number of small farmers growing industrial hemp for fiber, clothing and textiles produced by D’Nature, a Thai-based hemp company. So far, D’Nature has been able to work with more than fifty small farmers and their families to source hemp. “Our goal is to do well by doing good, producing a resource that is good for human health and restorative for the planet. The potential to empower small farmers to stay on their land, and preserve sustainable practices is scalable to other developing countries.” Sablove is optimistic, but, cautious as the interest and market potential of hemp around the world increases, “Hemp is a good resource, but, business is business. We are trying to encourage a different consumer engagement and work toward the triple bottom line where profit includes people and the planet.”
Back in the United States, the Hemp Industries Association has created Vote Hemp, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, as its political arm for its legalization effort. Founded in 2000, Vote Hemp has gained tens of thousands of supporters and helped to pass sixteen state bills and resolutions in support of hemp farming in the ten years of its existence. The goal: hemp’s emancipation and the ability for US farmers to grow industrial hemp legally.
In 2003, Vote Hemp successfully lobbied for the introduction of the first federal legislation introduced and successfully coordinated an industry lawsuit (HIA v. DEA) to stop the Drug Enforcement Agency from banning hemp foods.
Vote Hemp organized the annual Hemp History Week. Vote Hemp President Eric Streensta discloses that organizers aim to collect at least 50,000 hand-signed postcards from farmers, businesses and consumers addressed to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder during this week asking officials to “end the ban on hemp farming allowing farmers grow the versatile and profitable crop.” The nonprofit also seeks to educate the public about the historical importance of hemp in America and the growing market for thousands of hemp products. Vote Hemp will be holding grassroots educational events across the country while natural product retail outlets will be sampling hemp products.
With the prevalence of Medical Marijuana in fourteen of the states and initiatives to legalize and tax marijuana, it seems ironic that the drug type varieties of cannabis are inching closer to federal legalization in the United States than the non-drug varieties of cannabis. However, there is progress being made. Vote Hemp’s Hemp History Week offers plenty of ways to get involved in the efforts to legalize growing hemp in America. For this week, it will be okay to give into peer pressure. For more information about Vote Hemp and Hemp History Week, visit: hemphistoryweek.com.
Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap: drbronner.com
The Body Shop Hemp Hand Scrub, Hemp foot Protector, Hemp hand protector, Hemp lip protector, hemp body mitt, hemp face protector, hemp body protector: thebodyshop-usa.com
Natural High Lifestyle: naturalhighlifestyle.com
Livity Outernational: livity.org
Patagonia Hemp shirts, shoes and pants: Patagonia.com
Re3 Generation clothing and apparel: Re3-Generation.com
Hemp as Food
Nature’s Path’s Hemp Plus™ Granola Cereal, Sunny Hemp™ Granola Bars and Hemp Plus™ Waffles: Naturespath.com
Living Harvest Foods Tempt™ hemp milk and frozen desserts: livingharvest.com
Nutiva’s Organic Shelled Hempseed, Hemp Shakes, Hemp Protein Powder, Hemp Bar and Hemp Oil: nutiva.com
Nectar Ales Hemp Ale: nectarales.com
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Bliss Milk, Protein Powder, Hemp Seed Oil, Hemp Seed Oil Capsules & Hemp Seed Butter: manitobaharvest.com
Paper & Other Products
Green Field Paper Company Hemp Heritage Paper, Stationery and Envelopes: greenfieldpaper.com
Rawganique.com Tree-Free Hemp Paper Products; rawganique.com
Vanessa Harris is graduate of Pepperdine University who completed her teacher training in India. Her experience includes writing, making malas or prayer beads, serving as an associate producer at Bhakti Fest, and contributing as the Editorial Coordinator at Bliss Network.