Carbon Economy Series: Hemp Returns
By Doug Fine
I’m writing these words ten minutes after President Obama has legalized hemp. If you’re not yet among the throngs pausing for collective pinching of self and recitation of, “God Bless America,” you will be, pretty soon. He did this by signing the 2014 Farm Bill, which included a tucked-in, bi-partisan amendment that allows university research of the crop.
I’m happy for real world reasons that go far beyond the fact that the President of the United States, together with the U.S. Congress, is now, albeit inadvertently, part of the marketing team for my new book. They in fact made the dream expressed in its first paragraph one big step closer to reality.
The American re-embracing of its once most lucrative and important crop was indeed a move for the good of American farming, industry, and tax base. This I found when I saw the Canadian farmer and processor profit margin on its hemp harvest. It’s ten times that of wheat. We’ll have federal Hemp Appreciation long weekends in February or October some day. But when you take the long-term view, today qualifies as a mark-the-calendar day in human history, not just American history. That’s because our energy future just got a lot brighter and cleaner.
Hemp’s return is a bit overdue. Just for the record, here’s the timeline: hemp legal: twelve thousand years. Hemp illegal: seventy-seven. Just last week, a Stanford-led team discovered well-preserved hemp clothes at a nine thousand-year-old village site in Turkey. A nice ensemble,ranging from infant size to big-and-tall.
In fact, the publicity folks at my publisher have asked me to provide them a timeline more specific than “humans have widely used hemp for the past twelve millennia.” So for those who like to see things itemized:
–10,000 BCE: Hemp in wide use for clothing, food and medicine. It is a “camp follower,” a seed that people take with them as they move. Hemp clothing found in good condition by Stanford University led archeological team in 9,000-year-old Turkish village in February of this year.
–Year Zero: Chinese pharmacopeia describes multiple cannabis-based remedies. Persians call hempShaah-daaneh, or “King of Seeds.”
–14th Through 20th Centuries: Hemp provides rigging and caulking for European Age of Exploration.
–1776: Thomas Jefferson drafts Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.
–1820s: U.S. government sponsors contests to produce domestic hemp that rivals expensive imports.
–19th Century: American West settled via wagons covered with hemp canvas.
–1850s-1930s: Kentucky hemp germplasm considered the world’s finest. Hemp industry employs thousands of farmers and processors in a dozen states. U.S. dominates world industry.
–1937: Hemp banned in the Marihuana Stamp Act.
–1942: Hemp For Victory propaganda film: Prohibition gets off to a poor start. Hemp re-legalized because Japanese have captured Filipino hemp sources (note that the drug war is already pushing industry offshore).
–1952: My grandmother moves to Hempstead, NY
–1994: In an executive order, President Bill Clinton includes hemp among “the essential agricultural products that should be stocked for defense preparedness purposes.”
–1996: Canada re-legalizes hemp.
–2002: BMW begins using hemp fiber in auto door panels, and still does.
–February 7, 2014:President Obama re-legalizes hemp by signing the 2014 Farm Bill. Canada’s fifteen-year-old market worth a billion dollars annually.
In the big scheme of things, it was a short, head-scratching separation between humans and their longest-utilized plant. My day job of the past several years, investigating the role of the cannabis plant in humanity’s economic and climate mitigation arsenal, has, due to irrefutable evidence, convinced me that it’s essential to bring one of our most useful plants back into the economy: I don’t think of hemp as having been “legalized” so much as “returning to its normal status.” In Hemp Bound I set out to explain why the plant has returned in such a big way and why it matters. The short answer, according to more than one of the hemp agronomists I interviewed for the book, is that we can’t afford not to re-learn the ways to maximize this plant’s harvest, and quickly. On a bright, subzero morning in Manitoba last year, I found myself at a Canadian research facility being shown a tractor body made entirely from hemp — hemp that was grown and cultivated just a few miles away. This is about as closed a loop as it gets: powered by hemp, built from hemp (including the sealant that holds the contemporary curved hood design together), and doing the work to harvest the hemp and start the cycle all over again. I rapped my knuckles on the hood and kicked it. Solid!
“Why hemp?” I asked research team leader Simon Potter of Manitoba’s Composites Innovation Centre, “Because it’s stronger, cheaper and much less energy demanding than petroleum based plastics,” he said. “These are the industrial components of the future. We have no choice. Petroleum is done.”
Doug Fine, author of Hemp Bound will be teaching in Santa Fe about hemp, that make it the most important cash crop in America today as it was to our forefathers. Join us on November 21, 2014 from 7-9 pm for a dynamic talk and on November 22 from 9am-5pm for an all day workshop at the Santa Fe Community College,
For more information or to register call us at: (505) 819-3828 or visit www.carboneconomyseries.com