Websites of Interest

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why the tycoons fear hemp: From drugs to oil Why the tycoons fear hemp: From drugs to oil

I like to refer to the US government's prohibition of cannabis as a "policy of enforced extinction."

Marijuana is the term used for the premature flowers (or buds) of the cannabis plant; cannabis and marijuana cannot be separated, unless the lifespan of the plant is cut short before natural reproduction has a chance to take place. What we now term "dirt weed" and "schwag" - you know, the stuff that doesn't really get you high - are the wild unrefined strains of cannabis that have a much lower potency when smoked; and some people for this reason call these plants "hemp," as if it is distinct from marijuana; but these plants still have flowers and they are still smokable and there's nothing that I'm aware of to suggest that the flowers of these cannabis plants should not be called marijuana.

To call a plant a "hemp plant" is not really correct, hemp and marijuana are both separate parts of one plant; the cannabis plant. Of course, when people think of marijuana today it is a much more potent item than it ever was before the plant was domesticated and bred for potency over many hundreds or maybe thousands of generations. If you smoke with someone who hasn't smoked since the 60's, they would be very surprised at how powerful the modern product is. So while there may be grounds for a distinction between varieties of cannabis; hemp and marijuana will not do it because hemp and marijuana are parts of the cannabis plant that all cannabis plants have in common. If we were to make an accurate distinction we would need to use different words; perhaps species names.

Anyway, on with the history lesson (or at least my version of it). Of course, there were and all the racist reasons for marijuana prohibition, as there were with the prohibition of most of the better known illicit drugs. But hemp, which refers to the fibrous strands that can be made from the stalks of the cannabis plant, has incredible potential for commercial and industrial applications. The fiber is very strong and was used for centuries for all the lines and rigging on ships, as well as to make the canvas for the sails.

Obviously I don't support using hemp for industrial purposes (because I don't support using anything for industrial purposes) but here is a list of all the things that hemp can be used to make - from the website of the HIA or Hemp Industries Association:

back packs, bags, beanies, belts, briefcases, caps, checkbook covers, gloves, guitar straps, hair ties, hats (knit, crocheted & fabric), hip packs, jewelry, luggage, purses, scarves, shawls, shoe laces, shoes, socks, ties, travel kits, wallets, watchbands

Animal Care
beds, bedding, feed, leashes & collars, treats

baby clothes, bathrobes, dresses, jackets, jeans, lingerie, overalls, pants, shirts, shorts, skirts, suits, sweaters, tees

Body Care
hair conditioners, lip balms, lipsticks, lotions, massage oils, nutritional oils, salves, shampoos, soaps, tanning lotions

beer, breads, brownies, burgers, chips, chocolate bars, coffees, cookies, defatted hempseed meal, shelled hempseeds, dry mixes - cake, cookie, pancake & pizza dough, energy bars, flour, hummus, ice cream (non-dairy desserts), nut bars, nut-butter, oil, pasta, pretzels, protein powders, roasted seeds, salad dressings, spiced hemp seeds

aprons, blankets, curtains, couch covers, dish cloths, furniture, hammocks, potholders, pillows, placemats, napkins, shower curtains, tablecloths, towels, washcloths

art papers, bond, bookmarks, books, cigarette papers, corrugated board, envelopes, invitations, journals, magazines, postcards, posters, stationery, writing pads, books, magazines, newsletters, research papers

Raw Hemp
bast fiber, batting (tow), long fiber (line or sliver) for industry & craft use, hurds (core), seed stock, seed grain

Sports Equipment
basketball nets, frisbees, hackie sacks, skateboards, snowboards, surfboards

Spun Hemp
twine, rope, yarn, webbing, thread

hand-woven & mill-loomed fabrics: blended silks to canvas, various weights & textures, colors, patterns, stripes & plaids; knits; finishing services; non-woven matting (replacing fiberglass); carpets & rugs

dolls, candles, coffee filters, drums, picture frames, teddy bears, toys'

Wow, look at all those possibilities!

Congress knew that they could never get away with outlawing a natural plant that grew in the dirt, so (with heavy lobbying by people who would soon form the petroleum/plastics industry) they found a clever way to make both industrial and recreational cannabis effectively illegal without outlawing them outright. In 1937 the US Congress passed the "Marihuana Tax Act," which meant that one had to have a special permit to grow cannabis so that it could be taxed by the government. Permits were issued to farmers all over the Midwest during World War II as part of the war effort, but when the war ended the permits were all allowed to expire, no new permits were issued and those caught growing cannabis were charged with some form of tax infraction or tax evasion. Immediately after World War II,

the growth of suburban America exploded and the returning soldiers settled down to make families and stuff their suburban houses with untold numbers of plastic items and other petroleum derived products. As can be seen in the products list above, hemp posed a significant threat to market-share of many of the products that the petrol-barrons wanted to push, and so it was very convenient for hemp to be illegal.

There was very little penalty for possession of cannabis until 1970 when the Controlled Substances Act was passed, and ever since then the penalty has been getting ever harsher.

Learn more about this author, Matthew Tyler Funk