Pubdate: Thu, 01 May 2003
Source: Ecologist, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 The Ecologist
Author: Jake Bowers
Bookmark: (Hemp)
Bookmark: (Hemp - Outside U.S.)

NATURE & RESOURCES Considering its estimated 25,000-plus uses -- for
producing food, fuel, medicine, paper, plastics and even dynamite -- the
most wasteful thing you could probably do with hemp is smoke it. Jake Bowers
describes hemp's potential to transform agriculture and the plant's
demonisation by huge and competing industrial interests.


In a scrubbed-out cow shed at the end of a rutted track in East Sussex, a
seed packed with all the potential to transform British agriculture and save
the planet is slowly taking root. Where cows once crapped and chewed the
cud, Henry Gage is hunched over a lap-top germinating his plan to free one
of the most 'dangerous' plants on the planet. This year Gage plans to grow
1,000 acres of hemp (Cannabis sativa L) across Britain. Yet Gage is no
home-grown drugs baron but an energetic young farmer, and he doesn't want us
to smoke his crop but eat it.


Hemp poses little threat to you or 1, but the plant's incredible versatility
could have an explosive effect on a vast array of unsustainable industries.
Gage's crop is the same plant as the cannabis consumed by recreational drug
users, but it contains so little THC (tetrahydrocannabinol - the
psychoactive chemical in cannabis) that you'd need to smoke a joint the size
of a telegraph pole to get stoned. In fact, considering hemp's estimated
25,000 other uses (for producing food, fuel, medicine, paper, plastics and
even dynamite), the most useless thing you could do with the crop is smoke
it. Yet huge industrial interests created and perpetuated the myth that one
of the world's most useful plants is one of the most dangerous. But now the
serrated green leaves of the plant are beginning to cut through the
hysterical haze that has engulfed hemp for over 60 years.

Gage explains that hemp truly is a wonder weed with a huge potential to help
British farmers diversify and convert to organic agriculture. 'It grows
freely on almost any ground without the use of pesticides or herbicides,' he
says. 'It needs minimum attention from the farmer, and leaves the fields
where it is grown virtually weed free for the next crop.' He describes
society's continuing irrational fear of the plant as 'cannaphobia'.

At the relatively young age of 27, Gage doesn't seem like your average
farmer. He says he didn't even consider working the land until he heard
about hemp. But with access to a 1,000-acre family farm in Sussex, he
started the firm Mother Hemp with his friend Sarah Yearsley in 1998. Five
years on, the pair have yet to turn a profit, but have become an unofficial
hemp marketing board. Finally, however, their emotional and financial
investment may be about to yield economic fruit.

As holder of Britain's second commercial hemp licence, Mother Hemp will this
spring be licensing farmers to grow a highly nutritious variety of hemp
called Finola. Unlike Britain's other commercial hemp licensee, which
largely produces hemp fibres for the interiors of expensive German cars,
Mother Hemp's produce will be available on the shelves of British food

Attempting to persuade Britons to overcome their collective cannaphobia and
eat hemp might seem like a PR job from hell, but Mother Hemp is well-armed.
Its most powerful weapon, hemp-seed oil, turns out to be one of the most
nutritious oils on the planet.

Yearsley says: 'While hemp-seed oil is relatively new to the modern Western
pallet, it has been used as an inexpensive substitute for butter in most
eastern European countries, particularly Russia.' Recent clinical trials on
Finola, conducted by nutritionist Dr Jayce Callaway at the University of
Kuopio in Finland, found that hemp-seed oil relieved eczema and helped
combat flu. 'Hemp-seed oil is an exceptional source of the essential fatty
acids (EFAs) that we must obtain from our daily diet because, like vitamins,
we can't produce them on our own/ says Callaway. 'Judging from the
fatty-acid profile of hemp-seed oil, numerous anecdotal reports and the
results of our clinical investigations, I'd have to conclude that this is
probably the healthiest oil on the market.' Ironically, given the plant's
narcotic associations, hemp-seed oil may even help keep you happy.
Nutritionists are increasingly recommending EFAs omega-3 and omega-6 (found
in high quantities in fish and hemp-seed oil) to help combat clinical

So, if hemp is more of a benefit than a threat to public health, why is its
cultivation still strictly licensed under Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act?


The answer lies in 1930s America, and it has nothing to do with hemp's
narcotic or nutritional properties. The forgotten history of hemp provides
an instructive lesson in how powerful industrial interests have always
sacrificed sustainability at the altar of profit to set society on an
environmentally destructive course. Hemp activists say the plant's
prohibition started in the US (and spread throughout the world) because of
the threat the plant posed to the unsustainable, but highly profitable,
plastics, textiles and paper interests of media magnate William Randolph
Hearst and the US government's chief munitions and textiles manufacturer

No man has done more to document this forgotten history than cannabis
activist Jack Herer through his best-selling book (now in its 11 th edition)
The Emperor Wears No Clothes. The book records in painstaking detail how
hemp was one of mankind's most significant crops from 8,000 BC until the
beginning of the 20th century. Up to the late 19th century, for example, the
majority of all twine, rope, sails, rigging and nets were made from hemp
fibre. Herer claims that the plant's importance to the British was so great
that Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 primarily to stop the Russians selling
hemp to the British navy. Hemp has had many other interesting footnotes in
human history both the Magna Carta and the American Declaration of
Independence were written on hemp paper.

Herer says hemp's use declined at the beginning of the 20th century because
of a 'lack of mechanised harvesting and breaking technology needed for mass
production'. But in 1916 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported
that new technology would soon be developed to make hemp the US's number-one
crop. The USDA reported that one acre of hemp in annual rotation over a
20-year period could produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees
being cut down.

'In the 1930s when the new [harvesting and breaking] machines became state
of the art, available and affordable,' says Herer, 'the Hearst Paper
Manufacturing Division, Kimberley Clarke and virtually all other timber,
paper and large newspaper companies stood to lose billions of dollars.'

But the resurgence of hemp in the late 1930s didn't just threaten forestry
and publishing interests. Its strong natural fibres were also ideal for
producing textiles, plastics and even explosives. DuPont had just patented
nylon, as well as processes for making plastics from oil and coal, and new
highly polluting techniques for making paper from wood pulp.

'According to DuPont's own corporate records and historians/ explains Herer,
'these processes accounted for 80 per cent of the company's railroad car
loadings over the next 60 years. If hemp had not been made illegal, 80 per
cent of DuPont's business would never have materialised.'

So, in 1937 hemp was made illegal in the US, when the Marijuana Tax Act
effectively removed it from the market. But before hemp was outlawed it
needed to be demonised. That's where William Randolph Hearst, the subject of
Orson Welles's film Citizen Kane, came in. Hearst used his chain of
newspapers to spread antihemp propaganda despite several contemporary
official British and US reports concluding that cannabis smoking was safe.

'In the 1920s and 1930s Hearst's newspapers deliberately manufactured a new
threat to the US and a new campaign to have hemp outlawed/ says Herer. 'For
example, a story of a car accident in which a "marijuana cigarette" was
found would dominate the headlines for weeks, while alcohol-related car
incidents made only the back pages.'

Herer says this theme of cannabis-related crime was repeatedly burned into
the minds of Americans through the use of hysterical headlines like 'Reefer
madness' and 'Marijuana - assassin of youth'. Throughout the 1930s, Hearst's
network of tabloids ran sensational stories about 'marijuana-crazed negroes'
raping white women and playing a type of 'voodoo satanic music' now known
simply as jazz. Hearst's long-running campaign would seem laughable today if
it weren't for the enduring cannaphobia it helped to create. The Hearst
Corporation, owner of Britain's National Magazine Company and publisher of
Cosmopolitan and Esquire, has proved equally resilient.

[pictorial sidebar shows covers of Hearst and other magazines with typical
Reefer Madness -- Assassin of Youth themes]


But if hemp's resurgence was (quite literally) nipped in the bud by
industrial interests in the 1930s, it is now finally waking from its
Rip-vanWinkle years. Across the world, farmers, environmentalists and
entrepreneurs are coming together to promote it as a panacea plant for many
of industrial society's environmental problems. Hemp is now in agricultural
production in Australia, New Zealand and across the EU. Britain is the only
EU country that still requires licences for hemp cultivation.

In France hemp fibres are combined with lime to make a lightweight plaster
with environmentally friendly insulating and pest-resistant properties. The
French also use hemp to make cigarette papers and bibles. In Germany, where
hemp cultivation was legalised in 1996, a multimillion euro hemp-product
market includes environmentally friendly paints, detergents, foods,
body-care products, papers and textiles. In Hungary, Romania and Poland
farmers are producing an ever increasing amount for export for use in rope,
textiles and building materials. China, by far the world's largest consumer
and exporter of hemp, has been cultivating the plant for over 6,000 years.
The annual output of Chinese hemp linen alone is currently worth over 10
billion yuan (about $1.2 billion).

John W Roulac, author of *Hemp Horizons: the comeback of the world's most
promising plant*, says: 'The world is slowly moving toward a carbohydrate
economy that relies on plant materials and away from a petroleum economy.
Hemp fits well into this resource shift, and can transform our over-reliance
on petroleum-based products and services.

'Imagine a crop more versatile than the soya bean, the cotton plant and the
Douglas fir tree put together, one whose products are interchangeable with
those from timber or petroleum, one that grows like Jack's beanstalk with
minimal tending. There is such a crop: industrial hernp.'

Roulac has been described as a 'new age Johnny Appleseed' in the US. As
founder of the hemp food business Nutiva, he not only sells and eats hemp
foods but wears hemp clothes and writes books about the plant. Hemp
cultivation is illegal in the US, but not in Canada where it is flourishing
and from where Nutiva imports the seed used to manufacture its products.
Just as the rest of the world is giving hemp a break, prohibition is
intensifying in the US. Last year, the US Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA declared hemp foods containing even trace amounts of THC illegal.

'The US government has a long history as a "market enforcer" for fascist
corporations that choose to eliminate competition rather than compete in a
free-market economy, comments Roulac. 'Tens of millions of Americans realise
the greatest terror threat we face today is from handful of corrupt
Americans who run roughshod over civil society.'

With their livelihoods under threat, hemp businesses have joined forces to
sue the DEA in the hope of overturning the ban. The case is currently before
the US Court of Appeals and should be resolved this year. But some
individuals aren't prepared to wait for the US government to become more


On the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, Oglala Sioux farmer Alex
White Plume has become the first person in over 40 years to grow industrial
hemp in the US. Hemp cultivation may be illegal in America but White Plume
says that Pine Ridge 'is not part of the US'. In 1998 the OgIala Sioux
tribal council voted to legalise hemp. Tribal members say that because the
Oglala Sioux tribe a sovereign nation, its laws should apply on the
reservation. Initial attempts at hemp cultivation were stopped when armed
federal agent destroyed and removed the crop. For the Oglala Sioux, the
fight to cultivate hemp has now become synonymous with the long struggle for
native sovereignty

White Plume's home lies just 10 miles north of Wounded Knee, where in 1890
US army soldiers massacred between 150 and 300 Oglala Sioux men, women and
children. The 7,000-square-mile Pine Ridge reservation is home to 18,000
descendants of the Oglala Sioux pushed out of South Dakota's Black Hills
after gold was discovered there. The unemployment rate on the reservation is
80 per cent.

'I was going to be the first Indian millionaire/ White Plume says wryly. But
in 2000 and 2001 the federal authorities destroyed his crop. Last year,
however, he finally succeeded in harvesting and selling his crop before
federal agents could remove it. 'Before, I have always had to stand by
helplessly' he says. 'I felt like our grandfathers at Wounded Knee watching
helplessly while our people were killed. But I do not want to be helpless
anymore.' White Plume has a $1 bill bearing the portrait of another US hemp
farmer George Washington - on his wall.

Given hemp's contribution to US history, you'd think the Bush administration
would be a little kinder to the plant. Hemp activists love to point out that
when George Bush Snr bailed out of a US Air Force plane over the Pacific
Ocean during WWII, the parachute that saved his life was made from hemp. Not
even the wonder weed, it would seem, has made an entirely positive
contribution to world history.

With the notable exception of the US the world is finally beginning to
embrace hemp for its environmental benefits. 'But none of these hemp
benefits will occur/ warns Roulac, 'without increasing the market demand for
hemp products. People need to vote with their money and help jump-start hemp

Such a vote would prove that even the most powerful industrial interests on
earth cannot keep a good weed down.

[pictorial sidebar shows hemp uses associated with the parts of the plant,
also pictured]
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MAP posted-by: Josh