Getting Hip to Hemp


Note: The first Levi’s jeans were made with hemp cloth.

Dear Reader:

Industrial hemp is not a drug.

Just wanted to clear that up right away. While I am not in the least interested in growing, selling, or smoking marijuana, I am interested in the industrial production of Cannibis sativa for clothing, yarn, paper, rope, and the myriad other uses of this ancient plant. Sometime or other I was told that hemp was an environmentally-friendly, versatile plant that had been grown since earliest times throughout the world.

In fact, rumor has it that hemp was grown right here in the good ole U.S.A. from Colonial times through the 20th century. Really? And the founding fathers weren’t all raging drug addicts? Could this be true?

Over the years I’ve done a bit of desultory researching online for my own curiosity, and I have some nagging questions regarding industrial hemp and the politics surrounding it.

Do hemp activists have ulterior motives for wanting to legalize hemp agriculture? (Do they all just want to grow their own weed?)

Why was hemp criminalized to begin with? (Was there some sort of political-industrial collusion involved?)

Would industrial hemp be a profitable agricultural endeavor? Would the average American even be interested in purchasing hemp products? (Or is hemp the exclusive domain of “greenies” and “hippies” and certain television and film personalities with a environmental bug up their you-know-whats?)

Should the federal government continue to prohibit the growing and selling of industrial hemp or should it be left up to the individual states to decide? (And how’s that drug “war” going, anyway?)

Stick with me people. We’re goin’ to get hip to hemp.

Here are some facts taken from a USDA document (that would be the United States Department of Agriculture)regarding industrial hemp.

1. In 1645, the PURITANS brought hemp with them to the New World to use as a spinning fiber.

2. The hemp industry flourished in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois up until 1860, when cotton became more prominent.

3. In 1937 Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which put the production of hemp under government regulation.

4. During WWII the GOVERNMENT instituted an emergency program to produce hemp; after the war, legal restrictions were again imposed.

According to various pro-industrial hemp websites, hemp has been used to make paper for thousands of years. The Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, and drafts of the Declaration of Independence were all written on hemp paper. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. (from

Industrial hemp can be used to make acid-free paper, rope, cloth, oil, plastics, composites,soaps, cosmetics and bio-fuel. The seeds can be eaten and are protein-rich. With so many products that can be made from one plant, does it really make sense to prohibit that plant in the United States?

There is also some suspicion that the prohibition of hemp was encouraged by big industries (chemical companies) whose products are needed to break down wood fiber for making paper pulp.

Hemp does not require chemicals to break the fibers for paper.

However, according to a Wikipedia entry, processing hemp into paper is a relatively expensive process, so perhaps, paper made from hemp isn’t exactly what the “legalize hemp” proponents make it out to be. (

I suspect many of the “pro-hemp” crowd are motivated by less industrial and more, shall we say, recreational reasons, but it seems pretty irrational to me to prohibit a useful commodity simply because some people like to use its more nefarious cousin for mind-altering or medicinal purposes.

Whether or not growing industrial hemp could or would be a viable business endeavor, there is a bigger question we need to ask ourselves. Do we need the federal government to regulate our industries? Or should this be left to the individual states? Has criminalizing cannibis stopped or even slowed the growth, sale, and usage of drugs?

The Global Commission on Drug Policy says, “No!” Their recent report claims that the war on drugs has failed and urges that countries consider legalizing marijuana and other controlled substances.

Congressman and presidential hopeful, Ron Paul, writes in his book, LIBERTY DEFINED, that the Constitution limits the powers of the federal government, that state laws should determine issues like prohibition of substances, and points out that prohibition usually does nothing but encourage a black market and underground economy for the production, sale, and distribution of the substance in question.

In other words, every dollar spent “fighting the war on drugs” is a dollar wasted.

When it comes to the question of industrial hemp, not only are we losing a potential valuable commodity that could be used to create jobs, but we are also throwing our money away trying to legislate and police morality.

The United States is the biggest importer of industrial hemp in the world. China is the world’s biggest exporter.

Go figure.

Isn’t it time we started producing for ourselves again? Leading the world in production rather than consumption? I encourage you to research this issue for yourself . . . thinking a little bit Outside the Box.

6 responses to “Getting Hip to Hemp

  1. My most favorite shirt was made of hemp. After many years of use I had to “retire” it, I still have it. I found it very comfy and it wore very well. I’m with this idea. I would definitely be up to trying out a pair of jeans made of hemp, they have to be, in my opinion, better then the “new jean” material that is sold now. Go Levi’s!! into the past that is!

  2. You can buy yarn made out of hemp! Very soft.

  3. Hemp is used in cloth diapers, too, because it’s very absorbent. We need to bring it back!

  4. That cleared up some of my questions about hemp. Thanks Shelley!We should just legalize it!

  5. hi shelley- nice article on hemp! there is a hemp sweater in my book The Yarn Garden. we added your blog to ours, and to our google readers. if you know of any other local blogs, we’d like to know about them. happy blogging!

  6. Thanks for sharing Shelley. I hope more people realize that there are a great many things besides the “recreational” side of hemp. It is a wonderful renewable resource as well!

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