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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hemp is Not a Drug

Recently, President Barack Obama delivered his first State of the Union Address.  In his speech, he emphasized clean energy and economic growth as our nation’s primary goals for this year. In light of his Obama’s speech, it seems high time to renew the debate about allowing the cultivation of hemp for industrial applications.  There are literally tens of thousands of uses for industrial hemp, and allowing for its legalization could not only create jobs, but pave the way for a greener and cleaner tomorrow.
The most prevalent issue regarding industrial hemp is the concern that hemp crops could be diverted to the black market for drugs.  This seems like a rational concern for someone who doesn’t know much about hemp, which most people do not.  After all, hemp is still cannabis is it not?  Well, yes, and no.

The cultivation methods for both hemp and cannabis vary significantly.  Drug grade cannabis comes from the flowers of female cannabis plants, and female cannabis plants alone.  In order to produce the potent, and thus economical cannabis that most users are used to, the cultivator must not allow any male plants to pollinate their female crop.  If pollination occurs, the potency of the female buds will be drastically reduced, the flowers will bear seeds (seedy cannabis is extremely undesirable), and the risk and of expense on the cultivator’s end will have been in vane, as the will have produced a product that no cannabis user would be willing to purchase. 
Hemp on the other hand is grown with both males and females together, not because it’s an equal opportunity thing, but because hemp is not grown to produce the psychoactive substance THC.  Instead, hemp is grown as a fiber source, much like cotton, although unlike cotton, the parts of the hemp plant that is not used for fiber can be used for many other purposes. 
 However, don’t hemp plants still produce THC even if they are not grown to produce it?  Yes, they do, but not very much, in fact it isn’t much at all.  Drug variety cannabis produces somewhere between 1 percent THC by dry weight on the low quality end of the spectrum, to up to 20 percent, or even up to 30 percent THC by dry weight for the highest quality cannabis.  Hemp on the other hand produces much less THC, typically not more than 0.15 percent THC by dry weight, that is nearly six and a half times less potent than the lowest quality drug variety cannabis, and one hundred to two hundred times less potent than high quality drug grade cannabis.  That means that if one joint of very low quality cannabis were necessary to produce a desirable effect, it would require six joints of hemp flowers to produce the same effect.
 Most probably overlook another important aspect of industrial hemp production; the amount of THC that the crops produce can be regulated, and many countries that allow for its production regulate potency.  In Europe, potency is typically 0.3 percent or less, however as mention earlier, many hemp varieties produce much less.  It seems unlikely that cannabis users would be interested in cannabis with such low potency, especially when one considers the many ultra-potent drug grade strains available today.
The question remains, why grow hemp?  To start, hemp is a fantastic fiber source that can be grown in nearly all but the most extreme climates.  Hemp can be used to produce paper, and cloth, and at one point it was one of the United States most important export, as it was extremely important to maritime travel.  Hemp canvas and rope were both commonly used on sailing vessels. 
For paper production, one acre of hemp is equivalent to over four acres of trees.  That’s hardly small potatoes considering the great concerns over deforestation.  What’s more is that hemp can be grown in one season, were trees take at least ten years to become viable.  Additionally, hemp paper is naturally white, and thus does not need to be bleached like tree paper, and thus switching to hemp paper would be more ecologically sound in many ways. 
 Hemp can be used for many other applications as well.  For instance, the plant cellulose from hemp can be used to produce plastics, as opposed to the highly toxin and very difficult to break down petroleum based plastics that are currently used.  Also, hempseed oil can be used to produce biofuels, as opposed to using corn.  Corn would be a fine biofuel source in a perfect world, however in our world, it is utter moral poverty to use a food source to power our cars when so many die each day from starvation.

If the cultivation of industrial hemp were legalized, the United States could produce it for biodiesel and other fuels, and subsidize corn production to export to countries which have high starvation related mortality rates.  Perhaps with a policy like this, the United States could instigate a worldwide paradigm shift, and influence the citizens of other nations, particularly the downtrodden, to view our nation in a more positive light.  That seems like it would be the most effective and peaceful method to prevent acts of terrorism. 


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