Quantcast

4 Best Reasons to Legalize Hemp

Climate

Cannabis has "blazed" a trail into the national spotlight thanks to the legalization battle and provocative new studies on its health benefits. Mounds of research and media events like Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Special Report WEED have shed light on cannabis’s potential to treat cancer, seizures, multiple sclerosis (MS), glaucoma, pain and other ailments. However, the entire conversation still revolves around marijuana, the high-THC strain of cannabis that makes you hungry and "high." Little attention has been paid to hemp, the low-THC, high-cannabidiol (CBD) strain that not only has substantial health benefits, but also has enormous potential to benefit our environment.

Hemp has been used for centuries to make rope, textiles, foods, personal care products, construction materials, paper and, more recently, automotive parts.

Yes, it turns out that some of the best uses of cannabis require no baking supplies or bongs. Hemp has been used for centuries to make rope, textiles, foods, personal care products, construction materials, paper and, more recently, automotive parts. Hemp only became a controversial substance in the U.S. in the 1920s and 30s, and its production was first restricted with the passage of the 1937 “Marihuana Tax Act,” which defined hemp as a narcotic drug and required farmers to obtain federal permits to grow it.

Even still, Popular Mechanics dubbed hemp “the new billion dollar crop” in 1938, claiming that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to cellophane.” And when World War II demanded the full industrial might of the U.S., hemp restrictions were temporarily lifted and production reached its peak in 1943 when American farmers grew 150 million pounds of hemp. It was manufactured into shoes, ropes, fire hoses and even parachute webbing for soldiers fighting the war. After 1943, production plummeted and the anti-narcotic regime kicked back into effect.

The good news is that hemp production continued throughout much of the rest the world, including Europe and East Asia. If we substitute hemp for many of the industrial materials we use and take for granted today, the environmental benefits are impressive. Here, I’ll focus on four environmental benefits that are well established in academic and government research.

1. Forest Cover and Biodiversity

Although more than 95 percent of paper is made from wood pulp, hemp can play the same role. It can be recycled twice as many times as wood pulp, it can produce three to four times as much fiber per hectare as typical forests and even twice as much as a pine plantation. These abilities discussed by Dr. Ernest Small, Principal Research Scientist at the Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre in Ottawa, Canada, suggests that more reliance on industrial hemp could reduce dependence on old growth forests, which host the world’s greatest concentrations of biodiversity and absorb carbon dioxide. Forests can’t keep up with the pace of deforestation, but hemp could keep up with our appetite for paper products.

2. No Pesticides and Herbicides Required

The USDA reports that in 2007, roughly 877 million pounds of pesticides were applied to U.S. cropland at a cost of roughly $7.9 billion. Yet recently, the World Health Organization’s cancer research wing deemed the world’s most popular weed killer, glyphosate, a “probable carcinogen” linked to cancer. Yes, what a surprise that the active ingredient in Monsanto’ Roundup, and other weed killers worth over $6 billion in annual sales actually aren’t good for us. While genetically modified crops (GMOs) typically require pesticides, herbicide and synthetic fertilizers to survive, hemp does not. It can grow organically almost anywhere. By substituting hemp for industrial GMOs (e.g. cotton, corn, soybean, etc.), we can we reduce damage to our health and the ecosystems we depend on.

3. Lower Carbon Emissions

According to the UK Department of Business’s 2010 report on low carbon construction, hemp can play a role in slashing carbon emissions. While producing one metric ton of steel emits 1.46 tons of carbon dioxide, one square meter of timber-framed, hemp-lime wall stores 35.5kg of CO2 and will not be released unless the material is composted or burned. Hemp can also be used to make “hempcrete,” a concrete alternative, as well as plastic-like products that replace fiber glass and other environmentally unfriendly materials.

Using hemp as a biofuel could improve carbon efficiency, too. In testing, Richard Parnas, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Connecticut, found that hemp converts to biodiesel at a 97 percent efficiency rate and can burn at lower temperatures than any other biodiesel on the market. Hemp is a far better alternative to growing GMO cash crops that make less efficient biofuels.

4. Soil Protection

Researchers at Nova Institute, an ecology R&D group based in Germany, found that hemp has a “favorable influence on the soil structure” because it curtails the presence of nematodes and fungi, and it has a high shading capacity that suppresses weed growth. In one study cited by the researchers, a hemp rotation was found to increase wheat yields by 10 to 20 percent. Hemp can also grow in the most inhospitable and otherwise useless soils, such as those polluted by heavy metals. Grown alone, used in rotation or planted on abandoned farmland, hemp is an environmental win.

For Future Generations

The internet is filled with claims about hemp that are suspicious and often impossible to substantiate. These four benefits reflect insights from academia, government and professional research firms. More than a few peer-reviewed studies support these claims.

With policy reform, hemp has the potential to preserve biodiversity, reduce pollution, cut emissions and protect cropland throughout the world. That’s impressive for a crop that has been unfairly branded as a dangerous gateway drug. With hemp plants able to mature for fiber production within 60-90 days and 90-120 days for grain, it’s possible to build a ‘hemp economy’ very quickly. By relying on renewable, clean hemp, we can grow our economies more mindfully and leave our planet in better shape for future generations.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

$620 Million Reasons to Legalize Hemp

Watch Lobbyist Eat His Words After Saying Drinking Roundup Is 'Not Dangerous to Humans’

20 Year Old Claims He Can Rid the World’s Oceans of Plastic

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

People crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on July 20, 2017 in New York City sought to shield themselves from the sun as the temperature reached 93 degrees. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

by Jordan Davidson

Taking action to stop the mercury from rising is a matter of life and death in the U.S., according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Read More Show Less
Salmon fry before being released just outside San Francisco Bay. Jim Wilson / The New York Times / Redux

By Alisa Opar

For Chinook salmon, the urge to return home and spawn isn't just strong — it's imperative. And for the first time in more than 65 years, at least 23 fish that migrated as juveniles from California's San Joaquin River and into the Pacific Ocean have heeded that call and returned as adults during the annual spring run.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
AnnaPustynnikova / iStock / Getty Images

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Protesters hold a banner and a placard while blocking off the road during a protest against Air pollution in London. Ryan Ashcroft / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.

Read More Show Less

Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images

By Bridget Shirvell

On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Coal ash has contaminated the Vermilion River in Illinois. Eco-Justice Collaborative / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.

That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.

Read More Show Less

picture-alliance / AP Photo / NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

The Group of 20 major economies agreed a deal to reduce marine pollution at a meeting of their environment ministers on Sunday in Karuizawa, Japan.

Read More Show Less
Pope Francis holds his General Weekly Audience in St. Peter's Square on Aug. 29, 2018 in Vatican City, Vatican. Giulio Origlia / Getty Images

Pope Francis declared a climate emergency Friday as he met with oil industry executives and some of their biggest investors to urge them to act on the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less