Quantcast
Climate

4 Best Reasons to Legalize Hemp

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

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Renewable Energy
A prototype of GE's massive new wind turbine will be installed in the industrial area of Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam. GE Renewable Energy

World's Largest Wind Turbine to Test Its Wings in Rotterdam

Rotterdam's skyline will soon feature the world's largest and most powerful offshore wind turbine.

GE Renewable Energy announced on Wednesday it will install the first 12-megawatt Haliade-X prototype in the Dutch city this summer. Although it's an offshore wind turbine by design, the prototype will be installed onshore to facilitate access for testing.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Colorful, fresh organic vegetables. fcafotodigital / Getty Images

A New Diet for the Planet

By Tim Radford

An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, whole grains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor's orders, tomorrow's farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Children's books about the environment. U.S. Air Force photo / Karen Abeyasekere

This State Might Require Public Schools to Teach Climate Change

Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and climate science. That doesn't have the same ring as the "three Rs" of education, but Connecticut could one day require the subject to be on the curriculum, The Associated Press reported.

A Connecticut state lawmaker is pushing a bill to mandate the teaching of climate change in public schools throughout the state, starting in elementary school.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
NASA's ICESCAPE mission investigates the changing conditions in the Arctic. NASA / Kathryn Hansen

These Eye-Opening Memes Show the Real 10-Year Challenge

Before-and-after photos of your friends have probably taken over your Facebook and Instagram feeds, but environmentalists are using the #10YearChallenge to insert a dose of truth.

Memes of shrinking glaciers, emaciated polar bears and coral bleaching certainly subvert the feel-good viral sensation, but these jarring images really show our planet in a worrying state of flux.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Vial containing swab from a deceased duck, collected for testing during the 2014-2015 avian influenza outbreak. © 2015 Erica Cirino, used with permission.

Could Trump’s Government Shutdown Cause Outbreaks of Wildlife Disease?

By Erica Cirino

The current U.S. government shutdown could worsen ongoing wildlife disease outbreaks or even delay responses to new epidemics, according to federal insiders and outside experts who work with federal wildlife employees.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Vegan raw cheese from cashew nuts. byheaven/ iStock / Getty Images

Vegan Cheese: What’s the Best Dairy-Free Option?

By Ansley Hill, RD, LD

Cheese is one of the most beloved dairy products across the globe. In the U.S. alone, each person consumes more than 38 pounds (17 kg) of cheese per year, on average (1).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Sun setting behind the Fawley Oil Refinery in Fawley, England. Clive G' / CC BY-ND 2.0

Even Davos Elite Warns Humanity Is 'Sleepwalking Into Catastrophe'

By Jessica Corbett

Ahead of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week—which convenes the world's wealthiest and most powerful for a summit that's been called both the "money Oscars" and a "threat to democracy"—the group published a report declaring, "Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe."

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Robusta coffee beans growing on a tree. Dag Sundberg / Getty Images

60% of Wild Coffee Species at Risk for Extinction

If humans don't wake up now to the threats posed by climate change and habitat loss, we may be in for a permanently sleepy future. A study led by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are at risk for extinction.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!