Thursday, October 13, 2011

Can hemp help the environment?

Hemp grown for industrial use

First, what is the difference between hemp and marijuana? Both are derivatives of the cannabis plant. The major difference between to two varieties is the percentage of the psychotropic ingredient: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC"), the active psychotropic ingredient found in the leaves and flowers of the female plant, but not in her seeds or stems. While marijuana has a potency range of 3% to 20% by dry weight of THC, industrial hemp is generally defined as having less than 1.0% THC, and the normal range is under 0.5%.  These THC levels are so low that no one could get high from smoking it.

The cannabis plant is a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the United States, which means you need special permission to grow it regardless of THC content. Canada and several European countries allow their farmers to grow hemp with THC content below 0.3 percent — one-tenth as strong as the weakest marijuana. The United States has not permitted any farming of the plant, therefore all raw ingredients for all U.S.-manufactured hemp products must be imported.
henry ford quote on hemp use

Back in 1938 the veritable magazine, Popular Mechanics, called hemp the "New Billion Dollar Crop." It touted the thousands of uses of hemp. Hemp is versatile because it can be grown for either seed or fiber. Hemp seeds yield milk, oil and other food products. The fiber is used for paper and clothing, and makes an excellent rope material, and is stronger and more versatile than cotton and wood. Reproduction of hemp is considerably faster than that of wood and can be grown to maturity in 100 days, which is important to note in a period of high deforestation.

Hemp grows easily in many climates and doesn't require pesticides, herbicides, etc. Evidence also suggests that it can lift heavy metals from polluted soil. Hemp biomass fuel produces no sulphur and can be used as a relatively clean power source. A Canadian company has even built an electric car out of hemp. When it comes to growth and materials, hemp is the winner over cotton. Cotton needs approximately twice as much territory as hemp per ton of finished textile. Less energy, chemicals, and pesticides are used to harvest an acre of hemp. Cotton also consumes more water than hemp to grow.  The cotton plant needs around 50 percent more water per season than hemp, which can grow with little irrigation.  When you add processing into the equation, cotton uses more than four times as much water as hemp. Polyester is difficult to compare, because it’s not an agricultural product. But some studies suggest it is the least water-intensive, using just 1/1,000th as much water as cotton, as water is a byproduct of petroleum processing. Polyester however raises the issue of nonrenewability of synthetic textiles.

Overall, hemp appears to be slightly easier on the environment than cotton, superior on water and land requirements, and only slightly worse for energy use. However, do not look for hemp to become legalized in the United States anytime soon. The war on drugs, and that includes marijuana growers, is real and significant. It is inevitable that if hemp were allowed to be grown that immediately there would be those who would take advantage of the opportunity to grow marijuana. The lack of education and knowledge on the benefits of hemp will continue to fall victim to biased beliefs. Hemp would be an excellent boon to the environment, energy concerns, and eventually the economy, if more people understood its' uses.

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