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Hemp really is one of the most versatile plants on the Earth. It provides a myriad of uses such as food, energy and clothes. Still, most people think of hemp as solely a fabric or textile, as the fibers can be found to make paper, canvas and rope.  However, did you know it is a viable plastic alternative, a lightweight and self insulating building material and can be used as a biofuel?  It also reduces exposure to toxins and boosts the economy with jobs for farmers and manufacturers. Maybe the word ‘versatile’ is selling it short. Hemp is nothing short of spectacular.

So, the question really is why is it illegal to grow this plant in the United States?

The Hemp plant is a cannabis plant (cannabis sativa), just as is marijuana, the significant difference being hemp contains no THC so there is no way one could get high with hemp. Nevertheless, the U.S. remains the only industrialized nation not to allow its cultivation, farming and processing even though as a nation it consumes approximately $580m worth of hemp products per year.

Here are some of the points to know about the hemp plant.

Farming and the economy- Hemp requires less chemicals than cotton, corn or soy and it actually helps limit the degradation of soil by retuning nitrogen to it. It is a plant that requires less water and continues to thrive in dry climates. Industrial hemp is a fast growing plant, with large leaves that block sunlight therefore limiting the onset of weeds that would surround it. Hemp can be grown organically with no agricultural additives.

Health benefits: It is also known to provide some anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities. The cannabinoids (CBD) in hemp aid in seizures, depression and brain injuries while the oil from the seeds itself are so incredibly nutritious that they contain better protein that soy with lower saturated fats and higher essential ones.  Hemp is the only plant that has all amino acids needed for bodily functions of the heart, brain, skin and our metabolism.

Sustainable material uses- Hemp is the oldest known woven fabric, it’s more durable than cotton, with fibre so strong and flexible it became the material of choice for rope, which is still heavily used in the Navy and shipping trades.  As an oil for energy, it was phased out by petroleum even though it has regularly been used as lamp oil over a century ago. Hemp oil is now able to be used as biofuel, replacing gasoline for diesel engines. This is perhaps its most sustainable use, as there is no more stripping of our earth’s limited fossil fuel resources and less greenhouse gas emissions as a result of its use.

Hemp can be made into a material that is strong enough to build cars and it can replace wood as well as other building materials used for structures and foundations. Hempcrete and Isochanvre prove lightweight, fireproof, waterproof and self insulating.

Political challenges –  As undeniable as it is that hemp could be a cash crop that enables many more manufacturing and farming jobs, its fate continues to lie in the hands of congress, despite the efforts of die hard lobbyists. A most recent victory (2014) had congress allow for hemp to be grown for research in states that would allow it. It is a step in the right direction in order to demystify what some still mistakenly believe is dangerous. Added during Nixon’s administration, hemp is still on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, this will be more overwhelming to change than others in the long run.

However, perceptions are changing, and the boost to the economy that hemp could provide is undeniable. Legalization is the first step of many toward an infrastructure that is intent on supporting this market Perhaps the most crucial thing, is that as global warming continues to deplete our resources, a plant such as hemp provides the sustainable materials needed to maintain the delicate balance of our earth.  Who can argue with that?

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