Activists from 35 countries rallied in over 200 cities for the legalization of marijuana earlier this month. A laudable effort perhaps, but did you know that the cannabis plant's industrial version is a crop that many scientists believe holds silver bullet potential for greenhouse gas reduction?
Hemp is outlawed in most countries despite lacking psycho active ingredients. Commercially grown hemp has less than 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THD), the ingredient which causes the psychedelic effect in non commercial cannabis. Nevertheless many countries including the US don't want it on their soil for fear that it will stimulate farmers to grow the psychoactive version.
Most countries that allow hemp cultivation are in Europe. The European Union subsidizes farmers to grow hemp and it is also recognized as a perfectly acceptable commercial crop by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Outside Europe hemp is grown in Canada, China, Russia and Australia. In an environmental sense, the plant's greatest feature is that it breathes in more carbon dioxide than any other plant and that it grows at an amazingly rapid speed. It turns the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into incredibly rich wood and strong fibers.
Hemp wood has 3-4 times the productivity of trees, and the plant can be used to solve the large-scale clearing of land and forests. The many uses of hemp are likely going to be re-discovered by many countries in the next years because so many countries face a looming food crisis.
The crop's other qualities are so glorious that it makes you wonder how come there's no more to do about hemp. For instance, just one acre of hemp is enough to create 1,000 gallons of methanol, which is an astounding amount.
What's more, various substitutes for polluting fuels can be made from hemp, including alternatives to coal, fuel oil, acetone, ethyl, tar pitch and creosote. Henry Ford's first car actually ran on hemp seed.
Aside from the energy sector, hemp has many uses in food. Already global demand for hemp based foods is high. The American domestic market for hemp-based food products in 2004 was over $12 million according to a report in an Australian newspaper. And the health care market is estimated at $30 million. In recent years the crop has been rising in popularity due to demand by the food sector. In 2005, Canadian production of hemp increased from 4,000 acres in 2002 to over 24,000 acres in 2005.
European builders use the plant for building houses. Hemp plants can be ground up and made into bricks. These have better insulating qualities than traditional bricks.
Someone with direct experience building houses from hemp is Dr Keith Bolton at Ecotechnology Australia who has been pioneering growing the crop since 2005, together with Klara Morosszeky who heads up Morrowby Futures. Both scientists consult Australian farmers about the intricacies involved of hemp cultivation. They say it is a cash crop and that hemp does not need herbicides or pesticides.
In several US states there are strong lobbies to get the crop reinstated. The states that are most likely to endorse legalization of the crop are North Dakota, Wisconsin, Oregon and Vermont. Some farms in North Dakota were issued individual licenses early last year to grow industrial hemp. In Vermont, the May 2 passage of a bill (25 votes against one) legalizing industrial growth of hemp is hopeful and activity in Oregon also looks upbeat. Yet at federal level various blockages exist which still prevent farmers in Vermont and Oregon to grow hemp.
At federal level one step in the right direction was last year's amendment of the controlled substances act, which now excludes industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana.
The most active people lobbying for the acceptance of hemp in various states can be found at the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp, the Vote Hemp platform and there's also heaps of information about legal issues on the Cannabis Tax Act.