Hemp: A Help or a Hindrance?

Hemp, also known as Cannabis sativa, marijuana, grass, and by many other names,
has not been a legal commercial crop in the United States for almost sixty years.
As common two centuries ago as cotton is today, hemp is not seen on the market.
As many groups fight for hemp to become legalized as a drug, many people are
battling for the plant to become legalized for its industrial and medical uses.
From Disney Indiana Jones hats to fuel for our automobiles, hemp is a
hardworking, environmentally sound renewable resource. People have become so
wrapped up in the "drug" aspect of marijuana that many are forgetting its uses
as an industrial material.

Hemp is an ancient drug, first mentioned in a Chinese manuscript in 2700 BC.
Its uses included treating gout, malaria, gas pains, and absent-mindedness.
Hemp was an integral part of early Indo-European religious ceremonies for
thousands of years. Records from Assyria in 650 BC referred to it as a drug
called azulla that was used for making rope and cloth, and which was also used
for experiencing euphoria. Hempen sails brought the Spanish, Dutch, and British
conquerors to the new world (Charpentier 18). In North America, hemp was
planted near Jamestown in 1611 for use in making rope. In order to keep a
constant supply of hemp available, a law was passed in Massachusetts in 1639,
requiring every household to plant hemp seed. In Maryland, Virginia, and
Pennsylvania, hemp was even used as a monetary unit. Thomas Jefferson's draft of
the Declaration of Independence, released by the Continental Congress on July 4,
1776, was written on paper made from hemp (Whole Earth Review 46). And the
49ers washed gold from California creeks in Levi's made from hemp. In 1937, the
United States government passed the Marijuana Tax Act which prohibited the use
of marijuana as an intoxicant and regulated its use as a medicine.

Although there are hundreds of ingredients in marijuana, the main ingredient is
a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC affects the brain and the
circulatory system, especially the heart. This makes the heart beat faster and
causes small blood vessels to expand. This is the most visible in the eyes,
where tiny capillaries swell and fill with blood, giving the eyes a bloodshot
look (Ravage 6).

Marijuana had its day of glory in the 1960s. Casual use was widespread, mainly
among college students, who saw it as a way to protest against the political and
social "establishment." The use of marijuana declined in the decades following
the '60s, but there is evidence that it is making a huge comeback-and with a
dangerous difference. Its use among teenagers is increasing.

A 1993 survey about marijuana found that more than twelve percent of the eighth
graders surveyed had tried marijuana at some time in their lives, and nearly
five percent had used it in the previous thirty days. Among tenth graders, 24
percent tried it at least once and more than 10 percent in the previous thirty
days. Among seniors, more than 35 percent had tried it and nearly sixteen
percent had used it in the past thirty days (Ravage 6).

With these numbers increasing, the federal government is trying to stop at
nothing to prevent people from using marijuana. But, unlike times before, there
is a new threat that needs to be dealt with. For the past forty decades, the
argument has mainly been whether or not to legalize hemp as a drug, but now
leaders are beginning to see hemp for its use as a strong industrial product.

For thousands of years, hemp's fibers have been used to make many different
kinds of fabric including clothing and rope. Lately even big companies like
Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Disney have been testing the waters and offering
some hempen products to the market. Not only can hemp fibers be used to make
fabric, a 1938 Popular Mechanics article states that hemp can be used to
manufacture over 25,000 products-ranging from cellophane to dynamite-and a 1916
U.S. Department of Agriculture bulletin calculated that over twenty years, one
acre of hemp would yield as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres of trees. There
have been no more-recent studies to either confirm or discredit theses reports
(Barry 22).

Contrary to the belief of many people , the supply of wood for papermaking is
not inexhaustible. As early as 1916, the federal government understood that the
trees were running out; Bulletin 404 recommended the cultivation of hemp as an
alternative source of fiber for papermaking. The USDA figured out that the
supply of trees could barely last a