Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Many Benefits of Hemp and What it Could Mean to Missouri

Long ridiculed and called "ditch weed" by marijuana users for its low THC content, and yet still banned by the government due to essentially being a variety of the same plant marijuana is, hemp seems to get no love. Hemp is banned as it is simply another variety of cannabis, the same plant marijuana is a variety of. Yet it has many, many uses in industry. The one most historians may be familiar with is in making rope. At one time Missouri was one of the top producers of industrial hemp, and with that production of hemp came rope factories. In the small town of Huntsville, Missouri where I live in there were actually two rope factories and the same was true of other small towns around Missouri in the 1900s. It was a big industry, and could be once again. Even George Washington grew hemp.

Unlike its more well known cousin marijuana, hemp is a hearty plant that is easy to grow. It does not need any special care. Indeed, you basically plant it and it grows until you harvest it. There are fields of it here in my county that have grown wild for over 150 years. This despite being routinely cut down and burned by law enforcement officers to show that they were waging a war on drugs. The fact is hemp has only 1% THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that gets one high. It therefore cannot be used as a recreational drug. Hemp is a plant that does not harm its environment by needing fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. It therefore has very little impact on its environment. In essence, industrial hemp is easy to grow, and at the same time gives high yields in a little space. It is therefore a desirable cash crop to grow from an economic standpoint when one considers what it can be used for.

Its uses are many, in addition to rope, industrial hemp can be used to make textiles for clothing among other things. Cloth made from it is very durable and it can be used to make jeans, coats, T-shirts, suits, shoes and yet it can also be mixed with other fibers like silk to make lingerie. It is so durable it can be used to make heavy canvas of the variety you use to cover your car or boat. Industrial hemp's potential for use in the garment industry alone are reason enough to permit its being grown and used in manufacturing. However, it has many other uses. One is in the manufacture of plastic. Many plastics today are made from petroleum which has a negative impact on the environment in their production. Plastic made from hemp though would have much less of an impact on the environment and would be cheaper to produce as well given the price of petroleum these days.  And the plastic from hemp is very durable. In 1941 Henry Ford had a car made that had doors and fenders made of hemp and soy plastic. He demonstrated its durability by using a sledge hammer on it. Unfortunately, the car never made it out of the stage of being a prototype. Now though many automakers are moving to using hemp plastics in their cars. Ford, GM, Honda, and Mercedes are all manufacturing door panels and dashboards molded from hemp plastic. Currently, most of the hemp used to make this plastic is grown overseas, but it could be grown here if the ban on industrial hemp were to be lifted. In addition to car parts hemp plastic can be used to make plastic bags, water bottles, computer parts, nearly anything and everything currently made out of plastic from petrochemicals. Hemp can also be used to manufacture such building materials as insulation, fiberboard, floor tiles, floor boards caulking, shingles, and more. There is even a form of concrete called hempcrete which is a mixture of hemp hurds and lime and sometimes additional ingredients like sand. It is not brittle like regular concrete and therefore has the advantage of  not needing expansion joints when used in construction. One of the oldest uses for hemp is to make paper, and this was done as early as 2,000 years ago. Most paper today is made of wood pulp, and the trees to get the wood pulp from take years to grow. Hemp on the other hand can be harvested every year. By using hemp for paper we would be saving our forests, and our forests help fight global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the air. Finally, hemp oil can be used to manufacture biodiesel much like vegetable oil is used now. With dwindling petroleum supplies, the price of diesel is only going to go up, and a cheaper alternative needs to be found. Hemp oil can provide one of those alternatives.

Given all of hemp's uses the legalization of industrial hempcould mean an economic boon for stagnating rural. economies where it could be grown. With all its uses, its growth and use in manufacturing could bring billions of dollars into rural areas with struggling economies like the one I live in. The county  I live in, Randolph County, Missouri was once one of the biggest producers of hemp in the nation. There were four rope factories alone. Now imagine what a county like the one I live in could have with the legalization of hemp now we know even more uses for it? In addition to hemp farms, there could be clothing factories, rope factories, plastic factories, places that produce fiberboard and insulation, bio-fuel plants, to name a few things. It only makes sense to place these plants near where hemp is grown, and Missouri is ideal for growing hemp. With Missouri towns suffering from the loss of industries to places overseas, the railroads ceasing passenger service and closing lines, hemp could serve to revive ailing economies. There is no reason to be against the legalization of hemp with its many uses in manufacturing. Even marijuana has many medical uses that could benefit the economy.

But alas those wanting marijuana legalized for recreational and medical use drown out those that may present the more logical argument that the legalization of marijuana will also mean legalizing industrial hemp with all its economic benefits. Politicians love money, and tell them their backers can make a lot of money growing and using hemp in manufacturing, and they might be more behind lifting bans on both varieties of cannabis. Right now according to a recent poll 51% of Missouri voters are against lifting the ban on the growth and sale of cannabis. The reason perhaps is that all these voters think the legalizing of the growth and sale of cannabis would mean is that potheads would have the legal right to get stoned. Their minds shift to the dangers of people driving cars and operating heavy equipment while high from smoking marijuana. But lifting the ban on the growth and sale of cannabis could mean much more than that. It could mean bringing a lot of money into rural economies that badly need it. As for the dangers of people driving or operating heavy equipment while high from smoking cannabis we have the same problem with folks doing such while drunk, and no one is suggesting we go back to the prohibition of alcohol. Even though I have pointed out the benefits of hemp here, there are many reasons for marijuana to be legal as well with its many uses in medicine as a potential way to fight cancer. Even recreational use can benefit the economy. Colorado is expected to make over one billion dollars off of taxes on marijuana sold for recreational use. Such an influx of tax money for the state government to use could mean better schools and better roads that would benefit all. The reasons for keeping the ban on the growing and sale of cannabis are dwindling. There simply are too many reasons to make it legal, and rural Missouri economies need it. With the legalization of cannabis we could see a new era of prosperity for small Missouri towns. If you wish, by all means share this post to Facebook, Google+, or tweet it on Twitter. And write your State Legislators. Tell them you want it to be legal to grow industrial hemp and use it in manufacturing. I could care less myself whether marijuana is ever made legal, but I feel passionate about making it legal to grow industrial hemp, and to use it in manufacturing in Missouri. However, if marijuana has to be legalized for industrial hemp to be grown, so be it. You can get your State Legislator's addresses by going to the State Senate website. Just enter your address in the Legislator Lookup form and it will give you all the contact information for your State Senator and State Representative. The State Senate website is at: http://www.senate.mo.gov/