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Hemp becomes Hip

By Cameron Woodworth

Hemp, long admired for its tough, durable products and Earth-friendly qualities, but banned as a crop by the United States government in 1937, is making a resurgence. These days, you can find people wearing hemp clothing, using hemp rope, writing on hemp paper, applying hemp oil to their bicycle chains, and eating hemp chocolate bars. Internet sites hawk hemp goods. By one activist's account, the number of retail stores selling hemp products in the United States jumped from just two in 1988 to more than 2,000 today.
Environmentalists love hemp for several reasons. It has the ability to grow without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides, and it grows so quickly that advocates say it can help save endangered forests. Hemp paper requires far less bleaching and other chemical treatment than paper from wood, according to HempTech, an advocacy group (www.hemptech.com).

Manufacturers love it for its exceptional versatility durability. They say hemp can be used for 25,000 different products, ranging from hammocks and floor mats to industrial oil and cosmetics.

So far, however, hemp products have been much more expensive than their non-hemp counterparts. That's largely because American businesses must import hemp from far-away paces such as China and Europe. But prices may becoming down soon.

Recently, Canada took the bold step of allowing farmers to grow industrial grade hemp for the first time in 60 years. Like the United States, Canada banned the growing of hemp in the late 1930s. And the United States won't be far behind, if many activists have their way. A group of Kentucky farmers has sued the federal government for the right to grow industrial hemp.

Hemp was a popular product in the United States up until the 1930s. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew it, hemp historians say; Jefferson even drafted a couple versions of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that produced hemp paper. During World War II, the government broke the new ban on growing hemp, and launched a "Hemp for Victory" war campaign.

Hemp advocates say the U.S. Congress never intended to ban hemp, but only marijuana. Industrial hemp and marijuana, biological cousins, are both classified as Cannibis sativa, a member of the mulberry family. Industrial hemp is bred for fiber, seeds and oil, while marijuana is bred for maximum THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

But hemp supporters say there is no need to worry that hemp grown for industrial use will add to the nation's drug problem. Industrial hemp has miniscule amounts of THC; advocates say that smoking a field of the stuff would give you a headache, not a high.
If you're an Earth-friendly shopper, consider adding hemp products to your shopping list.

Cameron Woodworth, a freelance copywriter, is author of Green Cuisine: A Guide to Vegetarian Dining around Seattle & Puget Sound.