How Hemp and Cannabis Can Save The Economy
Hemp and cannabis have the potential to save the economy. And this is not a hippie pipe dream -hemp holds the key to a sustainable and abundant economy. The plant has can revolutionize industry by industry: It can be used as fuel, in construction, as a cosmetic, food, textile, paper and plastic. Some say, there are over 25’000 products that can be made out of hemp. But most likely, there’s even more than that.
Hemp is an economic treasure waiting to be tapped
Hemp is a resilient and easy to grow crop that is closely related to cannabis, however, the difference is in the THC level. Similar to the recreational and medical strains that have been bred for a maximum of THC, hemp has been bred for a minimum of THC and a maximum of fibre. Botanically, hemp is equally a member of the Cannabis sativa family, as much as regular recreational cannabis is. They can be considered different strains of the same plant.
The potential hemp has to be a versatile and sustainable resource is almost limitless. It can grow in pretty much every non-extreme climate out there, thrives in nearly all soil types, is naturally resistant to pests, can outcompete weeds and is even though to improve soil quality by removing toxins from it (including nuclear toxins). The entire plant, from seed to stalk can all be used for industrial applications, and it is much more environmental and sustainable than many of the current methods we use that it can replace.
In 2012, the hemp industry was estimated to be worth $500 million in annual retail sales within the US alone. Imagine the potential it could have for creating jobs and growing as an industry if it was not held back. It could create thousands of jobs, produce new products and make the way we live much more sustainable – all benefits to the economy in our eyes.
The key plant to a local economy
Because hemp is so simply to grow and yields massive amounts of resources, it is the idea plant to create a localized economy with. Instead of importing petroleum from the middle east, cotton from India and paper from China, hemp allows all those products to be produced in a significantly less resource-intense process. Since the biomass per hectare produced every year is much higher than that of cotton or trees, hemp needs much less space to produce an equal amount of fibre. If hemp is widely cultivated, the need to import massive amounts of goods from the large producer nations drops significantly. There are many ways we can harness the power of hemp. Some applications, such as hemp seed as a food source and hemp fibre for fabrics, have been used for thousands of years, whilst others, such as hemp plastics and fuels, are much more recent discoveries.
Hemp as a source of food is one of the fastest growing uses
To give you an idea of the power of hemp, R. Lee Hamilton, a famous biochemist, most notably described hemp as a potential cure for world hunger, and that “its insane prohibition [in the US]” is a travesty against humanity and the world’s most valuable plant. This seems to be the story for all of the applications of hemp – that it is completely under-valued. It is an extremely viable alternative to petroleum, it can be used to build ecological and carbon negative housing, it can produce strong, long lasting biodegradable plastics, produce high quality, sustainable textiles, and even has uses in the medical and cosmetic industries. It would seem that there are very few aspects of life that could not be improved by its use.
A prime example of this is the automotive industry. Henry Ford, the founder for Ford cars, was famously documented making a car whose body was completely made from hemp plastic. It was found to be 10 times stronger than its steel counterpart, as well as cheaper and safer to produce. Fortunately, this is a view that is once again being picked up on, and pretty much all of the major car manufactures are now beginning to include hemp based composites in their newest car models.
The ecological impact of hemp
Not only can hemp help save the economy, it can significantly alter our ecological impact on this planet. It isn’t just a practical crop, but an environmentally sustainable one as well. Hemp takes huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere as it grows, making it not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative. When you combine this with the fact that it grows in as little as four months and is one of the highest producing biomass crops on the planet, it means a lot of carbon can be locked away and converted to oxygen – removing it from the atmosphere. Even when processing the fibre into products - such as a house built with hempcrete - the carbon remains locked in.
Hemp also benefits the environment in the way farmers can grow it. Thanks to its ability to kill of invasive weeds, and naturally resist pests, farmers can grow hemp organically with very little difficulty - it doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides to grow well. Then there is the fact that it can balance and restore nutrients to the soil whilst removing toxins and chemicals, making it an ideal crop to use on rotation with others – reconditioning the soil each time.
So, why isn’t hemp everywhere?
Although hemp can be grown legally across much of Europe, it is a crop that that holds a very small share of the agricultural market – especially when you compare it to historical levels. It was around the time of the New World that hemp cultivation really took off, and in many places across America it became a requirement for farmers to grow. Although it is now outlawed in the US, before its prohibition it was largely accepted that cars would run on hemp fuel, and the world’s paper supply would be created from it.
So you may ask, if it’s legal in Europe, why isn’t more being produced? Well, it is ridiculous, one reason is about its perception. Hemp is seen as being too related to marijuana and many people just can’t tell the difference. It breeds an air of criminality and reluctance amongst those who don’t actually know much about it. This makes politicians very unwilling to put their name behind it, or advocate any changes that would encourage its growth, and the industry that can develop around it.
This leads onto the second point: Hemp is rarely subsidized in the way other crops are. The result: Its price is higher, too high (no pun intended) to be economically as viable as other resources.
In the traditional subsidy model, governments offer incentives for farmers to grow certain crops that they feel are needed. For the farmer this makes it a simple decision as to what to grow – a crop that the government wants, encourages and pays for. Hemp, on the other hand, may be hard to sell for a good price. Hemp loses nearly every time.
Saying this, the demand for hemp IS growing, and as demand grows, so will supply. Hemp is being used more and more as a sustainable and safe resource in major industry, as well as being used to produce a whole array of products in a growing retail market. There are currently 17,000 hectares of hemp being grown within the EU – the largest amount in 10 years. It shows how demand is increasing, especially in the food, fibre, oil and pharmaceutical markets. When you combine this with the fact that European hemp fibre is set to become the world’s first natural fibre with a worldwide sustainability certificate, the future of hemp can only be bright.
Why hemp is illegal in the US
Once upon a time, every farmer in America had hemp growing on his fields. But it all changed with the dawn of the petrol-based synthetic industries. There was - and is - huge money to be made with oil-based synthetic fibre and medicine, but only if there is no cheap and natural alternative on the market. To make a long story short: In order to protect their bottom line, a number of industries have conspired to make this plant illegal. For more information on this read our post „Know Your Enemies: The Opponents Of Legalization“
Hemp is a massive threat for the petroleum, timber, synthetic fibre, pharmaceutical and prison industries, with many products, including fuels, plastics and paper being able to be manufactured with it. When cannabis was made illegal in the US, so was hemp, and it just so happened that two of the biggest voices in favour of cannabis prohibition, and funders of its campaign, were two people with large stakes in big oil and the timber industry. By scapegoating cannabis, and blaming the crimes of ethnic minorities on its use, they managed to get cannabis and hemp prohibited in one fell swoop.
The fact is though, marijuana and hemp are two completely different things. Although they belong to the same family, hemp contains only trace amount of the psychoactive compounds found in medicinal cannabis. In fact, industrial hemp is defined by its lack of THC, and cannot contain legally more than 0.2 – 0.3 %.
How Cannabis benefits the economy
Hemp has massive potential to produce sustainable resources, but what about cannabis? Through legalization, regulation and taxation of medical and recreational marijuana huge amounts of money are being pumped into the legal economy. It is an example of economic growth that can currently be witnessed in the state of Colorado, where the recreational sale and use of marijuana has been legalized. It produces a wealth of jobs, from those directly involved in the production and sale of marijuana, to all the admin work, supporting industries, manual labour and even transporting it across the state.
Hopefully Colorado will become a shining example of how cannabis can benefit not just medical and recreational users, but the economy and society as a whole. It is a massive boon to economic growth, and we would be foolish not to fully embrace it.