The Hemp plant is not
only one of the oldest cultivated plants, it is also one of the most
versatile, valuable and controversial plants known to man. The industrial
Hemp plant has a long history, which has proven its innate worth and its
stalks and seeds can serve as raw material for an exciting array of many
diverse products. The plantís Latin name "Sativa" actually means
"useful Hemp" and it definitely measures up to its name!
is "Cannabis Sativa"?
industrial Hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa, should not be confused with the
marijuana plant Cannabis Indica, which is a 'cousin' (much like Broccoli an
Cauliflower are 'cousins' - same family, different plant). The appearance, planting patterns and
uses of the two plants are quite different.
Cannabis Sativa is an
annual belonging to the hops family. It grows from 5 to 15 feet in height
with rich dark-green leaves composed of 5 to 9 serrated, narrow, tapering
leaflets that are pointed at the end and measure 2 to 5 inches in length and
approximately one-sixth as wide. Hemp is tall, thin plant with most of its
leaves concentrated at the top. The plants are planted only inches apart:
900 plants to the square yard. The staminate, or pollen-bearing flowers and
the pistillate or seed-producing flowers are on separate plants.
In contrast to the
commercial Hemp plant, the marijuana plant is quite dense, leafier, shorter,
bushier and is planted yards apart.
Cannabis Sativa will
grow almost anywhere, requires little fertilizer, resists pests and crowds
out weeds, therefore it is a crop that is relatively easy to grow and does
well as an organic crop. The plant grows quickly, requiring only 70 to 110
days to maturity. Due to this fact, industrial Hemp is an abundant supplier
of its extremely valuable raw materials.
From the 1500ís to
1700ís Hemp and flax were the major fibre crops in Russia and Europe and in
1606 French botanist Louis Hevert planted the first recorded Hemp crop in
North America in Port Royal, Acadia (present day Nova Scotia), where it
became a major crop.
The Pilgrims first
brought Hemp seeds to America in 1632 and by 1850 Hemp was Americaís third
largest crop. In fact, early American farmers were required to grow it. Two
U.S. Presidents, Washington and Jefferson were Hemp farmers when the U.S.
was formed and they signed the Bill of Rights. Both the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution were first drafted on Hemp paper. Hemp was
the worldís largest single industry until the mid-1800ís.
Hemp was formally
christened Cannabis Sativa L. in 1753 by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.
In 1916 the U.S.
Department of Agriculture issued an urgent warning: "America does not have
enough forest land to last to the end of this century, given our vast
appetite for paper, building materials, cellulose and other useful wood pulp
products." The bulletin containing this warning, bulletin 404, also offered
a profitable and sustainable solution: "Grow more Hemp! Virtually anything
made of wood can also be made with Hemp and it has a much higher sustainable
yield, whereby we can enjoy a net gain in commercial productivity and an
overall growth in our standard of living."
As Hemp cultivation
flourished in many countries, Britain declared it illegal in 1928.
The 1916 warning given
by the Department of Agriculture in the U.S. was not heeded. The Hemp plant,
though it had the advantage of being easy to grow, was not easy to harvest
and process. It was a labour-intensive procedure to separate the fibres from
the woody core of the stalks and in the 18th century, more convenient
resources such as cotton and imported sisal, jute and abaca became
available. Processes were put into place that facilitated the production of
paper from wood and synthetic fibres were developed. This series of events
began to undermine Hempís importance and status as the top fibre crop.
The existence of
industrial Hempís botanical cousin, marijuana, which contains high levels of
psychoactive substances, further impaired Hempís standing. This, coupled
with the desire to give a surge to the cotton, logging and synthetic fibre
industries resulted in the Harrison Drug Act of 1937, which declared the
cultivation of Hemp in America illegal unless grown under permit.
Unfortunately, the number of permits issued was few and far between and
Cannabis Sativa fell into the position of niche crop in most of North
In 1938 Canada followed
suit and banned Hemp farming. As most Western countries banned Hemp, Hemp
farming and production continued in Eastern Europe, China and a few other
Ironically, in February
of 1938 just as the Harrison Drug Act of 1937 took effect, an article was
published in Popular Mechanics Magazine: "New Billion-Dollar Crop." The
article featured a new machine called a decorticator that separated the Hemp
fibre and pulp at the rate of two to three tons per hour. The article also
pointed out the highly exaggerated connection between Hemp and marijuana and
stated that 5,000 textile products and 25,000 other products ranging from
dynamite to cellophane could be produced using the industrial Hemp plant.
During World War II, the
Canadian and American governments briefly lifted the restrictions on Hemp
farming to aid the war effort and boost the economy. The U.S. government
even produced a film named "Hemp for Victory" designed to encourage American
farmers to cultivate Hemp. At the end of the war, Hemp farming was again
In 1993 Britain
legalized Hemp farming once again and in 1994 Health Canada issued the first
research permit for growing industrial Hemp. In 1998 Hemp farming was again
legalized in Canada. This has already helped many of Canadaís farmers save
their farms and added a valuable resource back into Canadaís economy.
Ironically to date Hemp cultivation
continues its illegal status in South Africa although the United States
(which as was seen earlier, initially banned it) has now lifted the ban -
and has in fact lifted the ban on it's cousin, Marijuana, that started the
ban in the first place. Growing under permit is
technically allowed, but no permits have been issued for a very long time
nor are they being issued at present. American farmers and producers of Hemp
products are now making efforts to educate people concerning the extensive
potential of Hemp. The
reintroduction of Hemp farming has certainly aided many U.S. farmers in
saving their farms as it has in Canada.
has also been beneficial to the U.S. economy to legalize Hemp cultivation as
the U.S. until recently have been importing all their Hemp products. In 1999 the gross retail sales of
Hemp products worldwide reached $150 million. Domestic
cultivation of Hemp would not only boost the economy and benefit our
environment; it would also reduce our need for petroleum, trees and imported
textiles and clothes.
Recently there has been
another encouraging development: As with Canada and the US, Australia, New
Zealand, India, Malawi and Hawaii have introduced or passed legislation to legalize the
cultivation of Industrial Hemp.