Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Sustainability & ME: The illegality of hemp is foolish

Posted on March 23, 2015 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Hemp is a fascinating material, having been used by human civilization through time, only in recent history has it come under such strict prohibition. Often confused with marijuana, hemp is also classified as Cannabis sativa, but is cultivated in a manner which eliminates almost all of the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) element, and emphasizes the strength of the stalk or the abundance of seeds. It’s uses are seemingly limitless, from construction and textiles, to body armory, to shampoo. It is efficient to grow and environmentally friendly, almost the entire plant can be utilized after harvest, and the roots go deep into the ground which helps to prevent soil erosion. Furthermore, it grows tall rather than wide, so a large crop can be planted on a relatively small amount of farmland. However, despite the great utility of the plant and its lack of THC, it is still illegal to cultivate in the states because it is considered a schedule one narcotic by the federal government.

One of the many uses of hemp is as an effective construction material. The fibers of the outer husk of the plant can be broken down and mixed with lime to form a material much like concrete. In addition, because the carbon contained within the hemp plant inside the block cannot decay easily like wood used in construction, the “hempcrete” acts as a form of carbon sequestration as the surrounding lime petrifies around it, removing carbon from the atmosphere temporarily. Additionally, hempcrete has better insulation value than concrete, as it is less dense and there are small air bubbles formed by the hemp fibers within the blocks.

The plant is multifaceted in its uses, and almost all parts can be taken advantage of. The oil produced by the seeds is food grade, and rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids which has been linked to all kinds of health benefits such as lowering triglyceride levels and reducing inflammation. The oil, much of which is produced in Canada currently, is also usable in the manufacture of soaps, paints, plastics and many other products that are often sourced from petroleum. By creating these products from hemp oil instead of fossil fuels, we could reduce our dependence on finite resources and rely more on biofuels, which can be recreated for generations to come.

Of course, there are still significant barriers to growing the plant in America, primarily the fact that it is still classified as a narcotic alongside substances like heroin and LSD. Such laws foolishly prevent productive use of the plant and economic growth, and lead to Americans importing over $1 billion in hemp based products from Canada every year that could easily be produced locally here in Maine or almost anywhere else in the U.S.  However, as the legalization effort for hemp’s psychoactive cousin moves forward, the ability to cultivate and process hemp should follow closely behind. Given the environmental benefits it confers, plus the potential economic benefits it brings, we can only hope that legally harvested, American grown hemp is just around the corner.

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