Hemp and marijuana both have tortured pasts. Both are part of the cannabis family, and both were outlawed in the 1930s, but when examined, the prohibition of hemp is even more bewildering than marijuana. Unlike marijuana, hemp contains an insignificant amount of THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana. But due to lack of understanding of the different plants, and perhaps a few proper early ’30s conspiracies, the U.S. government banned all cannabis plants, including hemp, despite its innocuous nature. It remains guilty by association to this day.
“Reefer madness fueled the demise of hemp,” said Derek MacGuffie, who co-owns Durango’s Kind Hemp Co. with Savannah Hargis. Their business sells hemp-made products.
Hemp is prized for its oils, seeds, and fibers, which can be used in food, clothing, as paper, plastic, and in body products, and thousands of other things, except for one: getting high. Hemp also naturally produces CBD oil, which can be used to improve appetite, pain sensation, mood, memory, immune system functions, and inflammation, but without psychoactive effects. It is – just to reiterate – impossible to get high from hemp. It would have been safer for the feds to outlaw cacti for its sharp spikes.
A number of catalysts came into play in the repression of hemp, including the threat to competing industries.
“Competing industries saw hemp was a threat to their businesses,” MacGuffie said. While the facts are debatable, there are claims that newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, who owned hundreds of acres in timberland and invested in paper companies during the ’30s, smeared hemp using media propaganda, or “yellow journalism.”
The other claims focus on DuPont chemical company, which at the time of hemp’s outlawing had just invented a nylon that would compete with hemp fibers. It is unclear whether these claims, most notably stated in famed cannabis advocate Jack Herer’s book, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes,” are true.
Whatever the actual driving force was behind the ban on hemp, it worked. The ban has effectively lasted the last 80 or so years, and although there has been progress in releasing hemp from the legal confines, it has been a slow process. The 2014 Farm Bill, a piece of legislation pushed by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, allowed state agriculture departments to proceed with a limited number of hemp research and production projects. Since then, 34 states have authorized research and 19 are producing hemp, according to a recent Time article. Still, the production is only happening in small amounts. Hemp production totaled just 25,541 acres in 2017.
McConnell is currently pushing a bipartisan bill, The Hemp Farming act of 2018, to have hemp completely removed from the controlled substance list so the plant can be farmed like any other agricultural commodity.
Kind Hemp Co., a local hemp-based apparel business based, is one of the few American brands utilizing the product. They were drawn to the material after realizing how much of a polluter the apparel industry is – the second largest polluter, just behind big oil. There is a long, complicated chain of production in the fashion industry that attributes to co2 emissions. Another issue stems from growing cotton, which makes up about 40 percent of the material used in the fashion industry.
Temperamental cotton accounts for “only 2.4 percent of the world’s cropland... (yet) it consumes 10 percent of all agricultural chemicals and 25 percent of insecticides,” according to Alternet.
Hemp, on the other hand, does much less damage.
“Hemp conserves water,” MacGuffie says. “It needs four times less water to grow than cotton and does not need pesticides.”
“Hemp fibers are naturally anti-bacterial and also durable,” MacGuffie said.
Once the ban on hemp has been fully lifted, one of the main uses may be as a building material. The core of the hemp, the hurd, is extremely strong and can be used as filler in insulation. Hempcrete, a start-up out of Washington, promotes hemp products for sustainable building. According to Hempcrete, because hemp absorbs CO2, it offsets the carbon footprint when building a structure.
While more and more people are learning about the misconceptions of and possible uses for hemp, there are still many limitations to Kind Hemp Co. and other hemp-based companies in the U.S. Much of the hemp used by these companies has to be imported from other countries. A machine called the Decorticator is used to transform hemp stock into a viable fiber, and MacGuffie said there is not even one Decorticator in operation in the U.S., thanks in part to the longlasting prohibition. The company has to import the fabric to make their products from a fair-trade company in China instead.
While farmer and eco-activists wait for Congress to pass the Hemp Farm Bill, companies like Kind Hemp Co. will continue to spread the word about the many uses and benefits of the powerful plant.
“Our focus is to help teach others about the education,” MacGuffie said. “We need to start acting now by supporting the hemp industry and teaching others what we know about hemp.”
Kind Hemp Co. sells hemp-made hats and socks and will soon sell backpacks and other items. Find their products online at kindhempco.com or at Prohibition Herb, Cloud 9, and other Southwest dispensaries. For every purchase sold, Kind Hemp donates a dollar to grow a hemp plant.