True hemp, which is the oldest English language word for the Cannabis sativa plant, has been a valuable crop throughout human history for food, fiber, fuel, and ‘farmacy’. Carl Sagan and others have intelligently argued that hemp was the first plant domesticated by human civilization. Thanks to an orchestrated effort to greatly restrict cannabis hemp in trade in the second and third decades of the twentieth century based on racism, imperialism, and junk science, most people in 2011 have virtually forgotten about the mighty hemp plant. All that is left to remind us of this history are archeological and genealogical remnants in our country. We have towns with names such as “Hempstead” and family surnames such as “Hemphill” which point to this historical import that stretches back to the early seventeenth century. The restoration of hemp into our industrial culture is, I believe, an essential component of our new greening revolution.
Consider this basic argoeconomic science: The hemp stalk after it is grown, harvested, and dried is broken down into two parts: long, strong thread-like bast fibers and wood-like bits of “hurd”, or pulp. The hurds are 77-85% cellulose and can be made into tree-free, dioxin-free paper, non-toxic paints and sealants, construction materials, plastics, and much more. Most importantly, hemp is one of the best energy crops; the biomass from the stalk can be used to make methanol, charcoal, and even gasoline. The most important product is methanol. With an estimated yield of 10 (and perhaps as high as 18) tons of biomass per acre of hemp grown, and through pyrolysis an expected yield of 100 gallons of methanol per ton, there is a potential to produce 1000 gallons of methanol per acre of hemp.
A fully mature crop can be grown four times per year.
The reason that hemp needs a boost is that it is the only alternative energy source whose implementation is retarded on extremist ideological grounds that have become codified into law. Wind, geothermal, tidal, hydrogen, solar, cellulosic corn/soy/etc are theoretically implementable (and should be implemented much much more so) because, at root, no one owns the sun, the wind, the oceans, soybean seeds, the hydrogen molecule, and so on.
These natural resources are part of the global commons that we all share.
Cannabis hemp seeds (genetic resources), however, have been robbed from the global commons through a US-led international monopoly-ownership ban by world governments that was formally implemented in 1961 (Single Convention on Narcotic drugs, even though cannabis is not a narcotic).
The ban in the US went into effect in 1937 due some argue to the undue power and influence of WR Hearst paper interests, DuPont Petrochemical interests (makers of nylon and patent-holder of the process to convert wood-pulp into paper, the leading cause of dioxin pollution in the environment for decades), and other post-Prohibition bureaucratic interests.
There was, however, a militarist hemp promotion effort by the USDA in the 1940’s during WWII war effort (“Hemp for Victory” campaign). Despite the fact that hemp can yield 18 tons of biomass per acre in only 4 months (more per four month period then sugarcane, maize, napier, kanaf and other); despite the fact that it is low-moisture and does not exhaust soil fertility; despite the fact that it solves the food/energy crop dilemma by providing both in one (methanol from pyrolysis of the cellulose and highly nutritious food from the seeds), a single plant of it cannot be legally grown in the United States of America.
They own the germplasm.
One single sample of the germplasm of cannabis, if allowed to be cultivated and propagated by agriculturalists and chemurgic specialists, would bring about nothing short of a green revolution.