You’ve probably heard there are plans to build a big hemp processing plant in Parker South. This plant promises to bring close to 100 jobs to our area. There are some misconceptions out there about hemp, what it is, and what it does. With that in mind, we’d like to answer some questions regarding hemp, and why it could be a useful crop for Arizona.
What is hemp? Isn’t it marijuana?
That’s the main misconception that needs to be cleared up. Hemp is not marijuana. They are both of the cannabis family, but they are not the same. Hemp does not contain the levels of THC that give marijuana its “high.”
Hemp was removed from the definition of marijuana under the 2018 Farm Bill that was signed by President Donald Trump. While hemp has some THC in it, the levels are tightly regulated by federal law. To qualify as hemp, its THC content may be no higher than .03 percent. Anything higher than that is considered marijuana.
What is hemp used for?
Hemp has been known as a useful and versatile crop for centuries. In modern times, most Americans are familiar with hemp ropes, which are considered among the strongest and most durable around. This is far from the only use.
The first use of hemp fabrics dates back to ancient times in the Middle East and China. Until the 20th Century, most of the clothing made in the world was made of hemp. Another use for hemp is paper. Some of our nation’s founding documents were written on hemp paper.
Hemp fabrics are tougher, provide better insulation and are more absorbent and durable than cotton, and they hold colors and their shape better. Cotton, on the other hand, is softer on the skin and is preferable for clothing where you want some “give” to them, like undergarments.
Many ship sails were made of hemp prior to the 20th Century. In fact, the word “canvas” is derived from “cannabis.”
One derivative of hemp, CBD, is being promoted for its health benefits.
In colonial Virginia, hemp was considered so valuable, farmers were required to devote a certain percentage of their cropland to growing it. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp.
These are just a few of the uses for hemp. The seed oils can be used to make salad and cooking oils, paints, printing inks, lubricants and biofuels. They can also be used to make soap, shampoo, and cosmetics. The hard, woody interior can be used to make fiberboard, insulation and cement. Hemp can also be used for animal feed and bedding.
Henry Ford loved hemp and soybeans and often experimented with them. In the early 1940s, he built an entire car of hemp and soy materials, including the engine. It was powered by hemp fuels. The “recipe” for the car has been since lost.
Is hemp good for Arizona?
The website “How Stuff Compares” (howstuffcompares.com) offered this description of the environmental benefits of hemp over cotton:
“Cotton is a very water and pesticide intensive plant to grow. It has a much higher environmental cost than hemp which requires fewer pesticides or fertilizers and no herbicides. Hemp requires much less water, grows very quickly (70 to 110 days), and uses minimal nutrients from the soil. Hemp plant roots aerate the soil, leaving it rich for future crops. Hemp will produce 1500 pounds of fiber per acre, whereas cotton will produce only 500 pounds per acre.”
Arizona State Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, is a major promoter of hemp in Arizona because it uses so much less water than cotton in our desert state. Gov. Doug Ducey is also a major supporter of hemp.
The website indohemp.com said it takes 10,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton fiber, about enough for one pair of jeans. Hemp takes 2,300 liters of water to produce one kilogram of fiber. Cotton requires 16 percent of world’s pesticides and herbicides. The THC is hemp serves as a natural deterrent to pests and weeds, and its roots help aerate the soil.
According to University of Colorado soil researcher Brian Campbell, one of the myths about hemp is that it doesn’t need a lot of water. While it doesn’t need as much as cotton, it still needs to be irrigated in dry environments.
So, if hemp is so useful, why was it made illegal?
Hemp was made illegal because, visually, it’s very difficult to distinguish it from marijuana. Xenophobia and racism are the principal reasons marijuana was made illegal in the United States.
During the Mexican Revolution that started in 1910, many Mexicans fled north to the United States. After the revolution, many came here looking for work. They brought their habit of smoking marijuana with them. This led to wild stories about how marijuana made people insane and violent, or just plain “uppity” and wanting to go after white women. Starting in the western states, some states banned marijuana.
Enter Harry Anslinger, who, in 1930, was named head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. When Prohibition ended in 1933, he realized the huge federal law enforcement system was about to lose most of its funding. He then began to demonize marijuana, picking up on the wild and false stories about Mexican immigrants and African-Americans who smoked marijuana.
This is a quote from Anslinger on the Foundation for Economic Education Website: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
Anslinger was joined in this crusade by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who began to sensationalize the effects of marijuana as a way of selling newspapers.
It was said the chemical companies that were making new synthetic fibers wanted to do away with hemp as a competitor, and they also made chemicals that turned wood into paper.
Hemp farmers were crushed by the Marihuana Tax Act (that’s the correct spelling of the act) of 1937, which imposed a $100 per pound tax on cannabis.
In 1971, the Administration of President Richard Nixon classified all cannabis, including hemp, as Level 1 Controlled Substances, in the same category as marijuana, heroin and cocaine. It would remain such a controlled substance until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which allowed for regulated production of industrial hemp in the United States.