For Hemp's Sake

Amy Johnson

Writer’s Comment: When I first glanced at the syllabus for Dr. Milton’s UWP 101 class, I was discouraged, to say the least. The idea of writing so much in the course of ten weeks, on top of my already jam-packed schedule, was completely appalling. Writing has never been my forte, but somehow I grew to enjoy the adrenaline produced by the writing process. Dr. Milton encouraged us to study something of interest to us that carried significance to the world outside of UC Davis. Choosing a topic was certainly the most daunting task, but eventually industrial hemp became the obvious choice. Not only is the legality of the plant controversial, but I found that researching hemp was the perfect way to merge all of my interests, encompassing both art and science. Dr. Milton advised me to submit my paper for the Prized Writing competition, and I somehow found the time to pass my paper on. Although I never expected anything to come of it, all of the sleepless nights and stressful moments have come to pay off, and I can never thank her enough for urging me to compete.

—Amy Johnson

Instructor’s Comment: Amy wrote “For Hemp’s Sake” for the final assignment of UWP 101: Advanced Composition. She had to write an argumentative research paper on a topic relating to her academic fields of interest, science and design, but the paper had to be written for a general audience and make the case why that audience should care about the topic. Amy did extensive research for the paper, and I was impressed by her masterful synthesis of scholarly, popular, and trade sources to bolster her argument. Moreover, she clearly demonstrated sophisticated rhetorical skill in appealing to her audience and anticipating and rebutting opposing points of view to persuade readers of the benefits of legalizing industrial hemp production.

—Heather Milton, University Writing Program


Although Cannabis has been readily cultivated for thousands of years, governmental legislation chartered in the wake of the 1960s forced the plant underground. Unfortunately, the laws enacted during the era failed to distinguish between the different types of Cannabis, namely marijuana and industrial hemp. While the two are close in botanical relation, industrial hemp differs greatly from psychoactive marijuana. However, this did not prevent the general population from developing negative stereotypes about industrial hemp based on its apparent relation to marijuana. To improve this reputation, scientists and environmentalists alike are researching the uses of hemp that were so commonplace years ago.

Not only have researchers found some 25,000 functions for the plant, including as building implements, medicines, textiles, and foodstuffs, allegations that hemp could be consumed as a drug have been proven false. In addition, industrial hemp is being praised for its noteworthy contributions to environmental health and could ease our dependence on fossil fuels by replacing common, yet harmful products such as cotton and oil.1As opposed to cotton, hemp is a weed that requires little or no pesticides and grows under virtually any circumstances, making it any farmer’s dream. Although the U.S. government has yet to respond favorably to these recent studies, other countries are growing hemp in an effort to “go green,” and to make some green as well. The laws that prohibit the cultivation of industrial hemp in the United States should be repealed not only because hemp has no value as a psychoactive substance, but because it provides major benefits to our environment and our economy.

For thousands of years, hemp was widely produced and consumed, marking it as one of the mainstays of human life in the United States and abroad. Colonial Americans in Jamestown, Virginia, grew hemp to make rope, and even the Declaration of Independence was written on paper made purely from hemp.(2) The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 marked the first in a series of governmental prohibitions of Cannabis, and although industrial hemp remained legal, propaganda surrounding the act denigrated hemp for its association with marijuana.(3) Yet during World War II, the government chartered the cultivation of more than 400,000 acres of industrial hemp to make canvas, rope, uniforms, and other war stuffs.(4) Years later, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 solidified the illegal status of Cannabis, not only prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana, but of industrial hemp as well.(5) Currently, marijuana exists in a legal gray area because of its usage as a medicine. Various states have laws that allow the growth of Cannabis plants for medical uses, but the companies that would benefit from hemp cultivation are highly regulated by the federal government, which maintains that industrial hemp is illegal because it contains trace amounts of THC.

Those opposing the cultivation of industrial hemp, namely the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, argue that it is impossible to distinguish between marijuana and industrial hemp, and that even if it were legal, hemp would be economically impractical. Former DEA Administrator Asa Hutchison claims that “hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana.”6 In addition, the DEA contends that hemp is illegal because it contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) which, like marijuana, is a Schedule I controlled substance. The DEA maintains that Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical uses.(7) Further, the DEA equates the potency of industrial hemp with drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.

What the Drug Enforcement Administration fails to address, however, is that industrial hemp contains such a low concentration of THC that it has no value as a drug. How is it possible to become dependent on the consumption of something that provides no effects? Although the Drug Enforcement Administration claims that tetrahydrocannabidiol is prevalent in both marijuana and industrial hemp, the concentration of THC in industrial hemp hovers around 0.3% or less.(8) Factors that influence THC levels of the Cannabis plant include its “sex, soil and climate conditions, the part of the plant that is used, and how the plant is harvested, prepared, and stored.”9 For example, the marijuana plant is female, whereas industrial hemp plants are male, and growth and harvesting methods differ quite drastically. Thus, the industrial hemp plants that are usually grown as male are not capable of producing the flower that constitutes a marijuana plant. In addition, other molecules present in industrial hemp, specifically cannabidiol (CBD), in as little as two percent concentrations, actually prohibit any effects that THC might elicit.(10) Not only can CBD block the effects of THC, research suggests that CBD produces counter effects. For example, a 2008 study found that while THC is sleep inducing, CBD not only increases wakefulness and alertness, but presents other beneficial properties suggesting usage as an anticonvulsant or anti-anxiety medication.11

Coupled with the fact that hemp contains only trace amounts of THC and greater concentrations of CBD, differences in the cultivation methods between industrial hemp and marijuana reinforce the notion that hemp is clearly dissimilar from its euphoria-inducing cousin. Because the product of a marijuana plant is the flower, plants are spaced far apart to encourage branching and flower growth.(12) Alternately, the major product of industrial hemp is the “bast,” or fibers contained in the stem, which can reach up to five meters in height.(13) To promote stem growth, hemp plants are spaced narrowly, a method that also inhibits branching and prohibits flowering.(14) In addition, the life cycle of the hemp plant is such that flowering occurs after intensive growth, including that of the stem.(15) Thus, the products of the hemp plants are produced before any “marijuana-like” flowers would have time to bud at all. A marijuana plant, on the other hand, would induce the growth of these flowers, and forgo any products that may have arisen from the stalk or other parts. Indeed, these differences in cultivation clearly distinguish hemp from marijuana and counter the argument that hemp would be used to grow marijuana.

Industrial hemp boasts tens of thousands of different uses in many different walks of life.(16) Because the utilization of industrial hemp products is so widespread, the economic viability of hemp is undeniable. In 2004, sales of imported hemp products in the United States alone totaled around one hundred million dollars.(17) In November of 2006, experts from around the globe convened to report on the growing hemp industry. Chinese hemp specialists stated that hemp seed and oil products were selling rapidly in the food market, and they also announced their plans to use hemp derivatives in the outdoor composite flooring of the 2008 Olympic Games.(18) In Canada, 20,000 acres of hemp were grown for seed, much of which was imported into the United States. In addition, Canadian-grown hemp is being used to reinforce plastic substitutes such as polylactic acid (PLA).(19) These new biopolymers hold many advantages over the artificial fibers of the recent past, including “low cost, low density, acceptable specific strength properties, ease of separation, carbon dioxide sequestration and biodegradability.”20 Further, industrial hemp is at the forefront of new textiles, insulation materials, automotive parts, paper, building materials, fuels, and a myriad of other eco-friendly goods.

Not only are there countless possibilities for hemp farmers and manufacturers to profit, but the fruits of their labor are far more environmentally sound than products currently on the market. For example, hemp fibers, when bound with lime, form a composite building material, “Hemcrete,” that actually has a negative carbon footprint.(21) This means that the hemp part of the composite actually transforms the carbon dioxide molecule, capturing carbon atoms and releasing only oxygen into the atmosphere. The company that manufactures Hemcrete estimates that one square meter of the composite has the ability to absorb up to 110 kilograms of carbon, which would be highly beneficial to the environment.(22) In addition, Hemcrete boasts environmental and health benefits such as high thermal mass, which slows temperature change indoors and decreases energy bills.(23) Hemp has also drawn attention as a textile alternative to cotton and polyester, both of which require harmful pesticides and fertilizers to cultivate and produce. Not only does the production of industrial hemp require less than half of the pesticides and herbicides required to cultivate and manufacture cotton, but the life cycle of hemp allows at least double the amount of product.(24) Hemp plants can be grown at virtually any time of year, can be sown after other crops or simultaneously as a weed suppressant, and can even be returned to the same fields.(25) Further, hemp is useful in the production of biofuel, often more so than ethanol because it requires no pesticides, maintains soil efficiency, and has an increased yield.(26) Therefore, industrial hemp products are not only more efficient than current staples, but hemp could replace the mainstays that are destroying our environment.

With so many benefits to the cultivation of industrial hemp, it is difficult to see why the “land of the free” would prevent its citizens from profiting and prospering on such a dependable plant. Unless the Drug Enforcement Agency can make arguable claims against hemp, there is no reason that industrial hemp should remain illegal. One can only hope that the United States government will finally respond to the growing need for a new crop such as hemp. Eradicating the laws that prohibit its cultivation would provide vast benefits to our weak economy and would aid in the revitalization of our environment. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “hemp is of first necessity . . . to the wealth and protection of the country.”27 Jefferson helped to found our country on values of freedom and liberty, and the current administration needs to return hemp to its status as a frontrunner of industry, for the sake of our nation, and our earth.



1. Smith-Heisters, “Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition,” 159.

2. Goldberg, Drugs Across the Spectrum, 4; Hightower, “High On Hemp,” 4.

3. Bavec and Bavec, Organic Production, 166.

4. West, Hemp and Marijuana, 10.

5. Ibid., 9–11.

6. Drug Enforcement Administration, “DEA Clarifies Status of Hemp.”

7. Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

8. Bavec and Bavec, Organic Production, 177.

9. Goldberg, Drugs Across the Spectrum, 242.

10. West, Hemp and Marijuana, 8.

11. Murillo-Rodríguez, et al., “Nonpsychoactive Cannabis Constituent Cannabidiol,” 1378–82.

12. West, Hemp and Marijuana, 14.

13. Bavec and Bavec, Organic Production, 167.

14. West, Hemp and Marijuana, 14.

15. Bavec and Bavec, Organic Production, 170.

16. Hightower, “High On Hemp,” 4.

17. Ibid., 5.

18. Carus, “Fourth International Hemp Conference,” 90.

19. Ibid.

20. Mohanty, Misra, and Drzal, “Sustainable Bio-Composites,” 19–26.

21. What’s New in Building, 1.

22. Tradical, 5.

23. What’s New in Building, 2.

24. Smith-Heisters, “Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition,” 164.

25. Bavec and Bavec, Organic Production, 172.

26. Smith-Heisters, “Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition,” 164.

27. Hightower, “High On Hemp,” 4.


Alden, D. M., J. L. R. Proops, P. W. Gay. “Industrial hemp’s double dividend: a study for the USA.” Ecological Economics 25 (1998): 291–301.

Bavec, Franc and Martina Bavec. Organic Production and Use of Alternative Crops. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2007.

Carus, Michael. “Fourth International Hemp Conference: Hemp Industry on a Global Course of Expansion.” Journal of Industrial Hemp 12, no. 2 (2007): 89–95.

Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Public Law No. 91-513. Statute 1236, chapter 13 (Oct. 27, 1970), § 84.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “DEA Clarifies Status of Hemp in the Federal Register” (news release, Oct. 9, 2001).

Goldberg, Raymond. Drugs Across the Spectrum. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.

Hightower, Jim. “High On Hemp.” The Humanist Sept./Oct. 2004, 4–5.

McLaughlin, E. C. “Farmers sue DEA for right to grow industrial hemp.” CNN, October 18, 2007.

Mohanty, A. K., M. Misra, and L. T. Drzal. “Sustainable Bio-Composites from Renewable Resources: Opportunities and Challenges in the Green Materials World.” Journal of Polymers and the Environment 10, nos. 1/2 (2002), 19–26.

Murillo-Rodríguez, E., D. Millán-Aldaco, M. Palomero-Rivero, R. Michoulam, R. Drucker-Colín. “The Nonpsychoactive Cannabis Constituent Cannabidiol Is a Wake-Inducing Agent.” Behavioral Neuroscience 122, no. 6 (2008): 1378–82.

Simpson-Holley, M., I. Law. “Renewable in more ways than one: hemp returns to UK farming.” Biologist 54, no. 1 (2007): 18–23.

Smith-Heisters, Skaidra. “Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition in the United States.” Journal of Industrial Hemp 13, no. 2 (2008): 157–70.

Tradical. Building Lime Innovation: Hemp Lime Technology (brochure, 2006).

Van Der Werf, H. M. G., E. W. J. M. Mathijissen, and A. J. Haverkort. “The potential of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) for sustainable fibre production: a crop physiological appraisal.” Association of Applied Biologists 129 (1996): 109–23.

West, David. Hemp and Marijuana: Myths & Realities. North American Industrial Hemp Council, Inc., 1998.

What’s New in Building. Sustainability: Back to the Future, 2007.