Hemp for fuel!

Growing hemp is currently illegal in the United States because of federal law.  Hemp has been illegal to raise in the 1930’s as the result of a campaign by a small number of individuals.  Their interest was in getting the most popular source of fiber off of the market.  Hemp was widely used, in many applications, including making clothing and paper.  It was also a source of animal feed, and the oil from hemp seed is one of the highest quality oils in the vegetable kingdom, being so fine that it could be burned in lamps.

Synthetic fibers produced from petroleum were just coming on the market, but they were not popular.  At the same time, William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, was anxious to get paper made from hemp off of the market, so that he could profit from a new process which made paper from wood pulp.  Hearst owned vast tracts of forest in the American west, which were not very lucrative during the Depression, and he had just purchased rights to a process which used sulphuric acid to break down wood pulp, releasing the fibers in it.

A third character in this tragedy was a rabid law enforcement official who was trying to create an empire in criminal justice.  Harry Anslinger was the top cop in the country, and he wanted more cops, even though Prohibition was coming to an end.  He became aware of the interest Hearst and members of the DuPont family had in taking hemp off of the market, and proposed (well, one of them did,) a prohibition on hemp, in disguise.  Hemp was far too popular to be driven off of the market, but by outlawing the production of a little-known hemp product, Anslinger was certain that he could twist the law enough to keep farmers from planting any more hemp.

‘Marijuana’ was little-known slang term for hemp, a Hispanic word which means ‘the flower of the hemp plant.’  By creating a furious newspaper campaign against something which no one had ever heard off, and getting biased testimony in front of Congress, Anslinger managed to get a bill passed which had the effect of making growing hemp  illegal.  Use of hemp as a drug was not perceived as a problem by the general public, because it was so rare.  Therefore, the propaganda that ‘marijuana’ could make people murdering maniacs after only one use was not disputed.

One of the reasons why hemp is so widely cultivated in areas not under the sway of the US is that the plant will grow practically anywhere, so fast and tall that it shades out most other plants while producing more fiber per acre than almost any other plant, including trees.  That fiber is biomass, the stuff that we break down to produce alternate fuels.  Hemp will out produce corn in biomass production hands down, and do it in soils that are marginal, or even worse.  Hemp does not require large amounts of water to grow, like corn, nor does it require intensive cultivation or pest control.

Human beings have been cultivating hemp for thousands of years, and with good reason; it is one of the best, most versatile, and strongest natural fibers that we know of, while being cheap and easy to grow. We can produce large amounts of biomass for alternate fuels without having to take away room for plants that we can eat.  The United States is still trying to keep other countries from producing hemp, but increasingly, they are being ignored.  There is simply no rational explanation for the attitude of the American government towards hemp.

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