This week, June 4-10, is Hemp History Week.  All across the U.S., fans of what many call “the most useful plant on Earth” are celebrating the history of this historic plant.  Because hemp is considered to be so useful and has played such an important role in American history, it’s rather ironic that it is currently illegal to grow hemp in the United States.

The Versatile, Valuable Hemp Plant

First of all, let’s make a distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana.  Industrial hemp is a different strain of the cannabis sativa plant that does not contain high levels of THC.  THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that creates the “high” that users experience when they smoke it.  In other words, it is utterly impossible to get high off of industrial hemp.

According to our friends at, “While American farmers often net less than $50 per acre for soy and corn, Canadian farmers just across the border net an average of $200-400 per acre for hemp.”  In 2011, American sales of hemp and hemp products was estimated at $419 million.  As it’s illegal to hemp grow in the U.S., all of these hemp products were imported, most likely from either Canada or China.  Growing hemp would be a huge economic boost for American farmers.

One of the best things about hemp is that it grows, well, like a weed!  Hemp can grow beautifully in a complete wasteland, allowing for the reclamation of otherwise unusable soil.  The newly nourished soil can then be used to grow other crops.  There is no need for any type of herbicide or pesticide to farm it.  In fact, it grows so fast it often crowds out and destroys other weeds and invasive plants.

Want to save some trees?  Hemp paper is very green and renewable.  While trees take approximately 20 years to mature, hemp plants only take 4 months!  For the same amount of ground space, a hemp field will produce 4 times as much usable fiber as a tree plantation.  Until about 1883, over three quarters of all paper was made from hemp.  Benjamin Franklin even ran a hemp paper mill and Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on – you guessed it – hemp paper.

Hemp can be used to create large quantities of methanol, which offers us an alternative to fossil fuels.  This can be used to power cars and produce electricity, and offers the opportunity to drastically reduce American dependence on foreign oil supplies.  Hemp could bring about a new era of American energy independence!

As if that weren’t enough, hemp can be used to make biodegradable plastics, clothing, and other textiles.  It was especially useful during World War II to make rope and other necessities for naval ships.  Take a look at the Hemp for Victory movie released by the U.S. government during the war to promote hemp farming all across the country.

Hemp for Victory Movie

Hemp is used in a variety of foods, from the hemp seeds that I love and eat on a near daily basis (they taste like pine nuts), to hemp protein, hemp oil, hemp milk (a substitute for dairy milk), and hemp seed butter (a substitute for peanut butter).

These hemp foods are a rich source of essential fatty acids, including Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, that the human body cannot make on its own.  As a result, these fatty acids must be consumed daily in foods.  Hemp has the perfect ratio of 3 to 1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids recommended by the World Health Organization.  These fatty acids are well known to help prevent and treat a variety of illnesses from eczema and heart disease to cancer.

As if that wasn’t enough, hemp seed products are a great source of protein, containing all 20 amino acids necessary for human health.

Hemp seed oil is even popular in skin products and lotions for its moisturizing ability.

The only known plant that contains vitamin D is, surprise, hemp.  Vitamin D is critical for a variety of functions in the body.

Interestingly humans have never been known to have any allergies to hemp, which makes it a safe food for those who have allergies and sensitivities to various foods and clothing people who have allergies to certain fabrics.

What Did the Founders Think of Hemp?

President George Washington, President John Adams, President Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin all grew hemp on their personal farms.  Benjamin Franklin also owned a hemp paper mill, which produced paper from the fibers of the hemp plant.  The string he used in his electricity experiments is rumored to have been made from hemp.

In addition to the Declaration of Independence, the first draft of the Constitution was also written on hemp paper.

In Thomas Jefferson’s writings, he encouraged Americans to grow hemp over tobacco, reasoning that hemp rejuvenates the soil and restores nutrients while tobacco consumes nutrients and depletes soil.  Here are the founders’ own words about hemp.

“Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp and sow it everywhere.” – George Washington

 “We shall, by and by, want a world of hemp more for our own consumption.” – John Adams

 “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” – Thomas Jefferson

You will see in the page below from George Washington’s farm diary from the Library of Congress web site.  On August 7, 1765 (line 7) you can see that President Washington has written “began to separate the male from the female hemp.”

Other History of the Hemp Plant

Some scholars at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem claim that hemp was actually mentioned in the Bible.  They believe that the word calamus in Exodus 30:22-25 is a mistranslation into English of the Hebrew word kineboisin which actually means cannabis or hemp. If this translation is correct, the anointing oil God commanded Moses to make was made, in part, from hemp oil.

“Moreover, the Lord said to Moses, Take the best spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, of sweet-scented cinnamon half as much, 250 shekels, of fragrant calamus 250 shekels, And of cassia 500 shekels, in terms of the sanctuary shekel, and of olive oil a hin.  And you shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume compounded after the art of the perfumer; it shall be a sacred anointing oil.” – Exodus 30:22-25 (Amplified Bible)

Hemp oil was well known to burn brightest of all available fuel oils of antiquity and thus was commonly used as a lamp oil since at least the time of the Bible’s Abraham.  Even Abraham Lincoln lit his home with hemp oil.

The English word canvas is derived from the word cannabis.

Hemp has been grown in the United States since the arrival of the first European settlers in the 1600s.  From 1763-1769 it was actually illegal NOT to grow hemp in Virginia, and Virginians could be jailed for refusing to grow it on their lands.

The War of 1812 was fought over hemp supplies.

TAC’s Hemp Freedom Act

One way to promote the growth of hemp farming in this country is to support the Tenth Amendment Center’s Hemp Freedom Act in your state.  This act would nullify the unconstitutional federal prohibition on hemp farming and allow “the most useful plant on Earth” to be grown in your state.  The Hemp Freedom Act does not legalize the growing marijuana, only the industrial hemp that can already be legally imported into the United States.

There is no logical reason that American farmers should not be able to reap the economic benefits of growing this amazingly versatile plant. With hundreds of millions of American dollars already being spent on imported hemp products here in the U.S., it’s time that our states stood up to the federal government to bring the benefits of hemp and hemp products to their states.

To learn more about the Hemp Freedom Act, click here.

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Lesley Swann
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