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Why Industrial Hemp Could Save the World

Photo by Ben Droz

Quick read to scratch the surface on the tip of the hemp iceberg.

What are the biggest problems facing the world today? Climate change, globalization, health, water shortages. In short – sustainability. When you consider our rapidly dwindling natural resources and our exponentially increasing population, the question is rapidly becoming “how do we do more, with less?”

There are two ways to do more with less. You can change how you’re working by simply work harder, which while admirable is inefficient and unsustainable, or you can change what you’re working with – particularly you can go from using a material that creates one thing and a lot of waste to a material that makes many things and no waste. If we expect to thrive in the future, both as a country and as a species, we need to make the move to no-waste, high-yield resources.

Enter industrial Hemp. Industrial Hemp refers to the non-psychoactive derivative of the cannabis plant. Hemp’s versatility remains unmatched in nature. It blows corn out of the water. There are over 25,000 products that can be produced from Hemp. One of the plant’s many nicknames is “the Green Buffalo” because every part of the plant – the seed, the woody core (shiv), and the fiber – can be processed into environmentally friendly, cost-effective products. The seed can be made into health food products, biofuels, and oils for things like paint and varnish, the shiv can be pressed into particle board or made into carbon-negative building materials like insulation and an amazing material called Hempcrete, the fiber can be used for paper, bioplastics, and everything in between. Zero waste.

Despite the obvious opportunity, it is still illegal to grow industrial hemp without a permit from the DEA.. Hemp was outlawed in 1937 because of its erroneous association with marijuana. A lot of people hear the name Hemp and can’t separate it from the Cheech and Chong image that it’s been associated with in the past. You yourself might be saying “put down the bong and step away from the Grateful Dead tapestry”. Let’s be clear: Hemp is not a drug, nor can it be turned into a drug. The reality is that Hemp is an extremely useful, environmentally friendly plant that has been found guilty by association with its notorious cousin. We don’t outlaw housecats because lions are dangerous, why should Hemp be any different?

In places where it is grown and processed (cough nearly every other developed country in the world cough) the benefits are evident. Each year Canada exports nearly $500 million worth of Hemp products to the US, and their total Hemp industry is worth $1 billion USD. We are missing a huge opportunity to create an environmentally friendly, economically profitable industry that could create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. Hemp creates value at every step of the supply chain. In Canada it’s helping small farmers get back to work, in Europe it’s creating a profitable and growing industry, and everywhere it’s grown it’s helping to repair the soil and combat climate change.

If sustainability had a mascot it would be a Hemp leaf.

Does all this sound too good to be true? Maybe it’s a symptom of the cynical times we live in that people find it so hard to believe that something as simple as a plant can create a positive change in the world and be profitable at the same time. Maybe we’ve become so captivated by complicated technology that a resource-based industry seems too simple. Maybe we’ve become so focused on what’s coming next that we’ve forgotten what came before. All I have to say is this: industrial Hemp might not save the world – but it sure is going to help.

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