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Legalize Hemp: The Case for Reviving America's First Crop

Updated on September 8, 2014
George Washington grew hemp on his Mount Vernon plantation.
George Washington grew hemp on his Mount Vernon plantation. | Source

Ford's Hemp Car: The Car Grown from the Ground

Toward the end of this video, a man strikes the superstrong Ford hemp car with an axe. Watch what doesn't happen.

Hemp: The Pride of the Puritans

American colonists were required to cultivate hemp. Required? That's right. In 1619 the Jamestown colonists -- actual Puritans -- grew hemp as part of their contract with the Virginia Company. Although some strains of hemp might be interesting to smoke, they're not all psychoactive. The Virginia Company used hemp to make a gorgeous linen-like fabric for clothing and a heavier hemp fabric for sails.

Why hemp? It's a relatively easy crop to grow, being naturally pest-resistant, and is extremely versatile. By the 1770s and 1780s George Washington was growing hemp on his Mount Vernon plantation, Ben Franklin owned a hemp paper mill and Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration on hemp paper. About a century later Henry Ford built a car from ridiculously durable hemp fibers stiffened with hemp resin. Ford's hemp "plastic" was stronger than steel. Besides that, the car ran on hemp ethanol. As Ford told The New York Times in 1925, "There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented."

Fast-forward to 2012. Americans today are threatened with incarceration for growing hemp. Has the plant changed since the days of Jefferson and Ford? No. Politics have. And they can change back again. Read on to learn a bit about hemp's many industrial uses and how you can help legalize hemp.

Industrial Hemp Harvesters

A hemp harvester near Waupun, Wisconsin circa 1942
A hemp harvester near Waupun, Wisconsin circa 1942 | Source
A modern industrial hemp harvester used in Europe
A modern industrial hemp harvester used in Europe | Source

Hemp Dress

Hemp gorgeousness
Hemp gorgeousness | Source

Hemp Tee, Buttondown & Jeans

Hemp clothes for men
Hemp clothes for men | Source

The Many Uses of Hemp

Hemp plants offer four main raw materials: fiber, seed, oil and -- depending on the strain -- THC for medicinal, spiritual or recreational purposes. The THC component is what's gotten hemp some negative press over the past 80 years or so. That's kind of goofy considering that industrial hemp can't get you high unless you're into smoking 2500 pounds at once. Let's see what the other parts of this plant can do.

Uses for Hemp Fiber

Hemp fiber is remarkable. If you watched the Henry Ford video above, you saw how the fiber can be reinforced to become ten times stronger than steel. Here are some other ways to use hemp fiber.

Jump From an Airplane

Although the US government freaked out over hemp in the 1930s, a pragmatic flip-flop came shortly thereafter. When World War II interrupted the supply of jute and other tropical fibers, farmers were asked to grow 350,000 acres of hemp annually for the war effort. Thus when George H. W. Bush jumped from an airplane during the war, the following held true:

  • His aircraft's engine parts were lubricated with hemp seed oil.
  • His parachute's webbing was made from hemp.
  • Most of the rigging and ropes on his rescue ship were made of hemp.

Georgie also probably had hemp stitching on his shoes. That was the default for military shoes back then. It's also the default now because hemp fiber is so strong.

Wear Hemp.

Here's why you might fall for hemp clothing:

  1. Hemp fabric drapes beautifully and is difficult to wrinkle.
  2. Hemp is what Apple would call "smart." It knows when to keep to warm and when to keep you cool.
  3. It's soft. There's a misconception that hemp is scratchy.
  4. It's durable. Hemp clothing will last for many years. The original Levi's jeans were hemp.
  5. Because hemp is naturally antimicrobial, it helps people smell fresh. Richard Dash, the owner of Dash Hemp in my hometown of Santa Cruz says, "You can wear a hemp shirt for many days with no funny smell. Look at me. Haven't I been wearing this for three days straight?" It's true. And the fabric's anti-bacterial property appeals to travelers, hikers, festival-goers and other active people.
  6. Hemp is environmentally friendly. No pesticides are needed. Plus, the plants used to make your clothes help absorb greenhouse gases and will be quickly replaced when harvested.
  7. Hemp fabric protects skin from ultraviolet rays.

Make Paper

As mentioned above, Ben Franklin owned a hemp paper mill and Thomas Jefferson drafted the Constitution on hemp paper. Over a 20-year period, an acre of hemp can produce four times as much paper as an acre of trees. "Paper" can be computer paper, newsprint, envelopes, toilet paper, wrapping paper... you name it. No dioxin bleach is needed to make hemp paper aesthetically appealing.

In 1995 the US Department of Agriculture stated the following: "If one processing facility and one industrial hemp paper-pulp plant were established in Kentucky, industrial hemp would have an economic impact of 771 full-time equivalent jobs and $17,600,000 in worker earnings." Just imagine what the numbers would be today. Anybody in Kentucky need a job?

Get Intimate With Hemp: Replace Cotton Cloth Diapers, Bandages & Tampons

Hemp's anti-germ properties deserve respect: The fabric actually kills nasties like athlete's foot and resistant Staphyloccus aureus. Thus I'd love for hotels to use it in bed linens. For now, one practical use of antibacterial hemp is cloth diapers. Hemp diapers are better on babies' bottoms than cotton cloth diapers are for two reasons: it helps wick moisture away and is antibacterial. Besides that, hemp is almost always organic. Cotton is often grown with pesticides. Who wants pesticides on baby diapers or tampons?

It makes sense that hemp would be used in bandages. As of this writing, I've found just a brief and unsubstantiated reference to hemp bandages and actual marijuana leaves being used medicinally by the US military, wrapping them up with wounds. The oil in the leaves has long been known to have antibacterial properties. Many non-crackpots claim that hemp oil kills cancer too.

These are just a few of the many uses for hemp fiber. If you can turn hemp fiber into anything from a Ford car body to soft baby diapers, then the possibilities are literally endless. Some others that are already in place include animal bedding, furniture upholstery and hempcrete for housing.


Uses for Hemp Oil

Power Your Ride

As mentioned earlier, Henry Ford touted the benefits of hemp oil for vehicles. It can be used to lubricate engine parts and to power automobiles. (No war required!) Hemp oil produces virtually no sulphur or ash during combustion.

Hemp fuel may be making a comeback. Researchers at the University of Connecticut have convinced the US Department of Energy that growing hemp for biodiesel makes sense and have secured funding for this purpose. As Professor Richard Parnas point out, hemp is not only a highly efficient source of fuel, it's a hardy plant. Since it can be grown virtually anywhere -- think "weed" -- it doesn't need to compete with food crops.

Hemp Seeds


Power Your Body

Hemp oil is nutritious and can replace fish oil as a dietary supplement. For one thing, it contains Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential to a healthy metabolism and provide cardiovascular benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to slow tumor growth in mice and likely prevent prostate cancer and breast cancer in humans. They're associated with lessened depression, may improve memory in Alzheimer's patients, and may prevent psychotic outbursts in teens. See Wikipedia's Omega-3 page for research links.

Hemp oil is also a source of essential Omega-6 fatty acids and gamma-linolenic fatty acid. What is gamma-linolenic acid? This little gem fights symptoms of PMS and arthritis. Hemp oil for everyone, please!

Hemp oil isn't suitable for cooking because of its low smoke point. To get the health benefits, blend in into smoothies and dips, mix it into salad dressing or drizzle it over cereal. You can also use hemp oil in baking.

Anoint Thyself

Hemp oil is good for the skin. Use it as a massage oil or to relieve dryness. It's also good for minor wounds and to fight eczema.

This organic plant fat is also a friendly alternative to animal-derived soaps. The "Hemp Links" section below includes a link to hemp soapmaking instructions.

Hemp Seeds Can Feed the Planet

It makes sense to grow hemp for nutrition in world regions that are food-poor. First, hemp helps retain topsoil, doesn't require pesticides and can grow under difficult environmental conditions. Second, hemp seeds are about 33% protein. Much of that protein is the same kind found in egg whites (albumen). Besides that, hemp seed provides plenty of amino acids, including some that aren't on this table:

Protein Content of Various Seeds


Recipe for Hemp Seed Corn Bread

Hemp seed has been called a superfood. It has a high protein value, contains good fats, provides many amino acids and is also a source of vitamins and minerals (e.g., Vitamin E and iron).

How to Eat Hemp Seeds

Nutiva sells de-shelled hemp seeds that you can eat raw or use in recipes. These have a great texture and deliciously nutty flavor. They're popular not only with hippie types but also with people interested in maintaining a healthy weight. You can also get hemp seeds' benefits from hemp butter, hemp milk and hemp bread.

Hemp for Africa

Because of hemp seed's nutritional values and the countless other possibilities for hemp plant use, activists concerned with food security in Africa have suggested that hemp just might save the continent.

A Ugandan's Argument for African Hemp

Hemp Law Factoid

Japanese tradition requires that the Emperor wear hemp. Thus Japan has always maintained a small hemp plot for the imperial family. However, other Japanese must import their hemp fabric.

Industrial hemp is an environmentally responsible way to spur American industry and job growth.
Industrial hemp is an environmentally responsible way to spur American industry and job growth. | Source

Legal Hemp? The Current State of Affairs

National approaches to hemp vary widely. For example, Spain has never outlawed the crop and Slovenia prints its currency on homegrown hemp paper. Australians and Canadians have been growing industrial hemp in great quantities since 1995. You can read about dozens more countries that grow hemp at the Hemp Industries Association website. But what about the USA?

Hemp is a potentially trillion dollar crop and the US is missing out. Yes, nine states have removed barriers to hemp production and/or research: Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia. However, because of conflicts with federal law and fear of the DEA, farmers in these states are generally sticking to their regular crops.

Learn how you can make things right. Industrial hemp can be good for people, the planet and America. Many states now have hemp laws under review. Check out your state's hemp legislation at



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    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Thanks much, Frida! You warm my heart :).

      I've started an interactive timeline of industrial hemp legalization and prohibition. Some fun factoids for you!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Santa Cruz, this is maybe the best legalize hemp article I've seen! I hope you reach the masses & aren't just preaching to the choir. Keep writing! We need people like you.

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 

      6 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      :-) - no it does not get hempy - but it does take the viewer into a "hopeful" state of mind. If that one is too long- open it in youtube and other shorter talks by Jacque will pop up....


    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      That's a long video... Does it get hempy?

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 

      6 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      SantaCruz - I have a feeling you will enjoy this Link - Jacque Fresco

    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Cheers, Neil! Now I'm order hemp fabric to make baby stuff :-). I'll post pictures if/when I get good results!

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 

      6 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      Well done and right on the money. Keep on sharig.

    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Wade, thanks for the praise! But I hadn't seen your site until just now... Just found the same image in a search. It's good to know that the info is circulating in different networks :-).

    • profile image


      6 years ago


      You did an absolutely outstanding job with the information from the TDP website.

      Bravo. It's better than ours.

      I hope more people find this and read it and hopefully, do more than just forget about it.

      Wade House

      TDP Admin

    • HemperorsCloset profile image


      6 years ago from Bloomington, IN Earth

      How serendipitous! i posted a hub a few days ago along these very lines, with the exact same top image. How weird is that! the arc of yours has a shorter timeline, but essentially the same thing. I enjoy that your many compatriots here on hubpages can access so readily such well written information :~D Thanks for spreading the word!

    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Thank you, CNC! I recognize you from Much More Than Me. How about hemp vests for guide dogs? :-)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great, comprehensive article from such a talented writer!

    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      It's kind of amazing! And remember, industrial hemp isn't even smokeworthy.

      There's also basically no THC on the seeds sold for eating. A study of the industrial hemp seed in Manitoba found that the THC content can be reduced to less than one part per million.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      6 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      All plants should be this useful! Why give up all the great products we could make just because some people will smoke it?

    • SantaCruz profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Many thanks, tobusiness! Please help spread the word :-).

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      6 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Brilliant well presented hub, this is a remarkable plant, thank you for sharing. Voting up


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