Posted: December 19, 2013 by riseearth.com
The original drafts of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written on paper derived from it. The sails of Christopher Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria, were made of fabric spun from it. Even early U.S. currency was printed on material extracted from it: hemp, a.k.a. cannabis, the most versatile plant in the world that, despite its significance as an early Americana, is still prohibited from being grown in most of America.
Some of our regular readers may already be familiar with the historical record of hemp, including its prominent role in American industry before the days of prohibition. But this important food and fuel crop is still largely misunderstood by millions of people. Not only is industrial hemp non-psychoactive, meaning that it cannot be smoked for mood-altering purposes in the same way as other strains of cannabis, but it also happens to be one of the most versatile plants known to man.
In his book The Great Book of Hemp: The Complete Guide to the Environmental, Commercial, and Medicinal Uses of the World's Most Extraordinary Plant, Rowan Robinson uncovers the long-lost history of hemp, highlighting its ancient use as a natural treatment for fevers, insomnia and malaria during the Middle Ages, for instance, as well as its more recent use as a fiber source for making rope, clothing, paper and other materials.
"Hemp, Cannabis sativa, has been called man's greatest plant ally," explains the book. "It has been worshipped as a source of spiritual enlightenment and a sustainer of human life, but until recently hemp's amazing past was virtually forgotten. Once at the foundation of civilization's economy, it was not until the twentieth century that hemp was outlawed. But hemp is back."
Hemp: the multi-billion dollar industry the government crushed
Up until the late 1930s, both hemp and cannabis were considered normal, everyday cash crops grown by farmers all across America. America's founding fathers, in fact, grew hemp themselves, and early Federal Reserve notes bore an image of American farmers growing and harvesting hemp. But somewhere along the way, things changed, and hemp became something of a dirty household word.
This redefinition of hemp was the product of a nationwide propaganda campaign known as "Reefer Madness," led by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, which instilled widespread fear in the minds of the public about both hemp and cannabis. It was around this same time that the demonizing term "marijuana" came into existence, a derisive slang with racist origins that ultimately led to the complete prohibition of both cannabis cultivation and use.
"Hearst was a racist who used the little-known term 'marihuana' to describe what had always been commonly known as cannabis or hemp," writes Laura Kriho in a recent piece for Boulder Weekly. "Hearst ran a very effective scare campaign to convince the public that 'Mexicans and Negroes' were smoking a new drug called 'marihuana' that was causing them to rape and murder white people."
Somehow, hemp ended up being lumped into the same category as cannabis, and the two distinct, but related, plants ended up becoming illegal, the targets of a government-led "war on drugs" that continues to this day. And the societal consequences of this prohibition have translated into billions of dollars in lost revenues for an industry that, if once again recognized as legal, has the potential to literally jump start the national economy.
"Hemp is of first necessity of the wealth and protection of the country," Thomas Jefferson, one of America's most well-known founding fathers, once stated about the importance of hemp.
Read the difference between Hemp and Marijuana
June, 2014 by Angela Bacca
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