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It’s Hard to Argue with George Washington!

There has been so much in the news these days about the legalization of marijuana for either medical or general use. I’m sure every one of you has your own opinion about such use, but perhaps you have not yet been made aware of some of the history of this interesting plant. First of all, both marijuana and hemp are forms of the plant cannabis sativa. They are essentially weeds that will grow in a wide variety of conditions, climates, and soil types. Over the years both plants have been used for a wide variety of uses. However, they are not the same. Unfortunately, the US Drug Enforcement Agency classifies all cannabis sativa (hemp) varieties as “marijuana.”  Hemp was grown commercially (with increasing governmental interference) in the United States until the 1950s. It was doomed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which placed an extremely high tax on marijuana and made it effectively impossible to grow industrial hemp. This was not the intent of Congress which expressly expected the continued production of industrial hemp, but the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, based on the 1937 law, lumped industrial hemp with marijuana. They did so because they were pushed into it by the newspaper, cotton, and petroleum industries, all of which had much to fear from competition with hemp. For example (one of many), when Dupont made nylon, it was to suppress hemp production. Why? Here are just a very few of many reasons:
  • Hemp is an ideal material for making paper. It regenerates in the field in months (unlike trees which can take 30 years or more to become harvestable after planting.)
  • It makes a fine quality paper that is naturally acid free and does not become yellow and brittle or disintegrate over time like conventional paper.
  • Hemp is excellent for making rugs and other textiles.  Levi Strauss’ original denim jeans were made of hemp.
  • Hemp is the traditional fiber used in making ropes, due to its flexibility, strength, and resistance to water damage.
  • Hemp oil can be used to create biofuels to replace fuel for diesel engines. Unlike fossil fuels, biofuels are renewable and produce less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Rudolf Diesel built his original engine to run on hemp oil.
  • Alternatives to plastic can be made from hemp. Hemp based materials can replace wood and other materials used to build homes and other structures including foundations, walls, shingles, paneling, pipes, and paint.


Maybe George Washington was correct when he said, “Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere.” (1794) Thomas Jefferson also opined, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” The draft of the Declaration of Independence was made on hemp paper, and the first American flag was made of hemp.


In short, hemp may look like marijuana, however it contains virtually none of the active chemicals that cause mind-altering effects.  Politics and lobbying have kept this gift from us.