August 8, 1992
Can Hemp Save The Environment?
(Get High On This Fact: Hemp Is A Better Source Of Paper Than Trees)
By Paul DeRienzo
Background To Hemp
The word hemp has an ancient root similar to its synonym, cannabis, which
is the root of the word canvas in canvas sails and shoes. For 1,000 years,
and before Christianity spread through the Roman empire and until this
century, cannabis hemp also known as marijuana, was the earth’s
largest agricultural crop.
According to Jack Herrer, author of the most respected book on hemp, The
Emperor Wears No Clothes, hemp is the strongest, most durable, longest
lasting natural soft fiber on the planet." Hemp has also served until
this century as one of the most important natural medicines and fulfilled
a role as one of the most widely used substances in religions and cults.
In the United States ca I is was used until 1850 until it was made illegal
in 1937 as the prime medicine in more than 100 illnesses or diseases.
In 1937 after decades of yellow journalism against hemp, spearheaded by
William Randolph Hearst, the United States Congress passed the punitive
Marijuana Tax Act whose aim was to drive legal marijuana sales out of
business. The move was opposed by the American Medical Association, which
argued at the time that the testimony against marijuana was based on "tabloid
The director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J.
Anslinger provided most of the’ testimony in favor of prohibition
of hemp. Anslinger, who held his post until he was forced into retirement
in 1962, was a notorious racist who was not beneath using racial slurs
written under official government letterheads. Like rhetoric published
by the Hearst papers, the government referred to the Mexicans and African-
Americans as "demons, under the influence of marijuana, playing anti-white
voodoo-satanic jazz music." Crimes allegedly committed under the
influence of marijuana were said to include "stepping on a white-man’s
shadow, looking at a white man twice, laughing at a white man.
Besides race there is evidence the huge DuPont chemical company had a
hand in antihemp legislation. In the mid-1930s, mechanical hemp fiber
stripping machines were developed that would maximize hemp’s potential
as a high cellulose pulp paper manufacturing. This threatened the timber
acreage and paper businesses of Hearst Paper Manufacturing, Kimberly Clark
and other paper makers. DuPont controlled a process for cheap manufacture
of sulfuric acid, a toxic and corrosive chemical used to process the cellulose
of trees. Hemp can be broken down into paper pulp without sulfuric acid,
which has become one of the most pernicious pollutants in paper making
It was DuPont’s financial backer, Andrew Mellon as Herbert Hoover’s
Secretary of the Treasury, who appointed Anslinger in 1931 as the first
head of the federal bureau of narcotics. Anslinger also played a major
role in the formation of the Office of Special services, the forerunner
of the CIA. While hemp became the evil weed" of movies like Reefer
Madness the CIA stepped into the shoes of French intelligence in Laos
where anticommunist guerillas were financed by opium smuggling
Uses of Hemp
Hemp enjoyed wide use in the age of sail driven ships because of durability
required in the corrosive ocean environment. The early American warship,
USS Constitution, better known as Old Iron Sides, needed at least 60 tons
of hemp every two years to replace sails and riggings. According to historical
records 90 percent of all ships used sails from the Fifth Century BC until
the rise of steamships in the late 19th Century.
I the western world the clothing of sailors, in addition to ship charts,
maps, logs and Bibles, were generally made of hemp fiber, front the time
of Columbus to the early 1900s. The Chinese had already been using hemp
for paper 1,500 years before Columbus. The reason may be that hemp lasted
50 to 100 times longer than other paper and was 100 times cheaper to make.
About 80 percent of all paper made prior to 1883-vas made with cannabis
hemp fiber. Among notable books and documents printed on hemp paper is
the Gutenberg Bible in the 15th Century, the works of Mark Twain, Victor
Hugo and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and the first draft
of the Declaration of independence (the final draft was, by law, penned
on animal parchment).
Russia was the world’s largest producer and manufacturer of hemp,
supplying 80 percent of the western world’s hemp from 1740 until
the start of World War 11. Because of the many uses of hemp, and laws
requiring farmers to plant hemp crops, the plant was widely grown in the
United States. In 1776 Thomas Paine wrote that in this country "Hemp
flourishes…. we do not want for cordage" in describing the
essential natural resources for building a new nation.
But the role of hemp would be cut short by government action in 1937 with
the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. Up until that year the vast majority
of all rope, twine and cordage was made from hemp. DuPont, under license
from Germany’s I.G. Farben Co. was producing petrochemical fibers
that eventually replaced hemp. Despite FBN director Anslinger’s
attacks on Cannabis and the passage of the Tax Act, during World War II
the United States produced the film Hemp for Victory, prompting farmers
to plant more hemp since traditional, European and Asian sources had been
cut off by the war.
Besides use as a source of fiber for paper and textiles, hemp may also
be a major alternative to smog producing fossil fuels as a biomass that
can be converted into methane and methanol fuel—fuels which can
be burned in auto engines without the hydrocarbon exhaust of petroleum
Although biomass fuel like hemp or cornstalk produced ethanol adds carbon
dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse
warming of the planet, Herrer argues that hemp will do so at a reduced
rate because it’s produced from living plants and not extinct ones
as in coal and oil. Living plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
as they grow.
An Interview With Ben Masel
The movement to revive hemp to replace petrochemicals as a fuel and trees
as a source of cellulose for paper production is well represented in Wisconsin,
the nation’s largest paper producing state where saw mills have
destroyed most of the state’s forests.
Ben Masel, a long time progressive activist, is the Wisconsin state director
of No the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and in
1990 he garnered six percent of the vote as a candidate for Governor of
Wisconsin in the Republican primary. Masel ran on a hemp platform, advocating
reintroduction of hemp as a raw material for paper fiber and fuel, especially
paper since Wisconsin is the leading paper producing state in the country.
Replacing trees with hemp in paper production would reduce the environmental
destruction caused by the paper industry says Masel, adding "when
you produce paper from trees you have to remove the natural glue that
makes the wood hard. That’s done with sulfuric acid." Masel
blames the pollution of Wisconsin rivers on the release of this caustic
industrial toxin by paper mills.
Masel says that with the extensive destruction on Wisconsin forests the
paper industry has been forced to look outward for more raw materials,
increasing the pressure on the Amazon rainforest. He says that 1, recently
the first ship-load of Brazilian eucalyptus pulp arrived at the port of
Green Bay, which has been the center of the nation" s paper industry.
Prior to this it had always been run on locally cut trees. Now they cannot
cut enough trees. to keep the mills of Green Bay going and-the industry
is using Brazilian rainforest eucalyptus. This is a very major change."
After losing the election for Wisconsin’s governor’s chair,
Masel attended a state conference on nonfood uses for agricultural crops.
He asked Republican Governor Tommy Thompson if he would cooperate in issuing
a permit to do research to determine whether hemp was the superior plant
to use for these nonfood purposes.
According to Masel, Thompson’s first reaction was to dismiss it
as "No Benny we’re not-going to give you a grant to grow pot,
Masel says he replied that "we’re not looking for a grant,
we have no problem securing adequate legitimate private funding for a
project with this much promise. It’s a matter of getting government
regulation off the back of a new and innovative industry."
Masel says that a surprising thing then occurred. "During the next
couple of hours all the scientists went to the Governor and said, ’you
know, he’s right we should do a research crop, including the head
of the Agriculture Department who had studied under the last guys to research
hemp. By the lunch break I was approached by the Secretary of Agriculture
and it seems we may very well have a permit to determine what the best
strains are and see what yields we can get this year. 11 Whether, the
cannabis plant, which is strictly illegal worldwide, can be legalized
as a crop is a le for hemp proponents. When the government banned the
plant in 1937 they originally said they were not out to interfere with
the legitimate hemp industry, only to stop the drug marijuana. Masel says
that "the big lie was that hemp was supposed to be a different plant
that just looked the same as what the government called marijuana."
Therefore, continues Masel, "the laws they passed at the time said
that you couldn’t grow hemp without a permit and to get the permit
you had to pay $ 100 and guarantee that you weren’t going to allow
any of the flowers and so on to be diverted. ‘Me law considers marijuana
to be any part of the plant other than the stalk, fiber or sterilized
This law, the candidate claims, is the loophole, which can allow the state
of Wisconsin to begin a test crop to determine hemp yields with modem
growing methods. He says that "since we’re not producing marijuana
in this research project, that’s a byproduct and we’ll destroy
it; that’s a correct agricultural practice because the leaves (which
contain the substances in marijuana that give its characteristic high)
are high in the nutrient nitrogen and we put them back into the earth
as natural fertilizer."
According to Masel he is still negotiating with the state to acquire a
permit to grow cannabis for its hemp content. A similar attempt in neighboring
Minnesota was approved by the state but is being held up by the governor’s
request that the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington grant a
permit allowing possession of cannabis seeds.
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