CAN INDUSTRIAL HEMP SAVE
(WRITTEN WITH CHRISTINA FARBER)
Industrial hemp is marijuana’s sober cousin. The oil and seeds of the cannabis plant can be used as nonintoxicating food for animals and people, and the fiber can make rope, paper, and cloth. Or the whole plant can be burned for fuel. Cannabis grown for such purposes is called industrial hemp.
Hemp has been cultivated for thousands of years and on almost every continent. Both the cordage and the sails of sailing ships consisted largely of hemp; the word “canvas” is derived from “cannabis.” Cloth made of hemp was inexpensive and was associated with commoners rather than gentry: in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck refers to Nick Bottom the weaver and his fellow rustics as “hempen homespuns.” A “hempen necktie” is a hangman’s noose.
In colonial times and up through the late nineteenth century, the United States produced significant quantities of industrial hemp: it has been claimed that the paper on which the Declaration of Independence was written was made in part from hemp fiber. The industry subsequently declined but enjoyed a brief government-promoted resurgence during World War II, under the slogan “Hemp for Victory”; the United States had lost access to “Manila hemp” (derived from the abaca plant