Well, it’s Hemp History Week. That means it’s the time of year to list some facts that bear repeating, without sounding like a freshman who just discovered weed isn’t everything they told us in health class. Here are the basics:
-The earliest known woven fabric was made from hemp, which began to be cultivated around 8,000-7,000 B.C.
-The first cannabis law in America was enacted in 1619, in Jamestown Colony, Virginia, and required farmers to grow hemp.
-Hemp was legal tender in most of the Americas from 1631 until the early 1800s, and you could pay taxes with hemp throughout America for over 200 years.
-Benjamin Franklin started one of America’s first paper mills using hemp, while George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis on their plantations. The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp.
-Until 1883, 75-90 percent of all paper in the world was made with hemp fiber.
-Until 1937, 70-90 percent of all rope, twine and cordage was made from hemp.
-The hemp plant can be used for soil remediation, biofuel, food, paper, building material and medicine, among other purposes
But this is perhaps the most shocking fact about hemp: it is illegal to grow in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 because of its troubled cousin, marijuana. Marijuana and hemp are both members of the cannabis genus, although hemp contains insignificant amounts of psychoactive cannabinoids (like THC), having been bred over millenia for its fiber and industrial qualities, rather than its dankness.
Even before the Nixon Administration began using this war on drugs as a cover for a war on minorities and hippies, a battle against the cannabis plant had been underway in America for decades. Despite the American Medical Association’s support for access to cannabis-based treatments at the time, The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 placed restrictions on cannabis, both hemp and herb.
Some, like the “Hemperor” Jack Herer claim that William Randolph Hearst, who owned newspaper chains and timber holdings, influenced the vote to favor wood-pulp paper by publishing articles that played off racial tensions and stoked fears of reefer madness. Hearst’s interests were tangled with DuPont’s, which sold chemicals to process wood pulp and had also developed nylon, a synthetic fiber. Andrew Mellon, U.S. Secretary of Treasury, financially backed DuPont and appointed Harry J. Anslinger to head the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
To others, this is a conspiracy theory, but it remains that the U.S. government could not justify the tax act with good data and substituted sensational yellow journalism in place of fact. Dr. William Creighton Woodward, representing the AMA, testified to oppose restrictions on medical cannabis. He believed the herb had applications as a sedative and psychotherapeutic aid, and questioned the claimed links to crime and addiction. “Cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products,” he noted, understanding the connotations behind the racially charged term, “marihuana.”
[Get in on our MauiTime Hemp Week Poll here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/hempweek]
Times have changed. Despite resistance from the Drug Enforcement Agency, weed is now legal in nine states. After the 2013 cannabis legalization in Colorado, the state began allowing the cultivation of hemp. In 2014, the feds loosened their grip even more, allowing states to begin their own hemp research programs. This April, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture started accepting licenses to grow hemp under their Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.
The Maui Hemp Institute for Research and Development has been at the forefront of Valley Isle hemp efforts and celebrates Hemp History Week, Maui style. “On Earth Day in Maui, the first [hemp] seed went in the ground,” Steve Rose, Chief Executive Hempster at the Maui Hemp Institute told me. “We have two test plantings on the island right now which are under state contract.”
The institute advocates for hemp and supports farmers through connections to resources, business leaders and experts. Maui’s weather makes it a natural attraction for growers, who could harvest up to three crops a year under the Maui sun. Additionally, Rose said, “We have such a talent here – let alone from our recreational growers, Maui Wowie and all that – of knowledgeable cannabis growers on this island. That’s the other resource that companies see.”
“It’s a matter of getting our local talent involved,” he added. Rose emphasized that he tells companies interested in doing business on Maui that they aren’t trying to reinstitute the plantation system. He talked about how his partner at the Hemp Institute, Lei‘ohu Ryder, has advised cultural affairs to help ensure that what they are doing is pono. “We want to do it right the first time. We have a lot of farmers floating around. Those are people that just want to live off the land and grow their own food; many are educated and don’t really want to be a part of the mainstream. They’re ready to grow hemp,” he said. “One of the test plots is run by one of our local Hawaiian farmers – one of the best farmers on the island. We are helping Hawaiians back into agriculture.”
Rose and the Hemp Institute will spend the week sharing the potential of cannabis at Hemp History events around the island. The possibilities are endless: regenerative agriculture, remediation of soils damaged by industrial agriculture, local entrepreneurship, affordable housing solutions using renewable hempcrete, food for livestock, purification of recycled water, biofuels and more. The Hemp Institute and Maui farmers are eager to test the possibilities. At the moment, however, they are restricted by Hawai‘i’s hemp grower licensing process, which requires a $500 fee and only allows for one approved strain of cannabis. This makes it a risky investment for many local farms, as the genetics may be ill-suited for the environment. Some mainland states, on the other hand, are actively investing in the hemp industry.
“Everyone’s for it,” said Rose, who claimed to have spoken with all the mayoral candidates and councilmembers (excluding Mike White, who will not be up for reelection) about the potential of hemp on the island. The market demand is there too, he added, citing Maui Brewing Co.’s Hemp E.S.B., which lacks a local hemp supplier.
“It just seems like nobody’s doing anything. That’s what I encourage people to do: ask the candidates what they plan on doing for hemp.”
“The message is, ‘Get involved,’” Rose concluded. “We can possibly solve our biggest issues on the island with hemp. We can prove it here and then we would be a model for the world. That’s the message I want to get out there. All we have to do is want to, and get involved.”
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons
Body photo: Sean M. Hower
Illustration: Andrew Miller