Hemp as a Sustainable Resource: Why is it Illegal to Grow in the United States
The global population continues to grow at an exceedingly rapid rate. Therefore, use for versatile and sustainable resources is becoming imperative in order to retain the capacity to support humanity. More important is the ability to adapt to a system that can do it all while minimizing any negative effects on the environment. In ecology, sustainability can be described as the ability for a system to maintain balance of processes, functions, biodiversity and productivity for future generations. For humans to live sustainably, we must adjust our way of life so that Earth’s resources are used at a rate at in which they can be replenished for continued and future use. A plant with over 50,000 functions and can lead us to a more sustainable system should be utilized then, right? Hemp can be this answer. Moreover, hemp could be the “ultimate green crop”--a low-input and low-impact yield that can play a significant role in our desperate struggle as we attempt to combat catastrophic environmental change.
Today in the United States, there is still much controversy over legislation that prohibits legalizing agriculture production of hemp for industrial use because of hemp’s association with marijuana. For politicians, the dispute seems to be that many believe the relationship between industrial hemp and marijuana is too closely related. In the United States, hemp production became illegal and prohibited in 1937 after the Marijuana Tax Act defined hemp as a narcotic drug (Nelson). Although the Act specifically targeted marijuana, industrial hemp cultivation declined exponentially due to increased federal regulation, economic pressure from extremely high taxes and licensing, and pressures from society.
However, historically it was not always this way. Going back to the days of our founding fathers, many of our earliest presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson all grew, used, and promoted hemp cultivation (Adams). In 1619, the first American hemp laws were passed. Contrary to common belief, they were known as “must grow” laws (Nelson). The laws, enacted by King James I, ordered Virginian farmers to grow hemp to export it back to the motherland. Mandatory cultivation of hemp continued throughout Colonial America, in several colonies including Connecticut, and Massachusetts. These laws stated that if you were a farmer and did not grow hemp, you could be fined, taken to prison, or deported out of the country as a non-patriot. During this time, being one of the most widely used resources, hemp, became an important part of the economy. From 1631 until the early 1800s, as hemp was so valued, several colonies used hemp as a form of currency. Hemp was even suitable enough to pay taxes (Adams). Colonists produced fibers, ropes, cloth, canvas, sacks and paper from hemp during this period.
In the winter of 1941, only four years after hemp’s prohibition, the United States entered World War II. Because of the lack of synthetic fiber industries at this time, armed forces experienced an extreme shortage of fiber needed for the war efforts. Thus, in 1942, hemp production enjoyed a brief reappearance after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) promoted the government’s “Hemp for Victory” campaign (Adams). The campaign not only encouraged farmers to grow hemp, but promoted the most effective and efficient cultivation methods. The campaign declared, “Hemp for mooring ships! Hemp for tackle and gear! Thread for shoes for millions of American soldiers! And parachute webbing for our paratroopers! Hemp for Victory!” (Nelson). After the war ended, hemp was no longer needed while synthetic fiber industries became more abundant and began to transcend in the marketplace. The hemp industry began to fade away as the government discreetly shut down all hemp farms and plants.
Despite its lucrative origins, in 1970, the government...
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