Feature Article


Hemp - What It Is and What It Isn't

By Letizia Gasparetti

HempMorris Johnson from Beaubier, Sk., Canada out tending his 2005 hemp crop. Hemp, the cornucopia crop, is a source of food (oil and meal), fuel (ethanol and biodiesel), medicine (450 herbal bioactives and solid-state-fermentation bio-products) and industrial products (paper, clothes, structural composite fibres). Hemp rope, twine, food and bedding for horses are available too.  Photo courtesy of Morris Johnson

Let's get one thing out of the way: Hemp is NOT marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are both common names for the plant Cannabis Sativa L. Cannabis = hemp, sativa = useful. The plant produces fiber, seed, and medicine. Hemp generally refers to 'industrial hemp', the roots, stalk, and stems of the cannabis plant; marijuana (a Mexican slang term) is used to refer to the resinous flowers, buds, and leaves, which are considered medicinal and are illegal to possess in the US. The strains of hemp used in industrial and consumer products contain less than 0.03% per gram of THC (Delta-9 Tetra-Hydro-Cannabinol, the psychoactive substance that is responsible for the "high" in marijuana, which typically measures 5%-17%. The seeds provide food, suitable for both human and animal, and oil for various uses. Seeds are legal to eat and possess, if they are not whole or if they are 'sterile' - unable to produce a plant.


History of Hemp

Hemp is the first plant known to be cultivated about 8,000 years ago. Here are a few interesting highlights from its history:

8000 BC: In China, the earliest known fabric is woven from hemp fiber for cloth.

1000 BC: Hemp is cultivated in India.

100 BC: Chinese make paper (oldest surviving piece) from hemp and mulberry.

70: Hemp is cultivated for the first time in England. By 400, hemp is a well-established crop.

500-1000: Hemp cultivation spreads throughout Europe for paper, sails, rope, shoes, fishnets.

1215: Magna Carta is printed on hemp paper.

13-1400s: Renaissance artists commit their masterpieces to hemp canvas (the word 'canvas' comes from 'cannabis').

1456: Guttenberg Bible is printed on hemp paper.

1492: Hemp sails and ropes make Columbus's trip to America possible (other fibers would have decayed somewhere in mid-Atlantic).

1611: British start cultivating hemp in Virginia.

1619: It becomes illegal in Jamestown, Virginia NOT to grow hemp because it is such a vital resource. Massachusetts and Connecticut pass similar laws in 1631 and 1632.

16-1700s: Hemp is legal tender in most of the Americas. It is even used to pay taxes, to encourage farmers to grow more, to ensure America's independence.

1776: Declaration of Independence is drafted on hemp paper. Four years later, the U.S. Constitution is also printed on hemp paper.

1776: Betsy Ross sews first American flag out of hemp.

1791: President Washington sets duties on hemp to encourage domestic industry. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are growing hemp on their plantations.

1812: Sailors outfit and propel the U.S. frigate, Constitution "Old Ironsides", with more than 60 tons of hempen rope and sail.

1850: The United States Census counts 8,327 hemp plantations growing it for cloth, canvas, and other necessities.

Late 1800s: The American west is tamed with hemp lassos and hemp canvas covered wagons. Hemp oil is used extensively in lighting oil, paints, and varnishes.


So what happened? Why did hemp fall from grace? How did it become illegal?
Late 1800s and early 1900s: Increasing labor costs encourage a gradual shift away from hemp to cotton, jute, and tropical fibers which are less labor intensive. Hemp is used only for cordage and specialty products like birdseed and varnish.

1931: Andrew Mellon, The Treasury Secretary, and head of Bank of Pittsburgh, which loaned Dupont 80% of its money, appoints his nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to head newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics (later becoming the DEA).

1930s: Following action by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and a campaign by William Randolph Hearst, propaganda is created against hemp from companies with vested interest in the new petroleum-based synthetic textiles. Even though hemp reinvents itself, thanks to new technology that eases processing and expands its use, the timber (Hearst) and oil interests (Dupont, Anslinger, Mellon) crush competition from plant-based cellulose by demonizing cannabis - hemp and marijuana - with such movies as "Marijuana: Assassin of Youth", "Devil's Weed", and "Reefer Madness". Throughout this assault hemp's link to marijuana is exaggerated.

1937: The Marijuana Tax Act is passed, a prohibitive tax on hemp in the USA, effectively destroying the industry. Anslinger testifies to Congress that 'Marijuana' is the most violence-causing drug known to man. The objections by the American Medical Association and the National Oil Seed Institute are rejected.

1941: Popular Mechanics Magazine reveals details of Henry Ford's plastic car made using hemp and fueled from hemp. Henry Ford continues to illegally grow hemp for some years after the federal ban, hoping to become independent of the petroleum industry.

1941-1945: During World War II, Japan cuts off our supplies of vital hemp and coarse fibers. The hemp is needed for making, among other things, rope, webbing, and canvas, to be used on navy ships. So a program is started to grow hemp for military use under the banner of "Hemp for Victory". The US Department of Agriculture releases an educational film called "Hemp for Victory", which shows farmers how to grow and harvest industrial hemp. Hemp harvesting machinery is made available at low or no cost. From 1942 to 1945, farmers who agree to grow hemp are waived from serving in the military, along with their sons. That's how vitally important hemp was to America during World War II. The fields of hemp were termed victory gardens.

1945: The war ends and so does "hemp for victory". Licenses to grow hemp are revoked.

1970: The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 recognizes industrial hemp as marijuana, despite the fact that a specific exemption for hemp was included in the CSA under the definition of marijuana.

1971: In Canada, cannabis - industrial hemp - becomes caught up in the politics of the Opiate laws and becomes classed as a restricted plant under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Early 1990s: Global hemp production sinks to its lowest level.

So now what?

Since 1992 hemp has been undergoing a revival. France, the Netherlands, England, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany have passed legislation allowing for the commercial cultivation of low-THC hemp. In fact, the EU has recently been promoting hemp cultivation by providing subsidies of approximately $1400 per hectare to grow hemp.

Hemp farming in Canada has been growing too. In 2004, 8,000 acres of hemp were planted; in 2005, 24,000 acres. This year (2006) 40,000 acres of hemp have been planted. Hemp is clearly something the Canadian government is NOT clamping down on.

Here in the United States, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farming organization in the United States with 4.6 million members, passed a resolution unanimously in 1996 to research hemp and grow test plots. In 2002, South Dakota became the first state to get the issue of industrial hemp farming on the state ballot. Currently Hawaii, West Virginia, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota legislatures have passed laws similar to the one in South Dakota but the federal government refuses to allow them to grow hemp. Most hemp materials are imported from China, Hungary, and now Canada.

Importing Hemp to the US

We decided to interview a Canadian farmer to find out what kind of hoops a farmer has to jump through to become a licensed hemp grower. Lana Tatarliov is an organic farmer and Arabian horse breeder from Saskatchewan, and marketing rep for a new horse supplement called Hemp for Horses made by Lifespan Pharma. "I've actually been called a drug dealer", says Lana, "but I don't know how many drug dealers would last if they had to go through all this." The following is an abbreviated list of the steps a prospective grower must go through to be certified as a hemp grower in Canada.

To apply for a license to grow hemp, you must submit a letter and supporting documentation to verify the absence of, or documentation of, the nature of any criminal record from your local Royal Canadian Mounted Police. You must submit a map and the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) coordinates of the land to be seeded. Health Canada will assess the application, issue a Certificate valid for the calendar year, and specify the activities you are allowed to undertake. The seed supplier who supplies only pedigree seed of an approved variety will verify that you have a valid license before selling you seed.

During the growing season, you will be contacted by an inspector who is trained and approved by Health Canada to inspect and sample hemp crops. The inspector takes representative samples of each field grown and sends them to a laboratory which has been approved by Health Canada to possess and test hemp for THC. The inspector also acts as an agent for Health Canada and law enforcement authorities, and scouts each field to ensure no hemp field is being used as a hiding place for the growing of marijuana.

Once all inspection fees and sampling fees are paid by the grower, a copy of the test results, which must show less than 0.03% THC for a field to be harvestable, are provided to both Health Canada and the grower. The grower keeps the license and THC test results on file in a secure location that is registered with Health Canada until such time as the crop is harvested and sold. The license number is provided to processors to track the identity of the crop they process and sell. This process is called Identity Preservation.

And that is just for Canada. Next is getting it over the border. To make it through US Customs, a broker completes all the required forms. Paperwork must be in perfect order. At the border, US Customs takes test samples from the containers to verify that the THC levels are under the legal limits. If otherwise, you may be subject to questioning and/or arrested. Lana says, "At the border they siezed all our containers until they received the results of the tests. Only then could we take the hemp to our warehouse in Montana."

Why go to all this trouble?

Because the hemp plant still has as much value and versatility as ever. It is very environmentally friendly. It has been used therapeutically throughout the ages for treatment of inflammation, digestive disorders, and rheumatism, just to name a few.

And where do horses fit into all this? "When I was approached by Lifespan Pharma Inc. to promote their [human] hemp product, I thought, 'Why not use it for horses?' Hemp has so many beneficial properties for humans that I was convinced it would do the same for horses," Lana says. She was right.

Hemp has more benefits than flax because hempseed contains higher-potency omega derivatives than flax, and like flax, it is completely natural. Grown readily with no need for pesticides or herbicides, hemp benefits the soil as well.

In our next issue, we will cover the benefits of hemp in detail. Stay tuned.hoofprint


About the author:
Letizia Gasparetti is a freelance writer and owner of a Parelli Level 2 Missouri Foxtrotter, who loves Hemp for Horses.

For more information:
Letizia Gasparetti
West Coast Distributor of Hemp for Horses


Lana Tatarliov
Box 155, Minton, SK, Canada, S0C 1T0
(306) 969-2275; Cell: (306) 869-7300