Hemp Comes Home


Hemp — maligned for years and now championed by many — is finally coming home. Grown by America's colonial farmers (including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson), Cannabis sativa — literally, "useful hemp" — was a thriving U.S. crop until a 1937 tax legislation linked industrial hemp with its botanical cousin, marijuana, effectively putting a stop to its cultivation in America.

"By prohibiting the legal growth of cannabis, the government somehow thought they were stopping people from using drugs," says Mark Hornaday, hemp spokesperson in Claremont, Calif. But, he explains, hemp is bred to contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana's psychoactive ingredient. In other words, Hornaday says, "Hemp is not a code word [for marijuana]; it's a crop."

Hemp is drought-resistant, disdains pesticides, enriches soil and grows like, well, a weed — and a very profitable one at that. Imported hemp products, including clothing, cosmetics, food products and supplements, are quickly gaining widespread commercial acclaim. Hemp oil has particular potential, notes Udo Erasmus, author of Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill (Alive Books). "Hemp seed oil appears to be one of nature's most perfectly balanced EFA [essential fatty acid] oils," he writes. "It contains both EFAs in the right proportions for long-term use, and also contains GLA [gamma-linoleic acid]. It is the only vegetable oil with this combination." In fact, hemp's fatty-acid profile makes it an ideal EFA supplement, as well as an effective ingredient in body care products for promoting healthy skin and hair.

In April 1999, North Dakota became the first state to pass a measure allowing the reintroduction of industrial hemp; Minnesota and Hawaii soon followed suit. Several states are considering similar legislation.

— Elisa Bosley

Illustration by Beth O'Grady