Wolf Files: High on Hemp

America’s Most Controversial Crop May One Day Fill Supermarkets and Fuel Automobiles

By Buck Wolf

Even if you "Just Say No" to drugs, you've probably crossed state lines many times with large amounts of hemp. And if you haven't, no doubt one day you will.

Hemp, a member of the cannabis family of plants, is related to marijuana and illegal to grow in the United States. Nevertheless, hemp is everywhere — in clothing, cosmetics and even in the door panels of more than a million Ford, Chrysler and General Motors cars.

Advocates call hemp a miracle crop. It can be blended to make an array of textiles, from carpeting to finely woven Armani suits. It can be heat-treated to form fiberglass-like building materials and car parts. It can be eaten, or it can be put in a car engine as a replacement for petroleum.

You can shop for hemp salad dressing, hemp skin cream and hemp toilet paper. Then you can carry the goodies home in a hemp grocery bag, and laugh about it over a hemp beer.

Apparently, industrial hemp is good for practically everything but getting high. This form of cannabis has only the slightest amount of THC — the illegal mind-bending substance in marijuana.

Nevertheless, hemp is still having trouble shaking its shady image. That's why hemp farming is banned in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act, even though it's legal in Western Europe, Canada and Asia.

America was once a hemp-producing country. It was farmed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The paper upon which the Declaration of Independence was drafted and the rags Betsy Ross used to sew the first flag were made of hemp.

But hemp's heyday came to an end after World War II, when the government began crackdowns on marijuana. Hemp can still be legally imported, and Americans purchase about $25 million of this product annually for use in clothing, food and industrial goods.

Now, with Earth Day, comes the renewed call to lift the ban on this versatile, eco-friendly crop, which we may one day put in our both our mouths and our gas tanks. Hemp advocates say that's more than a pipe dream, so let's see what they're so high about.