Can hemp escape the role of marijuana's sober stepsister?

See also: Top ten hemp legends: Which myths are true -- and which went up in smoke?

Can hemp escape the role of marijuana's sober stepsister?
Tim Gabor

George Washington loved hemp.

Our nation's first president thought so much of the plant that he once famously wrote to his gardener, "Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere."

But Washington's interests didn't lie in smoking hemp, marijuana's less famous cousin. A variety of Cannabis sativa that contains little to none of the psychoactive ingredient THC, hemp is good for almost anything except getting you high: you can eat it, wear it, wash yourself with it and build your house out of it. It's strong, nutritious and naturally pest-resistant.

In the United States, hemp is also illegal.

More than two centuries after Washington's domestic decree, the hemp seed is being sown nowhere. Depending on whom you ask, it was either collateral damage in the war against drugs, the target of a vast capitalist conspiracy to suppress the super-crop, or the loser in a competition with new technologies and cheaper imports. Whatever the cause, the effect was that the versatile hemp plant disappeared from America's agricultural map in the late 1950s. In the decades that followed, the federal government made sure it didn't grow back by classifying the squeaky-clean look-alike as sinful marijuana and forbidding farmers to grow it.

But when voters legalized retail sales of recreational marijuana last November, a single sentence in the otherwise pot-centric Amendment 64 also made it lawful to grow hemp. That doesn't mean that a hemp industry will sprout overnight, however. While recreational marijuana can lean on the infrastructure currently in place for medical pot, hemp has virtually no road map.

What it does have is a merry band of hempsters, a small but dedicated group of supporters that includes a retired Yellow Pages saleswoman, a self-described mad scientist, the victorious defendant in one of Colorado's landmark medical marijuana cases and a handful of stone-cold sober lawmakers who represent the type of places where people have dirt under their fingernails and make their living off the land. Together, this group is determined to create a hemp industry and position the state at the leading edge of an agricultural boom.

Jason Lauve, the medical cannabis defendant and the most poetic of the bunch, has a vivid dream of the world he'd like to live in. Paraphrasing a national hemp advocate, he says, "I wake up in bed in the morning on my hemp sheets, on my hemp mattress, on my hemp bed frame, and I put my hemp slippers on, and I walk across my hemp carpet." He brushes his teeth with hemp toothpaste, puts on his hemp clothes and gets into his hemp car, which burns hemp fuel. His dream world contains fewer chemicals, fewer synthetic materials, fewer landfills than the real one.

"The air is going to be cleaner," he says. "We're going to be healthier people."

See also:
- Hemp for Victory: Watch 1942 USDA film encouraging farmers to grow crop during WWII
- Top ten hemp legends: Which myths are true -- and which went up in smoke?


The hemp plant is steeped in lore, and many advocates fancy themselves cannabis historians. Hemp most likely originated in southeast Asia more than 10,000 years ago. In the early seventeenth century, King James of England ordered colonists in the New World to plant the crop, which grows tall and skinny like bamboo and has the same notorious leaves as pot. Hemp was prized as a source of fiber with which to make durable ropes and ship sails, clothing and other textiles. Hemp seeds were used as health food, and hemp oil was excellent for burning in lamps and making into paint. Legend has it that the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper, and that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag from hemp fabric.

By the 1930s, however, hemp production had dwindled. Even Kentucky, which had emerged as the country's most prolific hemp producer, had largely abandoned the crop due to the rise of cheap imports and man-made fibers. Colorado hemp advocates believe that the nation's biggest capitalists were afraid that hemp would soon make a comeback, though, so they worked together with anti-marijuana crusaders to effectively wipe out both plants.

In 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which required growers and sellers of cannabis to pay a tax and obtain a permit from the government. But very few permits were granted — and the cost of dealing in cannabis without one was severe.

"It all started in the early 1900s with five robber barons," says Erik Hunter, the self-described mad scientist, who has been familiar with hemp since he was a child, growing up in farm country where it grew wild. The robber barons, he says, included newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and the leaders of the DuPont company, who feared that a hemp resurgence would compete with wood-pulp paper and the newly invented nylon.

This theory, made popular by activist Jack Herer in his 1985 book The Emperor Wears No Clothes, posits that the capitalists teamed up with Harry Anslinger, head of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to pass the Marihuana Tax Act. "It was crony capitalism and greed which outlawed the plant," says Hunter, a 43-year-old former real-estate broker and father of four who's earning a Ph.D. in mining engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.

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The original US flag :hemp fabric.The Constitution :printed on hemp paper, textiles needed to help win WW2;also hemp.


Washington specified "INDIAN hemp"-- do you know what that is?  Look up W.B. O'Shaughnessy and learn.  Low-THC, my eye!

patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

I'd love to publish some of these comments in our print Letters to the Editor section -- ideally with the author's full name. if that's okay, e-mail me at


Yet another reason I am proud of my write-in vote for Ron Paul, with Gary Johnson as his VP.  Sure better than the two drug warriors for whom the 50% of the country who even bothered voted.


I once wrote a paper in college about hemp and I gave a speech about it too. This was back in the early 1990's and i got bad grades for content even when the assignment was to write about anything. I put a lot of work into the paper but now after 20 years I feel vindicated but I never graduated from college because they really were not looking for people who thought or wanted to think outside of the box.  I would love to get into the hemp industry . I live in an agricultural community in Texas and I think its ridiculous that we dont grow hemp. Especially when people are on government assistance and out of work.  What a waist in so many ways. 


Colorado has a chance to be a national leader in the new movement.  Hemp could do great things for our state.

Dave Adams
Dave Adams

Probably not most American's are ignorant fools when it comes to hemp.


Dannnng Westword got me doing the quadruple posts...ooops


If anyone is interested in moving this historic hemp legislation through in Colorado, please donate to Hemp Cleans at We will be hosting Colorado's first HEMP LOBBY DAY at the Capitol on MARCH 20th. We will have amazing hemp businesses like Evo Hemp, Envirotextiles, Dixie Elixers, THC Magazine, HIA/Vote Hemp, Hemp Hoodlamb, JR carpentry and Johnny Hempseed, of course DR. BRONNERS and many, many more supporting the bill and educating the public on how hemp is wonderful and growing industry that needs to be allowed to fully flourish and operate in a free market. At the end of the day this is about our economic FREEDOM.

In the meantime, you can also check out HIA's website where they have a petition to lobby our Congressman and Senators on a national level to pass HB 255 the Industrial Hemp Farming Act.


...Industrial hemp right now is a political football with the Democrats of Kentucky holding back on endorsing the plant for agriculture. Seems the Dems aren't getting their slice of the pie.

Kudos to Senators Rand paul and Mitch McConnell for their foresight in ending the over 80 years of lies regarding hemp and shame on the Democrats of Kentucky who could care less about the farmers in their State. They will be remembered come election time...


Cannabis and hemp are the exact same plant botanically speaking.  The only difference is one variety has been bred to produce high levels of THC and other cannabinoids and one was bred to produce copious amounts of fiber.  Marijuana is a slang word that needs to be dropped from the lexicon along with "pot" and "stoner"

kevin_hunt topcommenter

@rsteeb Many historical references allude to the medicinal properties of 'Indian Hemp'.