In last month’s column, I wrote about the good news and bad news regarding recycled polar fleece. I also mentioned that cotton acreage covers 2.5 percent of our planet’s cultivated land, yet uses more insecticides than any other single major crop.
Which leads us to hemp, the most durable textile known to humans: in fact, bits of hemp fabric from 8000 BCE were found in China. Hemp has many other positive attributes. It is strong, warm, soft, biodegradable, mildew and microbe resistant. It is less prone to fading than other fabrics, blocks out ultraviolet rays more effectively than cotton and can be grown without fungicides, herbicides or pesticides. It can be blended with other materials like cotton, linen and silk, rendering a sturdier fabric than if those materials were used alone. It grows quickly in a wide variety of climates, germinating in 80 to 120 days; and hemp’s deep root systems help prevent soil erosion and replenish topsoil, according to an excellent website on all things fabric, or ganicclothing.blogs.com
So why don’t we in America grow hemp for our clothes, fuel, personal care products, paper or as a plastic substitute?
We don’t grow industrial hemp because of the 1937 United States Marijuana Tax Act. You see, the botanical name for hemp is cannabis sativa, and the name for marijuana is cannabis sativa indica. Both industrial hemp and marijuana contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that provides the high for someone who smokes cannabis sativa indica. However, marijuana contains between three and 20 percent THC, while industrial hemp contains less than 0.3 percent, so insignificant an amount that it does not produce psychoactive effects if ingested. As the above-mentioned blog so wittily puts it: “Someone smoking socks made from hemp might become nauseous, but they would never become high.”
While it’s legal to buy hemp products here in the good ole U.S. of A., it is illegal to commercially grow industrial hemp. We are the only industrialized country in the world that outlaws its cultivation, but it was a staple crop prior to 1937. An ironic fact is that Thomas Jefferson grew hemp at Monticello where the fiber was used to make clothing. He wrote in his logs: “Tolerable ground yields 500 lb to the acre. You may generally count on 100 lb for every foot the hemp is over 4. f. high.”
I find the following fact even more ironic. Guess which country is the world’s leading producer of hemp fabric? China.
Even if America refuses to reap the financial benefits of growing industrial hemp, your purchase of organic hemp clothing made from fabric grown overseas will benefit the global environment. Hemp garments are more expensive than the cheap, disposable clothing we’re used to buying but, like organic food, I think it’s worth the expense, especially if you ask yourself this question: How many pair of black pants (or socks, or T-shirts) do I really need?