Marijuana: "The Billion Dollar Crop"
I've been reading and writing a lot about marijuana recently. The first time I wrote about it was in Marijuana Could Change the World. I knew so little about the plant when I started and I am learning so much. The cannabis plant indeed has many properties and uses which can contribute to the overall well-being of this Earth. The more we learn, the more we can contribute to meaningful change.
Marijuana: "The Billion Dollar Crop"
Most of us are familiar with marijuana as an illegal drug. Perhaps the image of long-haired hippies or dreadlocked Rastafarians come to mind. Or simply a naughty weekend treat of tea and cookies. There is more to the plant known as weed, cannabis, marijuana, hash, hemp, dagga or grass and its derivatives have many uses in the industries of medicine, textiles, fuels and construction. Some authors, such as the late Jack Herer have even gone as far as saying that marijuana could change the world. We’ll take a look beyond stereotypical beliefs at the many uses marijuana has to offer relating to economic value.
The two most popular types of cannabis are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Cannabis sativa is a taller plant with a higher strain of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive ingredient of the plant. Industrial cannabis, which is commonly referred to as hemp has a low amount of THC which is legally limited to 1% in some countries, whereas cannabis variants used as drugs can contain up to 30% of THC.
Hemp has been used since the Stone Age. Hemp fibre has been found in over 10,000 year-old pottery chards in Taiwan and the plant was widely cultivated in Europe from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. European knights during the Middle Ages drank hemp beer. The U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both printed on hemp paper in the years 1776 and 1788 respectively.
In the 1930s, the company DuPont patented petroleum based products such as plastics, nylon and cellophane and the economic power in the West was concentrated in the hands of the major oil companies due to the industrial revolution and the world’s growing dependence on oil. The heads of these oil companies realised the potential of hemp and saw the plant as a threat to the expanding coal and oil industries. These companies and their government allies then fuelled a propaganda campaign against marijuana. In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in the United States, killing the hemp industry in the U.S. Similar legislation followed in other countries, destroying the industry globally. Most people at the time did not realise that the evil drug “marijuana” referred to by prohibitive politicians was in fact hemp. Ironically, in 1938, a few months after the legislation was passed Popular Mechanics Magazine named hemp as the “billion dollar crop” and listed over 25,000 uses for the crop.
Cannabis is commonly known as a recreational drug. It is consumed or smoked for its psychoactive effects such as heightened senses, a mild euphoria and muscle relaxation. Unfortunately, the drug also has some undesired side-effects like reddening of the eyes, short-term memory loss, increased heart rate, and impaired motor and cognitive skills.
The drug comes in various forms including dried flowers and leaves, kief (powder), hashish (resin cake), tincture or “green-dragon” (liquid concentrate), hash oil and infusions (marijuana dissolved in fats such as butter, oil or milk).
The “munchies” is the slang term often used by recreational marijuana smokers to describe the side-effect of an increased appetite. For this reason the drug is used to treat patients with anorexia and other eating disorders in order to stimulate their appetites.
Medical marijuana is prescribed to patients suffering from chronic pain, cancer and multiple sclerosis. It also aids cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as a treatment for the nausea and vomiting caused by the therapy. Research is being conducted on the use of cannabis in treatments for diabetes, Tourette ’s syndrome, epilepsy, dementia, anxiety, and depression.
Hemp seeds are edible and can be cultivated as a food crop. The seeds are rich in protein and the oil which can be extracted from them is a good source of lanolin and linolenic acids (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) which are essential supplements to human nutrition. The protein in hemp seeds is richer than that of soybeans and is more economical to grow. Almost all soybean products such as tofu and vegetarian meat substitutes can be made from hemp seeds. Hemp seeds can also be ground into flour which can be used to make pastas, breads and pastries.
Paper products which exist today from the cutting of trees can be created from hemp. Hemp paper production is more sustainable and efficient than production from trees, producing two to three times the yield of trees and requiring fewer chemicals in the process. The paper produced from hemp is also more superior in quality. Hemp harvests are ready in 120 days after planting, whereas it takes years for trees to grow.
Hemp fibre is cultivated for fabric and is two to three times more efficient than the harvesting of cotton. This means that one hectare of hemp harvest will produce two to three times more fibre than a hectare of cotton harvest. Hemp is softer and stronger than cotton and lasts twice as long. The end product is also unaffected by water and will therefore not mildew. Growing hemp fibre and producing its fabric requires less water and chemicals than cotton processes. Hemp fibre is commonly used in the manufacturing of ropes, carpets, sacks and webbing. The hemp clothing industry was re-established in the West in 1988 and continues to gain popularity globally.
Hemp-seed oil can produce biodiesel and ethanol, alternatives to fossil-fuel based petroleum.
70% of the cannabis plant is comprised of a woody inner core. This can produce fibre board, which is lighter but stronger than timber. Fibre board can be produced quickly and is far more efficient and sustainable. Harvesting hemp for fibre board and paper has the potential to eliminate the need for chopping down forests, causing soil erosion, deforestation and global warming.
Hemp can be used to create thermal insulation in buildings, typically in the form of stacked insulation blocks. Moreover, the silicone dioxide compound which can be extracted from the plant’s soil can be combined with lime to form a substance similar to cement and is both fire and water proof.
Plastics and other products:
Hemp can produce a bio-degradable plastic alternative for use in any PVC-dependent manufacturing industries. Hemp-seed oil can also be used to make detergent, paint and varnish.
The use of medical marijuana is now legal in Canada, the Czech Republic and over two dozen states of the USA. Other countries such as the Netherlands, Australia and India have amended their marijuana laws to provide leeway for consumption. In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalise the possession, sale, transport and cultivation of cannabis and pave the way for a new international trend.
Chinese firms have made considerable investments in the research and manufacturing of cannabis products. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) businesses in China have filed for over 50% of the patents related to cannabis worldwide. Most of the patents relate to herbal treatments. China is the world’s largest producer of industrial hemp although smoking cannabis as a drug remains illegal in the country. The patents relate mostly to Chinese traditional medicine and pharmaceutical uses for the plant.
Taking the many uses of cannabis into consideration, the plant’s potential contribution to the economy is evident. Jobs will be created, businesses will emerge from new industries and the government will earn taxes which can be used to fuel further growth by investing in education, health and infrastructure.
Opponents of legalisation often argue that marijuana is a gateway drug. Proponents respond by saying that the person is the gateway; that drug use is dependent on the personality and circumstances and that it is easy to obtain other drugs from the dealer which is why marijuana should instead be legalised and regulated.
Marijuana is the most popular illegal drug, only less popular than legal “drugs” like caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. The International Narcotics Control Board claims that smoking cannabis is more carcinogenic than smoking tobacco, however the studies on this are limited and a direct link between cancer and marijuana consumption is yet to be found.
Cannabis is undoubtedly a valuable resource. Before deciding what you believe and whether or not to invest in it, it is advisable to find more relevant information about the various uses of the plant. A good starting point may be to watch the documentary Emperor of Hemp and read the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. An increasing amount of information is available about cannabis online.
The Role of Cannabis in the Future
The legalisation of marijuana may be somewhat speculative at this stage but it will play a huge role in our economy in the future. The general consensus about cannabis is changing and it is something to look out for. Almost eighty years after Popular Mechanics proclaimed it, the time has come for cannabis to prove itself as the “billion dollar crop”.