Position Statement on Hemp

Position Statement on Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.)


November 2002


Drug Watch International believes there is no environmentally or economically sound justification for the legalization and reintroduction of cannabis hemp cultivation.


The campaign to reintroduce cannabis (marijuana) as a viable agriculture commodity is one of a number of strategies being promoted by the international pro-drug lobby to legalize cannabis and other illicit substances. Cannabis Hemp can be abused as a drug, and hemp farming would greatly complicate drug law enforcement activities.




The term “hemp” refers to a variety of plants including sisal, jute, kenaf, Manila hemp, and true hemp, whose stems can be used for producing hard (bast) fibers.  “True” hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) has been used for fiber production for several thousand years and was grown in the United States during Revolutionary times primarily for the manufacture of rope and canvas.1


By 1930, unable to compete economically with other varieties of hemp imported from the Philippines and Mexico, cannabis hemp production in the United States had fallen to less than 200 acres. During World War II, the Philippines came under control of the Japanese, and farmers in the United States were encouraged to cultivate both cannabis hemp and flax for the war effort. The discovery and mass production of nylon and other synthetic fibers during the war years rendered hemp products all but obsolete. The abrupt decline of a market for both hemp and flax left many farmers bankrupt, and cultivation of both crops in the United States rapidly declined.1.   By then the use of cannabis hemp for its psychoactive properties had become problematic. All production of cannabis hemp for other than industrial use or research in the United States became restricted in 1937 and became illegal for all purposes in 1970.2.


In its pursuit of drug legalization, the pro-drug lobby has made a wide array of false, misleading, and unsubstantiated claims, including allegations that cannabis hemp production can save the rain forests and protect the environment by replacing tens of thousands of wood, plastic, oil, food, and textile products.3. 


Cannabis hemp plants containing less than 0.3 percent THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) became legal to grow in Canada in March 1998.4.   In the United States, hemp lobbies have put  pressure on state legislatures or used the citizen initiative process in their efforts to effect legislation allowing the production of cannabis hemp.  The tie-in between cannabis hemp and pot smoking is now being used by proponents of drug legalization as a marketing tool.  Marijuana/hemp symbols on youth-oriented products have proliferated.   The “bring back hemp” campaign is aimed primarily at high school and college students who are being actively recruited into the pro-drug ideology, using false economic and environmental claims as a ruse.  Campus-based pro-hemp/marijuana clubs and “youth-friendly” pro-drug websites participate in wooing this age group.5.




Economic Impact:


The claimed advantages of cannabis hemp over other raw materials are false. Better alternative products exist in every case.6.  Reflecting these economics, world production of hemp is now only slightly more than one-fifth what it was in the 1960s.  Additionally, recent world market prices for hemp are below most estimated U.S. and Canadian production costs. 4., 6., 7.


The U. S. Department of Agriculture has researched the economic potential for hemp grown by American farmers and found that the U.S. market for hemp fibers “is, and will likely remain, only a small, thin market.”  The long-term demand for hemp products is uncertain, and there is a high potential to quickly reach oversupply.   The market potential for hemp seed as a food ingredient will probably remain small.   These outlooks discount the prospects for hemp as an economically viable alternative crop.8.


Paper:  Most of the fibers from the hemp plant are not suitable for production of writing and printing paper.9.  The usable part of the plant has such a high processing cost that its use is restricted to extremely limited-demand, high-priced specialty papers and is not economical for mass-production paper grades. Many fiber alternatives for paper-making are available and more competitive.10.


Plastic and Synthetic Fibers: Hemp fibers are inferior for making rope, twine, and other products where durability and strength are important.  Unlike plastic and synthetics, hemp absorbs water, becomes heavy, and rots easily. “For every proposed use of industrial (cannabis) hemp, there already exists an available product, or raw material, which is cheaper to manufacture and provides better market results.” 6.


Vegetable Oil/Fuel:  Many plants such as corn, sorghum, and alfalfa produce more biomass per acre, are more soil building than hemp, and are already meeting market demands for alternative fuels such as ethanol. 11.


Food and Cosmetic Products:  Hemp seed containing THC is now being aggressively promoted and marketed for use in food, cosmetics, and nutraceutical (so-called health supplements) products.12.   However, THC is fat-soluble and accumulates in the human body.13.  The United Nations reports that the health effects of cannabis food products have not been adequately researched.  The European Union has reduced the allowable THC content of hemp and reports that there is no nutritional justification for hemp food products.14.


Environmental Impact:


Cannabis hemp is not a unique, environmentally friendly crop. Like any other agricultural commodity there are fertilization requirements, the need to deal chemically with insect pests, and the use of fungicide treatment of hemp seeds. Cannabis hemp causes more soil nutrient depletion than cotton, flax, and grain crops, and far greater soil erosion than occurs with well managed and minimally disturbed forestlands.  Additionally, a hemp field’s possibilities for biodiversity and wildlife habitat are very limited in comparison to those of a forest.15.


Yield:  Claims that hemp has “four times” the pulp yield of forests are false. Joseph E. Atchison, a non-wood plant fiber scientist, consultant, and winner of many industry awards, has stated that the yield of acceptable hemp pulp (.5 - .6 tons per acre) is only about half that of well managed pine plantations (.9 -1.2 tons) and only a small fraction of some intensively managed, fast-growing hardwoods (4 - 6 tons).16.


Trees:  Nothing can compete with forests for pulp as far as saving energy and using the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and forests are healthier if mature trees are harvested.   Sustainable forestry practices, high efficiency, and increasing recycling are in place in the wood products industry in most industrial countries.   For instance, there is no impending wood reserve/fiber crisis in the United States.  Timber growth in the United States has exceeded annual harvest by 33 percent since the 1940s, and in 1996 growth of commercial timber in its National Forests exceeded harvest by 76 percent.   Currently, the United States has about two-thirds of the forest area that it had in the 1600s.17.


Public Health & Safety Considerations


The European community does not encourage cannabis hemp food products and believes that the use of hemp seeds or leafed parts for human consumption would “contribute toward making the narcotics use of cannabis acceptable...” 14.


During 1999, the Canadian Government’s agency, Health Canada, conducted a “Risk Assessment” of human health impacts from ingestion of industrial hemp food and cosmetics products.   The conclusions of this study pointed out potential risks from hemp product consumption to the brain, to the reproductive system, and to cognitive and motor skills performance, especially to children (both pre-and postnatal) and young people.   The Risk Assessment concluded that Canada’s limit on allowable THC in raw materials and products made from low-THC hemp would likely not protect consumers.18.


Late in 2000, in order to promote public health and safety, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) exercised its regulatory authority and announced its intention to clarify its long-standing interpretation of existing law prohibiting cannabis hemp products meant for human consumption.19.  Because excellent alternate products already exist for hemp’s non-food applications, this action by the DEA would substantially eliminate any economic advantage for cultivating cannabis hemp in the United States.   




Of the group of fiber-bearing plants referred to as “hemp,” only Cannabis sativa hemp contains a psychoactive substance, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and only cannabis hemp is illegal to grow. The level of THC in cannabis hemp cannot be discerned with the naked eye.   As a result, if grown as a legal crop, it could easily be diverted to the illegal drug market, as has been reported in a number of countries where growing is currently allowed.20. 21.


Cannabis hemp is low-grade Cannabis sativa (marijuana) and contains varying amounts of the mind-altering substance THC. Different parts of the cannabis hemp plant contain elevated THC levels in comparison with the plant average.22.   There is no minimal THC threshold level below which cannabis hemp ceases being psychoactive, and there is no known safe lower limit for the consumption of THC.23.  Cannabis hemp is an illegal drug, and the law prohibits people from consuming any amounts of illegal drugs.24.  Industrial "fiber-type" cannabis has abuse potential. For example, the salad oil made from hemp plants containing less than .3 percent THC produced a subjective "high" when consumed according to the manufacturer's labeled instructions.24., 25., 26.


The maximum amount of THC typically permitted in cannabis hemp grown for commercial use averages about .3 percent.   But street cannabis containing less that 1percent -- and even less than .5 percent -- THC was the norm in the 1960s and 1970s and was eagerly smoked by drug users. Low-THC cannabis hemp can be converted easily into a higher-grade drug product.25., 27.  Although the advocates of marijuana legalization attempt to refute it, street marijuana in the United States has increased considerably in THC potency over the last 30 years due to advances in domestic growing techniques.19.


A 1968 study conducted by Weil, Norman, and Nelson used .3 percent THC marijuana, similar in potency to that smoked at Woodstock. This low-potency cannabis was able to produce a "high" when experimenters smoked two one-gram cigarettes, and formed the basis of the cannabis culture that developed in the 1970s.19. A 1971 study using marijuana cigarettes containing 0.08 percent, 0.16 percent, 0.3 percent, and 0.7 percent THC, stated, “All doses of THC, including the two lowest doses....” (0.08 percent, 0.16 percent)  produced effects in the research subjects….Most importantly, 80 percent of subjects correctly identified the lowest dose...” (0.08 percent THC) “....as active marijuana.” 25. A recent medical study noted that even inveterate pot smokers experienced  a "high" when smoking marijuana with a THC content of 1.8 percent, considered low by today's standards. 28.


The Division of Narcotics Enforcement in the Wisconsin Department of Justice (USA) conducted a study among sheriff’s offices in that state that documented drug abuse problems related to the “wild marijuana/ditchweed” remaining from legal cultivation of cannabis hemp during World War II.  (Wild marijuana has a THC potency comparable to that of cannabis hemp.)  The majority of all counties in Wisconsin reported experiences with persons using non-cultivated marijuana by itself as a drug.  Most counties also reported abuse of wild marijuana by juveniles. 29.


Cannabis hemp intended for fiber is planted close together and grows very tall, facilitating the clandestine growing of marijuana plants interspersed in a hemp field.  Hemp grown for seed is planted in a dispersed pattern and grows short and bushy -- exactly the planting pattern and growth characteristics of marijuana.8.


In addition, cannabis hemp smoke contains toxic environmental pollutants including carbon monoxide, benzene, benzo(a)pyrene, and numerous other carcinogens.30.  Burning excess, unmarketable plant waste in the fields (as many farmers already do) would add greatly to environmental pollution.11.


Cultivation of low-potency industrial cannabis hemp as a commercial field crop would necessitate enormous monitoring costs to prevent it from being diverted to the illegal drug use market.4., 31., 32.  Making a psychoactive, addictive, and illegal drug readily available would undermine public health and safety, diminish environmental quality, and contribute substantially to the world’s drug problems. These predictable consequences should convince all nations to reject the false claims of cannabis/marijuana hemp legalization advocates.


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1.         Martin, John H., Leonard, Warren H., Principles of Field Crop Production, The Macmillan Company, NY, 1949.


2.         Jean M. Rawson, “Growing Marijuana (Hemp) for Fiber: Pros and Cons,” CRS Report for Congress, June 17, 1992.


3.         Judt, Manfred, "Hemp: Papermakers should take it with a pinch of salt", Pulp and Paper International, pp 32,35.


4.         Baxter, B., and Scheifele, G., “Growing Industrial Hemp in Ontario,” Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, Fact Sheet, August 2000. (www.gov.on.ca/omafra - click on: agriculture -crops -hemp. Scroll & click on: Growing Industrial Hemp.)


5.         Hemp Clothing is Here!, High Times, March 1990,  page 74


6.         "ONDCP Statement on Industrial Hemp,” Office of National Drug Control Policy, July 29, 1997 www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/policy/hemp


7.         Vantreese, Valerie, University of Kentucky, Department of Agriculture Economics, as quoted in “Industrial Hemp: Legislative Briefing,” January 1999 and January 2001. www.uky.edu/Classes/GEN/101/Hemp/welcome.html


8.         “Industrial Hemp in the United States:  Status and Market Potential,” United States Department of Agriculture, January 2000, (www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ages001E/   Scroll & click Full Report).


9.         Atchison, Joseph E., Atchison Consultants, Inc., Sarasota, FL,  "Putting the Use of Hemp (Cannabis sativa) as a Papermaking Raw Material Into the Proper Perspective," Prepared for Presentation at a DEA sponsored Conference on Hemp Cultivation for Industrial Purpose, Crude Marijuana for Medical Purposes and Legalization of Marijuana, Jefferson City, MO, November 1997.


10.      Letter from Atchison, Joseph, E., Ph.D., International Non-wood Consultant to the Pulp and Paper industry, Sarasota, FL, Memo to Sarah McNulty, Governor’s Hemp and Related Fiber Crops Task Force, Office of the Governor, (Kentucky), Frankfurt, KY.  8/14/95,  "Subject:  Potential Use of Hemp for the Pulp and Paper Industry—Very Limited or Non-existent"


11.      Robinson, Robert G., Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. Quoted from transcript of taped interview of Dr. Robinson by Jeanette McDougal, MM, CCDP, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1993.


12.      Hemp Industries Association (HIA) website – www.hia.org,  National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) website – www.norml.org


13.      Hart, R.H., Bitter Grass, The Bitter Truth About Marijuana, Psychoneurologia Press, Kansas, April 1980, pp. 13-14.


14.      Community preparatory acts, Document 599PC0576(02):   europe.eu.int/eur-lex/en/com/dat/1999/en_599PC0576_02  Current EU website access is: http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/search/search_lif.html


15.      Williams, Brad, American Forest and Paper Association, Washington, D.C.,  “Hemp, Paper and Reality,” July 2, 1999.


16.      Atchison, Joseph E., Ph.D., President, Atchison Consultants, Inc., "Industrial Cannabis [Marijuana] Hemp", Pulp & Paper, Q & A's, Sarasota, FL, 1999.


17.      Figures from U.S. Forest Service, Oregon, Adapted from “The Truth About America’s Forests – Are We Running Out of Trees?” 1993.


18.       “Health Canada study says THC poses health risk,“ Article by A. Mcilroy, Globe and Mail, Ottawa Canada July 27, 1999.


19.      "Exposing the Myth of Medical Marijuana, Marijuana: The Facts," available on DEA website 10/09/01 http://www.dea/gov/ongoing/marijuana.html   (Federal Register, Vol. 66, No. 75, Part II, Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Agency, Denial of Petition; Notice, April 18, 2001, pp. 20037-20076.  Available electronically (11/01) at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/a010418c,html under “Drug Enforcement Administration.” )


20.      Hutchinson, Kira, Ph.D., Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section, Office of Diversion Control, Drug Enforcement  Administration, Washington, D.C, "The Manufacture of Cannabis Sativa for Legitimate Applications," Journal  of the Clandestine Laboratory Investigating Chemists Association, Volume 6, Number 4 – October 1996, pp. 20-22.


21.      Fiona Fleck, “Cannabis net Swiss traders 200 million pounds,” The Daily Telegraph, April 16, 2000.  www.telegraph.co.uk as cited in Industrial Marijuana Hemp Information Paper: Public Policy Concerns.  Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Special Operations Bureau/Strategic Intelligence Section.  July 2000 Update, p. 29


22.     Letter from Karen Lovett, Administrative Coordinator, National Institution Drug Abuse Marijuana Project, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS, to Charles Perkins, Chairman, Lambton Families In Action for Drug Education, Inc., 4/25/94.


23.     Letter from Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Ph.D., BCFE, BCFM, Project Director, NIDA, Marijuana Project, Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, The University of Mississippi, Oxford, to Dr. M. Scott Smith, Professor and Chair of Agronomy, Univ. of Kentucky, Lexington, KY. (Undated response to Scott M. Smith’s 5/19/95 request for information.)


24.      Drug Enforcement Administration News Release "DEA Clarifies Status of Hemp" in the Federal Register, October 9, 2001, www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/pressrel/pr100901.html


25.      "The Truth About Marijuana and Industrial Marijuana Hemp," Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Special Operations Bureau/Strategic Intelligence Section, from information from the Federal Register: April 18, 2001, Volume 66, Number 75, pp.  20037-20076, denying a petition to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana.


26.      Letter from Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Ph.D., BCFE, BCFM, Research Professor, Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, The University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS, 2/17/97 to B.C. Baker, Captain, Training Division, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Jefferson City, MO.


27.      Letter from Guy A. Cabral, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Com. University, Richmond, VA, 2/14/95 to Mrs. Beverly Kinard, DRUG WATCH Colorado.


28.      "Effects of Acute Smoked Marijuana Complex Cognitive Performance," Neuropsychopharmacology  2001-Vol. 25, No. 5.


29.     INDUSTRIAL MARIJUANA HEMP INFORMATION PAPER, Public Policy Concerns, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Special Operations Bureau/Strategic Intelligence Section, October 2001 Update. 


30.      "Comparative Analysis of Mainstream Smoke from Marijuana and Tobacco Reference Cigarette," Institute of Medicine Report, Marijuana and Health, National Academy of Science, Washington, D.C., 1982.


31.      Correspondence between Timothy Pifer, Laboratory Director for the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory and Joyce Lohrentz with the Illinois Drug Education Alliance, February 14, 2000.


32.      Letter from Chief Murray McMaster, Sarnia Police Force re: Hemp Cultivation - Potency & Enforcement Costs, Charles Perkins, Chairman, Lambton Families In Action for Drug Education, Inc., Sarnia, Canada, May 12,1995.


Additional  References:


a)  "Illicit Narcotics Cultivation and Processing: The Ignored Environmental Drama," The United Nations Drug Control Programme.  Vienna, Austria, 1992.


b)  James F. Hopkins, A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky, Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1951.


c)  Ash, AL.,  “Hemp-production and utilization,”  Economic Botany 1948, pp.158-169. 


d)  Switzer, GL., Nelson and WH Smith, “The Mineral Cycle in Forest Stands.”  Mississippi Ag. Exp. Stn. from Forest fertilization – theory and practice.  Tenn. Valley Authority, Knoxville, TN Pg. 1-9  (website: www.apps.foa.org lists hemp statistics by WORLD and by COUNTRY. Click Agriculture, Crops primary, hemp fibre -hemp seed, Submit to Database)


e)  Dempsey, James M., "Fiber Crops," A University of Florida Book, Rose Printing Company, Tallahassee, FL, 1975, pp. 46-89.







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