By Mark Falanga
It seems that no matter where you turn today, someone is having a discussion on marijuana. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have already legalized marijuana and a third state, Pennsylvania, might very well become the next state to lift the ban on this drug. Despite this gradual shift in opinion from the government, the anti-marijuana groups still have a large presence and are determined to halt developments focused on legalizing marijuana.
Photo by Janne Toivoniemi.
But what the anti-marijuana groups don’t know, or choose to ignore, is that marijuana is just one aspect of the hemp plant, and that it can be very useful in more ways than simply getting a person high. However, the plant cannot be cultivated on an industrial level in the United States because of the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits growing any variation of the plant, including those with low levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana.
So in order to reap the benefits of the plant, it must be imported from other countries and then processed by local traders. That’s where Lawrence Serbin comes in. He’s been in the hemp business for 23 years now and currently works for Hemp Traders. “There’s not a lot of crops that you can get four raw materials out of,” says Serbin, “Hemp is one of those crops.”
Besides marijuana, the bark of the hemp plant can be turned into fiber. This fiber can then be spun into a cloth-like substance that can be used to make anything from shirts to rope, wallets, and even boat sails. Also, according to eartheasy.com, the fibers have three times the tensile strength of cotton, making them more durable.
The third raw material derived from hemp is what Serbin calls the “herm.” This is primarily used for animal bedding and has many benefits over traditional straw. Hemp bedding can absorb four times its own weight in liquid, keeping it drier for longer. It’s because of the high absorption that makes it more durable, lasting longer, which translates into higher savings for the person using it.
The final raw material is the seed. From the seed come three main properties of food. The first is the whole seed, which can be mixed into snack bars, cookies, and even burgers. Next is the seed oil, which can be transformed into butter, pesto, and other hemp condiments. The final food use for hemp is the seed meal, or “meat” of the seed. It can be crushed for animal feed or ground into a fine powder to use as flour for making bread and pastas.
If you’re worried about nutrition, hemp promotes a healthy lifestyle for you. Hemp has many essential fatty acids and is very high in protein. Not only that, but it contains 31 percent complete and highly digestible protein, one-third is edestin protein and two-thirds albumin protein. This makes it second only to raw uncooked soybeans in terms of this kind of protein, which means it contains more than human and cow’s milk.
With all of these benefits, hemp’s ecological footprint is very light. “Hemp doesn’t need the amount of nutrients in the soil that a crop like corn does,” says Serbin, “This means that it won’t deplete the soil.” He went on to explain that hemp doesn’t need fertilizer likes other crops, so it behaves like a weed (pun definitely intended.)
Despite all of the positive uses for this controversial plant, the United States government classifies any hemp growing, regardless of THC content, illegal. Perhaps, after seeing all of the benefits this crop can produce, and record highs of the American public favoring a decriminalization of marijuana, the laws that keep this crop down could go up in smoke.