Reason Foundation Explores "Illegally Green: Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition"

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 06/15/2010 - 02:49.

ENCOURAGE BOTTOM-UP REDEVELOPMENT: REASON SAVES CLEVELAND WITH DREW CAREY, EPISODE 5

While researching the economic potential of industrial hemp, I was fascinated to find the Reason Foundation published a 2008 study, "Illegally Green: Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition", that concluded: "Ultimately, the environmental costs incurred by the prohibition of hemp cultivation in the United States cannot be calculated purely in the abstract. The full potential for industrial hemp in domestic agriculture and industry can only be tested by unrestricted inclusion in the U.S. market, along with other top biological feedstocks."

Drew Carey is working with the same Reason Foundation in his efforts to help Cleveland transform our economy, as I previously reported on realNEO here (Episode 5 above). The Reason Foundation website writes Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey "investigates and analyzes the problems that turned Cleveland from the nation's sixth-largest city in 1950 into today's "Mistake On The Lake."  About Drew Carey's efforts, I wrote "I can't say I agree with all that I have seen of these documentaries but I do intend to explore Carey's overall vision and his willingness to follow-through further."

I propose Ohio join North Dakota, Vermont and other enlightened states driving unrestricted inclusion of industrial hemp in our domestic agriculture and industrial markets - make Ohio the brightest greenest state with hemp, from the re-start - and I now expect one of Cleveland's favorite native sons may well agree.

"Illegally Green: Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition" - Full Conclusion and links to the full report follow:

CONCLUSION:

Prior to prohibition in the United States, industrial hemp was the subject of considerable
excitement and speculation. The same is true today. The development of regionally and
commodity-specialized industrial hemp breeds and processing capability, including complementary
processing infrastructure and other innovation in the U.S. market, has been stifled through severe
regulation of this plant. Examination of the unique qualities of hemp suggests that hemp
prohibition affects a broad array of enterprises, ranging from those that may have mainly local
economic significance, to global industries and products that are present every day in our lives.
The newest technological applications of this ancient crop may be the most promising.

Nations that followed the United States in prohibiting hemp cultivation have, for the most part,
rescinded these laws—some more than a decade ago. A report by the Congressional Research
Service in 2005 noted that, “the United States is the only developed nation in which industrial
hemp is not an established crop.”91 It seems likely that the United States cannot maintain hemp
prohibition indefinitely. Reasons given for hemp prohibition in the United States make little sense
today. Drug enforcement officials have argued that hemp shouldn’t be grown because it looks like
marijuana; in that case, the USDA should stop growing kenaf, which, as its Latin name Hibiscus
cannabinus suggests, has a palmate leaf that can be mistaken for marijuana. Others have argued
that hemp shouldn’t be grown because the market for it is too speculative, and the crop may turn
out to be unprofitable; in that case, corn (subsidized by the USDA at $9.4 billion in 2005) should
top the list of prohibited crops.

The Report to the Governor’s Hemp and Related Fiber Crops Task Force in Kentucky (1995)
stated:

     Selection of adapted varieties, crop management practices, harvesting technology and several
     other agronomic aspects may require a significant research and development effort if hemp is
     to be a large scale crop. Yet there is no reason to believe that these production issues are
     insurmountable....

     Hemp and kenaf may have a slight advantage over certain other annual row crops with regard
     to potential environmental impacts. This might result from projected requirements for less
     pesticide and modest reductions in soil erosion.

The Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, directed by the state legislature to report on
the feasibility of industrial hemp, concluded in 2005:

     A strong argument in favor of industrial hemp is the positive impact it has on the environment.
     It has been found to be a very good rotational crop, and the environmental benefits are
     numerous....

     Clearly, industrial hemp has a lot of potential as an alternative crop in the U.S. and Maine.
     However, this potential will never be realized unless the production of industrial hemp is
     legalized.... Until then, it is difficult to predict the future importance of industrial hemp as an
     agricultural crop.92

In North Dakota, where officials are leading the effort to reinstitute hemp cultivation, a white paper
commissioned by the state legislature in 1998 optimistically summarized, “Basically, industrial
hemp is easier on the land than any other crops except for legumes such as clover and alfalfa.”93

Considering the whole life cycle of industrial hemp products, below-average inputs required during
the cultivation of hemp are only a small part of the potential environmental benefit. Comparisons
of industrial hemp to hydrocarbon or other conventional industrial feedstocks show that, generally,
hemp requires substantially less energy for manufacturing, often is suited to less-toxic means of
processing, and provides competitive product performance (especially in terms of durability, light
weight, and strength), greater recyclability and/or biodegradability, and a number of value-added
applications for byproducts and waste materials at either end of the product life cycle. Performance
areas where industrial hemp may have higher average environmental costs than comparable raw
materials result from the use of water and fertilizer during the growth stage, greater frequency of
soil disturbance (erosion) during cultivation as compared to forests and some field crops, and often
relatively high water use during the manufacturing stage of hemp products. Unlike petrochemical
feedstocks, industrial hemp production offsets carbon dioxide emissions, helping to close the
carbon cycle. Overall, social pressure and government mandates for lower dioxin production,
lower greenhouse gas emissions, greater bio-based product procurement, and a number of other
environmental regulations seem to directly contradict the wisdom of prohibiting an evidently
useful and unique crop like hemp.

Ultimately, the environmental costs incurred by the prohibition of hemp cultivation in the United
States cannot be calculated purely in the abstract. The full potential for industrial hemp in domestic
agriculture and industry can only be tested by unrestricted inclusion in the U.S. market, along with
other top biological feedstocks.
 

Illegally Green: Environmental Costs of Hemp Prohibition

Regulation of Cannabis sativa L. is complicated by the fact that there are two common varieties of the plant with very different properties: the agricultural variety, known by the common name hemp, and the pharmacological variety, marijuana. Prior to prohibition in the United States, industrial hemp was the subject of considerable excitement and speculation. The same is true today, as lawmakers and stakeholders in many states are considering the potential for reintroducing industrial hemp into the domestic economy.

The environmental performance of industrial hemp products is of particular interest because, to a large degree, environmental inefficiencies impose costs on society as a whole, not just on the producers and consumers of a specific good. Many commodities which came to replace traditional uses of industrial hemp in the United States in the last century and a half have created significant environmental externalities.

Assessments of industrial hemp as compared to hydrocarbon or other traditional industrial feedstocks show that, generally, hemp requires substantially lower energy demands for manufacturing, is often suited to less-toxic means of processing, provides competitive product performance (especially in terms of durability, light weight, and strength), greater recyclability and/or biodegradability, and a number of value-added applications for byproducts and waste materials at either end of the product life cycle. Unlike petrochemical feedstocks, industrial hemp production offsets carbon dioxide emissions, helping to close the carbon cycle.

The positive aspects of industrial hemp as a crop are considered in the context of countervailing attributes. Performance areas where industrial hemp may have higher average environmental costs than comparable raw materials result from the use of water and fertilizer during the growth stage, greater frequency of soil disturbance (erosion) during cultivation compared to forests and some field crops, and relatively high water use during the manufacturing stage of hemp products.

Overall, social pressure and government mandates for lower dioxin production, lower greenhouse gas emissions, greater bio-based product procurement, and a number of other environmental regulations, seem to directly contradict the wisdom of prohibiting an evidently useful and unique crop like hemp.

Skaidra Smith-Heisters is Policy Analyst

This Study's Materials

 

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