Hemp Paper – World-Changing Innovation Held Back By Corporations

September 27, 2009 – Society may be moving away from paper dependency, but we’re not there yet. Forty-two per cent of the world’s industrial wood harvest goes to the production of paper, and 87 per cent of that paper is used by industrialized western nations like the United States and Canada. And despite its pristine appearance, paper is anything but clean.

The process industrial paper makers use to turn wood pulp into paper has been shown to result in a number of harmful chemical by-products such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxide, mercury, nitrates, methanol, benzene, chloroform, and dioxins. Despite its negative side effects wood paper is the only game in town these days, but it wasn’t always that way.

Back in the day hemp paper was a popular and widely used alternative to wood paper. Many of the founding documents of the United States are printed on hemp: two drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Hemp paper doesn’t require bleaching, lasts longer and is more durable than its wood-based brother. So why didn’t it catch on?

Declaration of Independence

At first the reason was a practical one. When the Industrial Revolution took the Western world by storm, people built machines to make larger amounts of paper faster, to meet with the growing demand brought on by the spread of literacy. Hemp, however, proved too much for the first machines. Its fibers were too tough. And so wood pulp based paper became the golden standard.
People didn’t give up on hemp, though. In the early 1920s and ‘30s mechanization was getting more sophisticated and industrial hemp paper production looked like a viable option. Hemp, being a highly renewable resource and relatively easy to grow, had the potential to revolutionize the paper industry (among others). Deforestation could be slowed and many of the harmful chemicals used in the making of paper could be done away with.

But by this time there was a whole industry based around the use and production of wood pulp paper. People had become rich off wood and they wanted to keep the money coming, people like William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst owned a large number of newspapers in the United States. He also owned large tracts of forest and paper mills. Using his newspapers Hearst launched a massive smear campaign against hemp. He published any number of articles with headlines like, “Marihuana Makes Fiends of Boys in 30 Days,” and “Hasheesh Goads Users to Blood Lust.” His articles actually popularized the term Marihuana. Many of the articles published in Hearst’s papers would later be used as evidence against hemp in the mid-1930s when the U.S. government held hearings to consider whether the plant and its relatives should become controlled substances.

In 1937 after various hearings on numerous levels of government, the U.S. adopted the Marihuana Act. This act didn’t criminalize the possession or cultivation of hemp, but it might as well have. A tax was levied on anyone who dealt commercially with hemp (by this time Hearst’s campaign had proved so successful that cannabis and hemp were considered practically the same thing) and strict rules surrounded its production.

Farmers were required to pay $1 a year to register as growers but could be subject to a fine of $2000 or five years in prison if they inadvertently violated the conditions of the Act—for instance should any plant in their crop test above the allowed level of THC (the average income at the time was about $500 a year). Those who chose to pay the tax were required to register their names and place of business with the tax collector who was then obliged to give out that information to anyone who wanted it provided they paid the fee ($1 for every 100 names). Those who wanted to import hemp were charged $1 per ounce of hemp they wished to buy, and were charged a fine of $100 per ounce if found in possession without paying the tax.

As a result most farmers were either too poor or too afraid of the consequences to attempt commercial hemp production and the cost of trying to import hemp into the eager U.S. market became prohibitively high. The technology that would have allowed the large-scale production of hemp paper withered for lack of opportunity, wood pulp kept its monopoly on the paper industry and Hearst continued to make money. The laws that Hearst encouraged with his media blitz are still in place today in the U.S., though in a slightly different form. Source.

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