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Cannabis sativa L. (Industrial Hemp & Marijuana)

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The    Past,    Present,    and    Future    Use    of    Industrial    Hemp

Industrial hemp and marijuana are from the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L., but they are cultivated for different products and uses, and also have different physical characteristics. Industrial hemp should be legalized and grown in Kentucky because of its rich history of a myriad of uses and the products that can be produced from it.


Industrial hemp and Indian hemp (the type of hemp that yields marijuana) are not the same plant, even though they are both of the same species, as stated above, and true industrial hemp is sometimes mistakenly called Indian hemp. There are distinct differences between the two plants that should be distinguished first. Industrial hemp has only minuscule amounts of delta–9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive ingredient that produces the hallucinogenic and pleasure–giving effects of marijuana (a high). Marijuana, of course, has a much higher level of THC than industrial hemp and is also grown for different uses. The THC in marijuana is concentrated in the flowering tops of it. Marijuana is a mixture of the leaves, stems, and flowering tops of the Indian hemp plant, which can be smoked or eaten to reach a high. You could smoke industrial hemp for any amount of time and you would not get a high from it. A biologist in the Woody Harrelson trial testified, in court, that mature stems from the industrial hemp plant and Indian hemp plant are distinguishable and distinctive, even from the air or far away, and they don't look similar whatsoever.


Indian hemp or hemp dogbane, commonly called marijuana, is a branched perennial that grows up to five feet tall, while industrial hemp is an annual herb that grows from three feet to fifteen feet. Marijuana was grown as early as 3000 B.C. in Central Asia and China and was first used as a folk medicine. Since then, marijuana has also been used as a sedative and analgesic. True hemp or industrial hemp was originally cultivated in Central Asia around 2800 B.C. for its fibers. Indian hemp is chiefly germinated to produce marijuana for its intoxicating effects while hemp is grown mainly for its fibers and seeds to produce a myriad of products from bird food to cordage.


Hemp is the common name for a coarse, tall, and hairy annual herb, a native of Central Asia and for the strong, durable fibers made from the stems of the plant. The fibers, from the fibrous inner bark of the hemp stems, have a variety of uses in textile products and other products because of their great strength and durability. Examples of products made from the fibers are: cloth, rope, twine, carpet thread, carpet yarn, sailcloth, yarn, cable, string, paper, coarse sheeting, clothing, pressed board, cord, shoes, horse bedding, and toweling. Hemp can also be used in the making of artificial sponges and such coarse fabrics as sacking, packing cloth, and canvas. Examples of clothing made from hemp fibers are pants, shirts, shoes, and caps. The waste fiber of hemp, called oakum, is often used in the production of caulking.


The soft fibers of the hemp stems are used in making clothing fabrics in Asia. These fibers are obtained from the inner bark which is harvested at the time of pollination. The strong, coarse fibers are used to produce coarse fabrics such as cordage and rope; those fibers are obtained from the fibers of the more mature hemp stems.


Hemp seeds contain about thirty percent oil, which makes it a good source for different types of oil. The seed of hemp is commonly used as a caged–bird seed. Another product made from hemp seed is a drying oil, called oil of hemp, and it's used in the manufacturing of soap, varnish, edible oils, oil paints and also other types of paints.


Hemp originated in China, most likely for the cultivation of its fibers, recorded there about 2800 B.C. It was then adopted and grown in the Mediterranean countries of Europe around 200 B.C., spreading throughout the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. In the Americas, it was planted in Chile in the 1500's, and a century later in the British colonies of North America. Hemp remained the standard material for rope and cordage until the Nineteenth Century, when it was replaced by Manila hemp, an unrelated plant from the Philippines.


There was a rise in the production of hemp for its natural fibers to make rope during World War II. Kentucky was one of the main states growing hemp at that time. Tillage of hemp was then outlawed by the federal government and state governments ensuing World War II, because of its association with marijuana. In most countries, hemp was and still is grown primarily for its fibers with a total world production of 298,000 metric tons in 1970. Adidas has a new shoe out on the market, called “The Hemp”. The new shoe's top is made of hemp, instead of leather, while the sole is made from recycled rubber. The shoe was developed in response to increasing demand by consumers for an environmentally friendly shoe.


Hemp is now widely cultivated throughout many countries of the world, such as the United States (only with a government permit), Chile, Europe, Canada, Chile, and Asia, as well as other places throughout the world, for a variety of purposes as shown above. It needs no pesticides or herbicides, so hemp is environmentally friendly and is also easily cultivated.


A task force established by Governor Brereton Jones of Kentucky, in 1994, swiftly concluded that hemp had no future in Kentucky. Hemp is still outlawed in this country without a government permit. People's views have changed little since marijuana and hemp were first outlawed. As a result, according to Kentucky law, still, hemp and marijuana are the same and both are illegal in this state. The existing statute does not recognize any difference between the two plants because it chooses not to.


Other American states and foreign countries, that have not done so already, are exploring hemp as an alternative source of fiber for cloth, paper, etc. Legislatures in Vermont and Hawaii have both asked their state universities to conduct research on the hemp plant. The American and Kentucky Farm Bureau now are officially supporting research into hemp's potential as a cash crop. It is cheaper to grow hemp in the United States, than to import products made from it or hemp itself. Since Kentucky is the most famous place in the world for horses after England, and horse bedding can be made from hemp, it makes good sense that hemp should be grown here in Kentucky. Many supporters of hemp say that Kentucky's agriculture policy should be more receptive to learning more about the crop, as an alternative to tobacco. Kentucky farmers could produce hemp better than any other farmers in the Western hemisphere. An expanded tax base from the hemp industry could provide for better education for Kentucky citizens and could also further develop the people in Kentucky as well. In order for Kentucky to become a more industrialized and self–sufficient state and for this country to do the same, then we must first look at industrial hemp more seriously and its potential to bring us forward into the Twenty–first Century as a leading producer, and not a principal importer.



Bibliography for The Past, Present, and Future of Industrial Hemp

Editorial. “Hemp Crops Up Again: Kentucky Should Get Serious about Possible Enterprise.” Lexington Herald–Leader.

“Hemp,” “Rope,” “Cannabis,” “Marijuana” Microsoft Encarta. Copyright 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

Haskew, Mark. “Hemp Shoes: Ecological or Hypocritical?” Lexington Herald–Leader, 9 February 1996, pp. A9.

“Hemp: Teacher is Investigated For Having Talk By Harrelson.” Lexington Herald–Leader, 30 June 1996, pp. B5.

Mead, Andy. “Harrelson Holds Hemp Show–and–Tell.” Lexington Herald–Leader, 31 May 1996, pp. A1, A4.

“Hemp.” The World Book Encyclopedia. 1984 ed.

“Hemp.” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1980 ed.

“Kentucky Might Miss the Boat in Hemp Production.” Lexington Herald–Leader, 24 May 1996, pp. A10.



Third Place Essay in the 1st Annual Kentucky Industrial Hemp Essay Contest in the Senior High Division

Sponsored by Woody Harrelson

September/October 1996


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