by Bruce E. Boyers
There is a crop that is amazingly easy to grow, that is incredibly hardy, and that is very profitable and inexpensive for farmers to raise. It has endless uses: Its fibers can be woven into clothing or formed into automotive panels or made into extremely effective building insulation. The core of its stem can be utilized in a far more environmentally safe version of concrete. Its seeds can be utilized in a wide variety of foods. And its multitude of benefits are being enjoyed in some 30 countries throughout the world.
Yet while it is legal (albeit quite expensive) to import this crop into the US, it is illegal to grow it here.
How did industrial hemp, once used for everything from paper (the Declaration of Independence was drafted on it) to sails on ships (hemp sails propelled Columbus’s three ships to the New World) get such a bad rap in America?
A new documentary, Bringing It Home, details not only the history of how production of industrial hemp became banned in the US, but the enormous economic, health and environmental benefits we’re losing out on by continuing this ban.
Of course, the main stumbling block for industrial hemp is its statutory classification right alongside its narcotic cousin, marijuana. So Bringing It Home starts right out by debunking this myth: No, industrial hemp is not pot. No, one could not get high from either smoking it or ingesting foods made from it. And while the two strains appear nearly identical, in actual fact the narcotic variety would have a very difficult time surviving in a field of industrial hemp.
“It’s really important to first make people understand that, if they don’t already,” Linda Booker, co-producer and director of Bringing It Home, told Calmful Living. “It’s the main thing that puts up a wall for so many individuals. Unfortunately we still have way too many government officials who don’t understand the difference themselves; we’ve written letters to our own members of Congress here in North Carolina, who basically just repeat the federal law, which is still miscategorizing industrial hemp as a Schedule I narcotic.”
Discovering the Truth
Booker was originally told about industrial hemp by her close friend Blaire Johnson, whom she got to know in 2003 when they were both studying at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies. “Over the years Blaire brought up her passion for industrial hemp,” Booker related. “As a friend I listened, but honestly it all sounded too good to be true.”
Then a chance reading of a 2010 newspaper article changed her course. “I never buy USA Today but just happened to pick up a copy of it,” Booker continued. “On page three was this story about a man named Anthony Brenner in Asheville, North Carolina.” Working with a company called Hemp Technologies, Brenner had constructed America’s first home utilizing a product known as hempcrete—a concrete substitute that is a mixture of industrial hemp and lime. “Here was a father who was on a quest to find a material that was not only environmentally friendly but incredibly healthy and nontoxic, because his young daughter has a rare genetic disorder that causes her to have severe reactions to chemicals. They were having issues with her experiencing seizures in different home environments and places; so as a home designer he made it his mission to use only materials that would meet his daughter’s standards.” As shown in Bringing It Home, Brenner most definitely succeeded in his mission.
The newspaper article inspired Booker, and together with Blaire Johnson it was initially decided to make only a short film detailing Brenner’s story. “One of the great things about documentary filmmaking is you never quite know where it’s going to go,” Booker said. “Blaire and I laugh because we originally thought we were going to be doing this short little film about the first hemp house in the United States—but then things just started snowballing. In the end, we met some incredible people that are doing amazing work on so many levels. These people care very deeply about our environment, human health and humanity. We realized that it was a big story, a global story.”
A Sturdy Crop of Many Uses
Through Bringing It Home, Booker and Johnson take the viewer on their mission of discovery. A home in Spain built with hemp-and-lime bricks requires no heating or cooling system and maintains a constant level of humidity. In the UK, we are introduced to a brewery warehouse with the same properties, and are witness to a Marks & Spencer (leading department store chain) building that they figured saved 400 tons of carbon emissions through its construction.
We learn that hempcrete is much easier on workers because it is not caustic like concrete, and thus requires no protective clothing or measures. It is also much lighter, so is not such a strain on tools and workers. And how does it stack up against conventional building materials? In addition to its thermal properties, it is fire-resistant, mold-resistant, pest-resistant and nontoxic.
We are enlightened as to hemp’s many uses in clothing, automotive, other areas of industry and in food—as well as the resulting substantial economic, environmental and health-related savings.
Hemp fields are shown in the UK and other countries, along with testaments from the farmers about its status as a cash crop and its ease of growing. And one fact of many in support of industrial hemp returning to our domestic fields: China is the world’s number one exporter of industrial hemp. The number one importer? The US.
A Confusion of Facts
The history section of Bringing It Home makes clear how the legal system—and the American public—was carefully manipulated into banning industrial hemp from our farms. A 1916 study showed that industrial hemp could produce 400 times more paper than trees; and given similar facts to that, along with hemp’s many uses in clothing, rope and other items, the large industrial giants such as cotton producers, cotton processors and oil companies worked an incredible campaign to shut down hemp completely. Following frightening messages such as those conveyed in the now-infamous 1936 anti-marijuana film Reefer Madness, a heavy tax was imposed on industrial hemp that essentially legislated the industry out of existence.
Industrial hemp had a brief resurgence during World War II; due to a shortage of materials, farmers were encouraged to grow industrial hemp for wartime rope. But once the war was over, the government again clamped down on it. The final nail in the coffin was the Controlled Substances Act signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970—which included industrial hemp in its scope.
Bringing It Home
The good news is, in making the film and since, Booker has discovered how much positive activity is occurring to bring industrial hemp back to our own farms.
“There has been tremendous progress even in this last year,” Booker reported. “One significant thing that happened was the passing of legislation in Colorado and Washington; even though the focus of those laws was mainly on medical marijuana, both states included language regarding industrial hemp. Just last week the Department of Justice stated that they’re basically going to leave Colorado alone and see what happens, with the stipulation of course that it’s regulated and that there are not infractions with law enforcement. In other words, they’re probably just keeping their hands off for now as long as the state comes up with its own way of licensing and regulating it.
“Elsewhere we had 20 states introduce new legislation in 2013 for industrial hemp as a crop once the federal regulation changes. That is still the big issue that overrides everything, so that’s what the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 is all about, and they’re trying to get some of that language into the Farm Bill as well.
“The other big news story is coming out of Kentucky: Agricultural Commissioner James Comer, Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mitch McConnell really want to see Kentucky growing industrial hemp in 2014, and they’re pushing hard.”
The Film Is for Use
Bringing It Home is being entered in green and other film festivals throughout the country. But in the main it is intended for consumer education, and Booker and her team are making it easily available for that purpose.
“We’re encouraging people to use this film,” Booker said. “We’d like people to organize screenings in their own communities. Those can take place anywhere: in a community hall or co-op store or a restaurant or even in people’s houses.” DVD availability for screenings—as well as local screening schedules—is listed on the film’s website (below).
As we’ve seen before, with enough of us behind a cause, change can occur. And in this particular case, it’s actually one single change that’s required. “There are a lot of issues obviously, and we know that,” Booker concluded. “Sometimes it seems a little daunting. But in actuality we’re talking about just one classification of a plant—a harmless plant. That’s all that needs to happen.”
For more information, please visit www.bringingithomemovie.com