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The Green Life: The Chronic Misperception of Hemp

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September 22, 2009

The Chronic Misperception of Hemp

Hemp plants Hemp needs to go to rehab for its image problem. It's tied in most people's minds to marijuana (a different strain of plant), but if you tried to smoke it, you wouldn't feel any higher than the ground it grows on. Which is pretty clean, since hemp needs no pesticides, grows back quickly, and preserves soil better than cotton does.

The stuff is woven into U.S. history: Betsy Ross made flags from it, George Washington farmed it, and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were reportedly drafted on it.

So why is it now illegal to cultivate in the U.S.? The story goes that William Randolph Hearst, who owned forests, lobbied heavily and ran articles to link hemp to marijuana use. The campaign worked, hemp agriculture was outlawed, Hearst's forests turned into paper, and he got even richer.

Hemp's demonized status in America has been a boon for Canada, now a global leader in the plant's production. Though more than half our states are trying to legalize industrial hemp, a move that would create thousands of jobs, its cultivation remains a punishable offense.

If a domestic demand develops for harmless, high-quality hemp products like the ones below, the crop may one day return to its place on U.S. farmland.

SMSO09_EN_Hemp1 Viridis Luxe makes high-end hemp-wear that feels like fine, thin cashmere. Knit with an eye for detail and originality, these pieces are chic enough that Jennifer Aniston and Rachel Bilson wear them, but they also provide a flattering fit for the average treehugger. Starting at around $110.SMSO09_EN_Hemp2

Tempt, a fro-yo-like dessert made of "hemp- milk" by Living Harvest Foods, comes in five varieties, like coconut lime and coffee biscotti. It takes a bit longer to soften than "normal" ice cream, but the flavors, tinged with a pleasant nuttiness, are enjoyable. Hemp foods are nutritious, thanks to lots of fatty acids, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. $4.69.SMSO09_EN_Hemp3

Hemp paper is different from wood paper in that it requires less processing, can be whitened without emitting dioxins, and doesn't yellow over the years. Green Field Paper Co. sells an attractive selection of hemp-based journals, sketchbooks, cards, and stationery, many with delicate nature-inspired patterns, and much of it handcrafted. $16 for the sketchbook pictured.

--Avital Binshtock

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