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Green Homes and Hemp

By Jo Freeman

Green homes and hemp were among the features of the 2009 Green Festival in Washington, D.C. in October. While both types of vendors have exhibited at all six of these annual events, each group had its own pavilion this year, with a lengthy schedule of speakers. It is legal to use industrial hemp in the US but illegal to grow it because it is a close relative to the more potent marijuana plant. The raw product is imported from Europe, China and especially Canada, where growing it is legal, and turned into a variety of goods for the US market.

Industrial hemp is distinguished from marijuana by the amount of the psychoactive substance THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) nestled among its molecules. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 used a broad definition of Cannabis but exempted the parts of the plant which are the basis of non-psychoactive products.

A bill currently before Congress would exempt all industrial hemp (defined as containing less than 0.3 percent THC) from that Act. First introduced in 2007 by Rep. Ron Paul (R. TX), its 11 house sponsors cover the political spectrum from the libertarian Paul to the progressive Lynn Woolsey (D. CA). If President Obama is looking for a bipartisan policy to support, this may be one of the few available.

The growing popularity of growing hemp domestically is due to its resiliency as a crop and the diversity of its uses. Hemp grows well in the north central plains, where wheat has been under attack by a fungus for the last few years. Farmers in states with a single dominant crop see hemp as an economically viable rotation crop. US manufacturers of hemp products believe that buying it domestically will reduce costs. The US is their largest market.

A wide variety of products can be made from hemp including carpeting, construction materials, textiles, paper, industrial oils, cosmetics and even food.

Among those exhibiting at the Green Festival were Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps which offers personal care products. Nutiva sells edible seeds, oils and powders. It claims that hemp is the "worlds most nutritious seed." Dash Hemp purveys "upscale hemp clothing for men and women." Crucial Hemp markets products made from hemp fiber, including twine, clothing, and animal bedding. Nuhemp promotes a variety of pet products.

Economic realities have led several state legislatures to ask Congress to legalize industrial hemp. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has also called for "the development of domestic industrial hemp production by American farmers and manufacturers."

However, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has the final say. North Dakota licensed two farmers (including one state legislator) to grow it, but they need a DEA permit before they can plant any seeds. To highlight this problem two farmers from Vermont and North Dakota and three others planted some industrial hemp seeds at the Virginia headquarters of the DEA a few days after the Green Festival ended. They were promptly arrested. Among the newer uses proposed for industrial hemp is as building bricks and blocks. They were used to construct the Hemp information booth at the hemp pavilion. Promoted as "green" because of their superior insulating and soundproofing qualities they arent yet available commerically.

Advertising a building product as "green" is the latest trend though exactly what makes a product "green" is a little unclear. Among the many characteristics claimed by green building products are energy efficiency, non-toxicity, eco-friendlinrss, carbon-neutralilty and using recycled materials.

One such product is spray foam insulation. Promoters claim it is the energy efficient way to both insulate and seal walls and ceilings. Nova Spray Foam says its mission is "to provide affordable, healthy and energy efficient solutions that are environmentally friendly, permanent and American made." Summit focuses on the savings to be gained over time even though the product is more expensive than conventional fiberglass insulation.

Green Floors is committed to "environmental stewardship," largely through using recycled products (e.g. old car tires, food and soda bottles) that might otherwise go into the landfill. The Energy Services Group does home audits in order to provide suggestions for lowering energy costs and improving comfort levels. New Image Coatings makes waterproof sealers. And, if solar doesnt work for your home theres always geothermal.

There are so many products touting how green they are, that its hard to distinguish whats really different from whats mostly marketing. You would do well to start at the annual Green Festival where they screen their exhibitors for commitment to sustainability, ecological balance and social justice.

©2009 Jo Freeman for


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