Some environmentalists claim that hemp is the panacea for all that ails the environment. It is able to replace wood in making paper, cotton in making canvas. It provides a descent source of protein when its seeds are eaten, a good insulator when mixed with concrete and a good primary product for ethanol. Most importantly, it does very little harm to the environment and actually replenishes the soil in which it is grown.
The United States was once the biggest producer of hemp on the globe. World War 1 soldiers wore hemp uniforms and escaped the wet by means of sturdy hemp canvases. The introduction of modern farm equipment hurt hemp farmers. While other primary industries automated and were able to produce economies of scale, hemp lagged behind. It wasn't until the 30s that it finally caught up and started a resurgence into the market. However, this growth was brief as in the late 30s marijuana was illegalized. Some think Government was pressured by the growing petro-chemical industry. Others think it was a officials trying to redeem themselves after failed prohibition. Either way, regulation stopped the industry in its tracks. Hemp is legal in other countries such as Canada. If a farmer decides to grow hemp, they must receive a permit from Health Canada (not Agriculture Canada) and they are monitored.
Now environmental consciousness has brought a new wave of hemp supporters. Many of the movement's top activists also support the legalization of marijuana. Although strains of hemp are now grown with only trace amounts of THC, the two movements are linked in the eyes of many policy makers. Growing an environmentally sustainable crop and legalizing a drug are very separate issues. Many believe that if they support hemp, they must also support the legalization of marijuana but that is simply not true.
How can hemp get out of the health-food stores and into the mainstream? Well, first the hemp farmers have to find a way to compete against established industries such as cotton or pulp. They can either band together or find some corporate support. They also have to differentiate themselves from the marijuana movement. Using hemp is several times better for the world compared to the alternatives: the pesticide-heavy cotton, the unsustainable fossil fuels and the lumber industry which cuts old-growth forests. Hopefully the industry will find a way to grow.