Erowid
 
 
Plants - Drugs Mind - Spirit Freedom - Law Arts - Culture Library  
Donate to Erowid with Cryptocurrency
We take Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies to support practical information about
psychoactive drugs. A great way to donate without lots of fees. Contribute a bit today!
From: davidson@homer.cs.unc.edu (Andrew Davidson)
Newsgroups: talk.politics.drugs,alt.drugs,talk.environment,sci.environment
Subject: Hemp paper in France
Date: 24 Feb 91 22:22:42 GMT

The following article appeared in British journal New Scientist, November
13, 1980.  It's pretty long, but there are some great facts in it.  The
initial Anslinger quote actually appeared under a photo later in the
article.  Reprinted without permission.  Typos are mine.

----------------------------- Begin Article -----------------------------

NO MARIHUANA:  PLENTY OF HEMP

French farmers are doing well out of the growing market for hemp fibres.
British farmers could face 14 years in jail if they followed suit.

by Tim Malyon and Anthony Henman

"Now this hemp is the finest fibre known to mankind, my God, if you ever
have a shirt made out of it, your grandchildren would never wear it out.
You take Polish families.  We used to see marijuana in the yards of
Polish families.  We'd go in and start to tear it up and the man came out
with his shotgun, yelling:  'These are my clothes for next winter.'"
-- Harry J. Anslinger, former Commissioner, US Federal Bureau of Narcotics

Eight thousand hectares of EEC-subsidised cannabis growing in France --
it seemed inconceivable.  Our source of information, however, left little
doubt as to its accuracy.  The neat scientific pamphlets of the
Federation Nationale des Producteurs de Chanvre (FNPC) could hardly be
accused of pandering to the pot culture.  Anxious to confirm the fact at
first hand, we hopped on the early morning train out of Paris's Gare
Montparnasse, and two hours later were met in Le Mans by the research
officer of the FNPC.  It was early in September, just as the harvest was
getting into full swing.  With a justified pride in his achievement, our
contact showed us out to the experimental fields, where acre upon acre of
the French type of monoecious hemp(with male and female flowers on the
same plant) vied with the trial introductions of five-metre dioecious
plants (only one sex per plant) from Italy, and thick-set Lebanese bushes
of the kind normally used for producing hashish.  Apart from these latter
plants -- a mere dozen or so, grown exclusively for "comparative
purposes" -- we were assured that the rest of the crop had been subject
to selective breeding which reduced the levels of THC -- the psychoactive
ingredient of cannabis -- to virtual insignificance.  On collecting a few
"female flowering tops" and smoking them in Paris later that same
evening, we were forced to concede the truth:  French hemp is useless as
a drug plant, and the smoking of even large quantities of it succeeded in
giving us a mild but irritating headache...

Hemp's history in the service to human culture is as long as it is
diverse.  The Neolithic "Yang Shao" culture of China (4000 BC) is
believed to have used the long fibrous strands on the outside of the
cannabis stalk for rope and cloth.  According to Professor Hui-Lin Li, an
economic botanist at the University of Pennsylvania, cannabis seeds, rich
in protein, "were considered, along with millet, rice, barley and
soybean, as one of the major grains of ancient China".  The first paper
was made of hempen rags, while the earliest pharmacopoeia in existence,
the Pen-ts'ao-Ching, states that "the fruits of hemp...if taken in excess
will produce hallucinations [literally seeing devils].  If taken over a
long term, it makes one communicate with spirits and lightens one's
body."  Writing in the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus
describes how the Scythians would purge themselves after funerals by
inhaling the smoke of hemp seeds thrown onto hot stones.  "The Scythians
enjoy it so much that they howl with pleasure..."  Linguistic evidence
indicates that in the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Old
Testament the "holy anointing oil" which God directed Moses to make
(Exodus 30:23) was composed of myrrh, cinnamon, cannabis and cassia.

PRECIOUS PLANTS

Up to the middle of the last century France alone was cultivating more
than 100,000 hectares, whilst so precious was the plant in Tudor England
that Queen Elizabeth I exacted a bounty of 5 gold sovereigns on any
farmer who did not cultivate it.  The reason for such a penalty was
simple:  hemp fibre is the strongest vegetable fibre known to man, and
can be grown easily and in a single six-month cycle from April to
September.  Before the introduction of tropical sisals and Manila hemp,
it was essential for the rope and canvas (the very word derived from
cannabis, according to the OED) used to outfit the Navy.  An American
commentary on the 1764 Hemp Law governing importation from "His Majesty's
colonies into Great Britain" notes the necessity to "render their mother
country independent of certain northern powers (mainly the Baltic States)
upon whom her former dependence, for a supply of naval stores, has been
frequently very precarious".

This strategic aspect of cannabis as a basic fibre source reappeared for
a short while during the Second World War.  In the wake of Pearl Harbour
and the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the US was cut off from its
supplies of Manila rope and twine, and made considerable efforts to
revive its by then sagging hemp trade.  Planters' manuals were rapidly
reprinted, and the estimated area under cultivation increased from 585
hectares in 1939 to 59,500 hectares in 1943.  By 1946 the total had
dropped back to 1950 hectares and the industry was on its way to
extinction in the industrial West.

A number of factors combined to bring about this state of affairs.  The
production of high-quality hemp fibre is a labour-intensive business.
The hemp stalks must be dried in the field, then transported to a
"retting pit" where they are left in water for several days to start the
process of separating the fibre from the woody core (known as hurds) of
the stalk.  The retted plants are then taken back to the farm to be dried
out in building similar to hop oast houses.  The stalks are passed
through what is essentially a large mangle separating fibre from broken
hurd.  The hurds are then shaken out, and after "scutching and heckling"
(a process of cleaning and separating individual strands) the long,
strong fibres are ready for spinning and weaving.  In a pre-industrial
society, the bulk of this work could be carried out during the winter
when farmers had little to do.  With the importation of cheap tropical
fibres and the demise of the sail, however, such labour-intensive work no
longer proved financially viable.  A mechanical hemp "breaker" was
introduced in the early 1900s, but it had arrived too late to save a
trade which by then was having to cope with international cannabis
prohibition and a new image for the plant, from essential crop to
assassin of youth.

Synthetic textiles also helped hasten hemp's decline, as so, too, did the
19th century introduction of the chemical woodpulping process.  As
already mentioned, hemp textiles were one essential source for rag paper.
After the Second World War, for instance, Robert Fletcher and Sons, the
paper manufacturer owned by the Imperial Tobacco Group, bought up large
stocks of Nazi concentration camp uniforms made from hemp, which it
converted into paper.  Since then, Fletchers has stopped using textiles
for paper because it is almost impossible to obtain them free of
synthetic materials which wreak havoc on the machinery.  It now imports
raw hemp fibres from France.

For, curiously enough, as wood-pulp paper replaced rag paper and hemp
textile products disappeared from the market, a new process was being
developed in France that used the raw hemp fibres for the production of
high-quality, strong papers.  The fibre is extremely resilient and ideal
for the manufacture of cigarette paper, which must combine high tensile
strength with extreme lightness.  Fibre for paper is cheaper to produce
than fibre for textiles, because it needs neither to be as long nor of
such high quality.  Paralleling the growth in the consumption of illicit,
high-THC forms of cannabis, the new hemp cigarette paper industry was
launched in the early 1960s in France, and established its present
prominence in the halcyon years between 1967 and 1971.  Statistics show a
decline in the area of French cannabis sown for textiles from 1084
hectares in 1961 to 147 hectares in 1968, the last year for which
official records of this type of cultivation exist.  In contrast, areas
dedicated to paper production increased from 61 hectares in 1961 to 3181
hectares in 1968, peaking at 10,595 hectares in 1977.

The growth of this new market for the pant in France was accompanied by a
radical restructuring of the economics of the hemp business.  Though a
few farmers grow the crop principally for the sake of the subsidies they
receive (1405 francs per hectare last year), the bulk of current
production comes from mechanised concerns with high levels of
productivity.  One of the great advantages of hemp for farmers lies in
its use as a rotation crop, breaking up the soil with its deep root
system and also eliminating weeds, thus leaving the land ready for the
direct sowing of a winter wheat crop before the arrival off the first
frosts.  An enthusiastic response to this potential has brought about the
large-scale introduction of hemp into areas where it was not
traditionally cultivated, and in Bar-sur-Aube, for instance, 200 km
south-east of Paris, a flourishing cooperative has been established to
represent the interests of part of the new hemp agribusiness.  There, 93
farmers helped finance their own breaking mill which 1978 was processing
2500 hectares of hemp.

SREAMLINED MECHANISATION

A certain amount of trade secrecy surrounds the exact mechanical
processes involved in "breaking" the dried hemp stalks and separating
bast fibre -- the phloem fibres, most suitable for paper production --
>from the woody hurds.  The director of the Bar-sur-Aube cooperative
politely refused us saying that as he sold 20 per cent of his product to
England, he did not wish to encourage "English competition".  The De
Mauduit mill likewise refused to receive us, even though the FNPC
intervened in our behalf.

Their reticence is understandable.  It is streamlined mechanisation in
the breaking mills which has made the production of crude bast fibre for
paper much more cost-effective when undertaken on a large industrial
scale.  Not surprisingly this new system has led to an ever-increasing
centralisation of the hemp business.  Various small mills were involved
in the early 1960s, but in the past decade the field has narrowed to two
major concerns, besides the Bar-sur-Aube cooperative.  One is the
relatively traditional Job cigarette paper company in Toulouse, and the
other the giant De Mauduit factory in Quimperle, which has prevailed over
all its competitors in the main hemp-growing areas of central and
north-eastern France.  Its aggressive business acumen -- De Mauduit is
actually a subsidiary of the US paper multinational Kimberly Clark who
makes Kleenex tissues -- is based upon a fine understanding of the
profitability of the trade:  French farmers receive 435 francs per tonne
for the dried hemp stalks and De Mauduit charges 2500 francs for the
prepared bast paper fibre, for which the British paper maker ends up
paying L650 per tonne.  De Mauduit's treated paper fibre, hemp pulp
board, costs an astonishing 6500 francs per tonne.

Since the break mills have a virtually monopoly, the FNPC in Le Mans is
looking for ways of diversifying the market for the hemp its members
produce.  Research is being undertaken into the possibility of including
a proportion of hemp in various courser grades of paper, including
wrapping paper, as a means of increasing strength.  Some printing paper
manufacturers, including the company that produces the glossy pages of
Paris Match, are considering introducing a proportion of hemp into their
paper pulp.  So far the only indication that British companies other than
Robert Fletcher and Sons are actively researching hemp's paper potential
comes from the Manchester University's Department of Paper Science, which
refused to divulge information on recent work in this area because of
what information it had was a "trade secret".

Further potential for hemp in paper manufacture involves utilising the
plant's woody core, the hurds.  While the average fibre yield per hectare
is approximately 185 kg, fully two-and-a-half tonnes of hurds are
produced from the same area.  These are now being sold for animal bedding
and for producing building boards with good sound-proofing properties.
As far back as 1916, however, the US Department of Agriculture carried
out a number of semi-commercial tests on the use of hurds for paper
production and concluded:  "After several trials, under conditions of
treatment and manufacture which are regarded as favourable in comparison
with those used with wood pulp, paper was produced which received very
favourable comment both from investigators and from the trade and which
according to official tests would be classed as No. 1 machine finish
printing paper."  Not only could hemp hurds compete with wood pulp on
cost and quality, but they were also found to be far more economical in
terms of land use.  "Every tract of of 10,000 acres which is devoted to
hemp raising year by year is equivalent to a sustained pulp-producing
capacity of 40,500 acres of average pulp-wood lands."  Despite a 1977
Italian study which found that this usage remained commercially viable,
paper companies are apparently disregarding the potential for hurds, even
though paper production from hurds is much less polluting than from wood
pulp.  Hemp hurds contain on average 4 per cent lignin, as opposed to
18-30 per cent in wood, and it is the effluent resulting from washing out
the lignin that causes the most pollution in the chemical pulping
process.

Some thought is now going into researching non-paper applications for
hemp products.  At present seeds (farmers receive 10 francs per kg;
average yield is 50 kg/ha) have a limited use, being sold mainly as
animal feed, bird food and anglers' bait.  However, cannabis seeds
contain 30-45 per cent high protein oil, which is edible, or may be used
in future in paint production.

The French hemp industry is of course entirely disregarding cannabis'
textile potential, despite the fact that in Brittany some small farmers
still produce hempen sheets and other hard-wearing cloth for their own
use.  We were informed in France that the production of the high quality
fibres required for textiles remains prohibitively costly and that rope
and sacking are imported from Eastern Bloc countries where labour costs
remain lower.  Scottish hemp fibre importers obtain a large percentage of
their material from Poland.  According to our research, the finest hemp
cloth has always been produced by the Chinese and Italians, and
Yugoslavia, India and Japan are still producing hemp textiles, the latter
in combination with synthetic fibres.

What might be the future for revitalised hemp fibre industry in the UK?
Certainly, the British paper-makers could not but welcome any attempt to
undercut prices they pay for imported hemp, but in order to achieve this,
considerable capital must be invested in British breaking mills.
However, what is possible of more interest than the now established use
of fibre for high quality paper is the future of hemp fibre in textiles.
Given careful preparation, high-quality hemp cloth can be produced in
Britain that is both comfortable and more durable than any other natural
textile.  A hemp/wool mix was once widely used in France, being known
generically as berlinge.  Demand is growing for durable natural fibre
products where the public will pay a somewhat higher price for a superior
product.  Certain clothing manufacturers in the US have expressed an
interest in hemp jeans (Levi Strauss's original jeans were made from
hempen sailcloth), while the outdoor equipment industry is also returning
where possible to natural fibres, and hemp might be ideal in, for
instance, specialist mountaineering backpacks.  Given the mess in which
the British textile industry finds itself, such innovative ideas could
well bear fruit, particularly if the technology can be developed from the
existing machinery in the linen industry to keep the cost of preparing
weaving quality hemp fibre within reasonable limits.

All this, of course, presumes a more sensible government attitude to
British cultivation laws.  (Cannabis stalks and seeds are already legal,
and can be safely imported.)  While international law governing cannabis
cultivation makes a specific exemption for industrial uses, no such
exemption exists in British law, and growers must obtain their official,
low-THC seed directly from the FNPC, informing the Ministries of Health
and Agriculture of their intentions.  Such a model could easily be
introduced into this country in conformity with the Common Agriculture
Policy.  Since the rapid expansion of the French industry furnishes proof
of profit potential, British farmers might be justifiably annoyed at
being threatened with a 14 year jail sentence for growing a plant,
generously subsidised by the EEC on the continent, from which their
French neighbours are making good money.  Or perhaps Her Majesty's
government should sue the EEC commissioners for conspiring to aid and
abet a criminal offence?

------------------------------ End Article ------------------------------

Freedom, 
Drew