Since ancient times the fibres from the cannabis or hemp plant have been used to make fabric, rope and paper (Abel 1980). In World War II, the USA grew 50,000 acres of hemp, as part of their war effort (see United States Government 1944, Hemp for Victory), and hemp fibres were used to make rope for ships and the canvas used in parachutes. More recently, experimental crops of a low THC-content species of cannabis have been grown in The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France and Tasmania. Its fibres have been used in the production of paper and fabric. Australian groups such as the Business Alliance for Commercial Hemp argue that Australia should allow the cultivation of hemp for industrial purposes. The position is that, if a State or Territory Government authorises the growing of cannabis, the Commonwealth will issue a permit for the importation of seeds, provided that the applicant for the import permit meets the criteria set out in the Act, such as being 'a fit and proper person'.
The trade magazine for the US paper industry recently argued that hemp has a number of advantages over timber in the area of paper production, and there are a number of strong environmental arguments for the commercial cultivation of hemp. Every four months, each acre of hemp grown will produce 10 tons of fibre. It can produce four times the amount of paper per acre than 20-year-old trees can, it requires less bleaching than pulp from timber and, because it is a very densely growing crop, weeds are choked and there is less need for pesticides and herbicides (Young 1991). In addition, hemp requires less watering and pesticides than cotton and produces a fibre that is argued to be more durable than cotton fabrics (Cowperthwaite 1993).
The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs allows the cultivation of cannabis for industrial and horticultural purposes. Article 28(2) states that 'this Convention should not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fibre and seed) or horticultural purposes'. Australian drug legislation permits the cultivation of cannabis for scientific purposes and some limited experimentation has already taken place in Australia. However, groups such as the Business Alliance for Commerical Hemp argue that the full benefits of hemp production can only be obtained if hemp is grown on a wider scale, and that cannabis with a very low THC content can be grown for industrial purposes. Legislation permitting the cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes could be included in existing drug legislation, however, as with the medicinal use of cannabis, introducing legislation that recognises the industrial uses of a substance that is thought of simply as a dangerous illicit drug may pose political difficulties for those advocating legislative change.
Abel, E. 1980, Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years, Plenum Press, New York. Cowperthwaite, V. 1993, 'Moral Fibre', Growing Today, June, pp23-27 United States Government 1944, Hemp for Victory, Educational Film. Young, J. 1991, 'It's time to reconsider hemp', Pulp and Paper, June.