When talking to someone who is passionate about something, we can’t help but get revved up by the excitement. Doug Fine is a hemp passion player and his enthusiasm and thorough knowledge of the plant is contagious. This comedic investigative journalist and author has spent his life exploring the spaces and places least populated by popular culture, searching for inspiring, funny, and insightful truths, then dispatching them back to the mainstream through such channels as the Washington Post, Salon, Sierra, Outside, and NPR. His bestselling book Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution examined America's 40 year War on Drugs and its failure. He outlined a method by which America could regulate cannabis like alcohol, thereby both crushing the drug cartels, and profiting from the wonder plant. His follow-up effort, Hemp Bound, focuses on the challenges and implications of utilizing marijuana's non-psychoactive cousin to re-invent American farming. The book was published just one month after Congress re-legalized hemp via the 2014 Farm Bill--after demonizing it for 77 years. (Did you know Betsy Ross wove the first American flag out of hemp?)
We spoke with Fine recently about his book Hemp Bound and wanted to disseminate just a few of the insights he shared with us. Fine has spent the past two years traveling around the world researching the utility and wide spread applications of hemp. He has taken a ride in a cannabis fueled limo (hemp can be made into a bio-fuel that can replace petroleum), he has seen a tractor chassis made from hemp (hemp fibers can be processed to have tensile strength greater than steel), and has studied the construction of an entire house made from hempcrete (a hemp based concrete alternative) in Asheville, North Carolina. In every region he visited, he found folks who were passionate about hemp making a difference in the world. In some cases, alongside these folks were grass roots organizations fighting to raise awareness of hemp and the role it could play to change our world for the better. He’s visited groups in Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, farmers in Eastern Washington, such as the Rocky Mountain Hemp association and elsewhere--all out there spreading the word. While it is important that large scale advocacy groups move to change things in the big picture, Fine believes that much of the work must start close to home. As with hemp's psychoactive cousin, acceptance has to happen on a local level for sustainable change to take hold.
"We're in a place where hemp is no longer as controversial as it used to be," he says. There are a lot of ambitious consumers out there, and growers are highly interested in taking on hemp. Even mainstream people are interested in it when they start to understand the implications of adopting the crop on a large scale, and how it can replace so many resources on which our society is negatively dependent (such as oil).
The textile industry is an interesting example. Though some remain pessimistic about using hemp as an alternative, Fine believes that there's a very strong infrastructure in place. If US industry switched over to hemp instead of relying on foreign wool, flax, or cotton, there could be massive savings over shipping it from China.
There's power in momentum, Fine believes, which is why it's important that we support these smaller, local grass roots groups now. If this large scale awareness of cannabis dies on the vine and people don't act on changing and adopting it large-scale, it could take a long time to get legislation back on track.
The biggest challenge Fine has experienced, is that when you bring up the topic for the first time, "you sound like the roommate with the lava lamp." However, there is so much more to be said about this plant than what the outdated perceptions might suggest.
Take for example the ongoing issue of power supply – Fine notes that when solar power was first introduced, the skeptics saw no potential, noting the expense of installing and the actual energy output. He sees hemp as a potential boon for the energy industry. If given the due credit and research, there is a possibility that hemp could be an energy resource to support the masses. The world can only benefit from communities becoming energy independent and hemp could be a resource to make this happen through innovation and exploration.
Until a broader scale initiative like that takes place, Fine demonstrates how hemp can replace products in the home. There are great brands out there like Manitoba Harvest and Dr. Bronner’s, as noted in his book, that are much more sustainable and fair trade focused than other resources more commonly used. Fine’s Twitter feed and Facebook pages are helpful in checking out the products that he has explored.
One key point we took away from talking with Fine is the importance of really trying to enact sustainable practices with this bourgeoning cannabis industry across the board. It is a rare instance where an industry can start off aiming for more efficient and eco-friendly practices, rather than trying change that down the line. Hemp is naturally more sustainable in that it is heartier than many crops (cotton, soy, etc.) and can be used in less farming-friendly lands. Marijuana is going through some growing pains, as there are more challenges in keeping the process efficient, but now is the time to put sustainable methods in place for hemp.
In the end, hemp has great potential to revive the struggling farming industry in the US, as well as create a wealth of jobs. Fine feels that, like any other crop, hemp should be studied and regulated, so we may understand the best way to cultivate the plant in the US. Right now, it seems that hemp really can be the answer.
Our thanks to Doug Fine for talking with us and for inspiring us. We hope his book enlightens many others in the same way it has for us. Hemp Bound provides a massive amount of fascinating information about hemp–and Fine’s clear, witty prose makes it a quick, engaging read. Hemp Bound can be found in many local books stores, and also from his website.