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THE WONDERS OF HEMP

Even if you "Just Say No" todrugs, you've probably crossed state linesmany times with large amounts of hemp. And ifyou haven't, no doubt one day you will.

Hemp, a member of the cannabis family of plants, isrelated to marijuana and illegal to grow in the United States. Nevertheless, hemp iseverywhere in clothing, cosmetics and even in the door panels of more than amillion Ford, Chrysler and General Motors cars.

Advocates call hemp a miracle crop. It can be blendedto make an array of textiles, from carpeting to finely woven Armani suits. It can beheat-treated to form fiberglass-like building materials and car parts. Itcan be eaten, or it can be put in a car engine as a replacement for petroleum.

You can shop for hemp salad dressing, hemp skin creamand hemp toilet paper. Then you can carry the goodies home in a hemp grocerybag, and laugh about it over a hemp beer.

Apparently, industrial hemp is good for practicallyeverything but getting high. This form of cannabis has only the slightest amount of THC - theillegal mind-bending substance in marijuana.

Nevertheless, hemp is still having trouble shaking itsshady image. That's why hemp farming is banned in the United States under theControlled Substances Act, even though it's legal in Western Europe, Canada and Asia.

America was once a hemp-producing country. It wasfarmed by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The paper upon which theDeclaration of Independence was drafted and the rags Betsy Ross used to sew the firstflag were made of hemp.

But hemp's heyday came to an end after World War II,when the government began crackdowns on marijuana. Hemp can still be legallyimported, and Americans purchase about $25 million of this product annually foruse in clothing, food and industrial goods.

Now, with Earth Day, comes the renewed call to lift theban on this versatile, eco-friendly crop, which we may one day put in our bothour mouths and our gas tanks. Hemp advocates say that's more than a pipedream, so let's see what they're so high about.

A Smokin' Ride: A car that's made of hemp and runs onhemp seems like the idea of someone who has watched one too many Cheech and Chongmovies and not America's most famous auto manufacturer, Henry Ford.

Yet the man behind the Model T was a big believer inbio-diesel fuels. Ford's hemp mobile, devised in the late 1920s, consisted of a steelchassis with fiber and plastics made from hemp resin.

Two years ago, Kellie and Grayson Sigler of Virginiahonored Ford's vision of a petroleum-free car when they crossed North America intheir HempCar - a modified Mercedes station wagon that trekked 13,000 milesburning this whacky weed.

The good news: The HempCar got 27 miles a gallon. Thebad news: Hemp fuel presently costs about $50 a gallon. Nevertheless, theSiglers say hemp fuel burns clean, and nobody compared the exhaust fumes to a bigfat joint.

Even if you don't have hemp in your gas tank, you mighthave it on your chassis. The University of Toronto is experimenting with superheatedhemp to make biodegradable car bumpers that are lightweight and tough, helping tomake a bad trip better.

Junkie Food: Hemp baker Lynn Gordon says the only thingthat's addictive about her Healthy Hemp Sprouted Bread is "the great taste."

Two years ago, the Drug Enforcement Administrationtried to crack down on the growing market for hemp-based food, which now includesa hemp breakfast cereal, hemp waffle mix and if you still have the munchies -"hempzel" pretzels.

Now, you can expect an explosion of more hemp products,thanks to a federal appeals court in San Francisco. Judges recognized that hempseedin products like Gordon's bread have no more danger than poppy seeds, whichcontain trace amounts of opium but pose no harm to bagel lovers.

Hemp tastes similar to pine nuts. The nutritional valueis said to be the real selling point. Advocates tout the plant's seeds and oil as amiracle nutrient, high in vitamins B and E, rich in essential fatty acids and packed withprotein.

Now, we can talk about the health benefits of such newproducts as Heavenly Hemp Tortilla Chips, HempNut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches,and Cheddar HempNut Cheese Alternative.

High Fashion: As a force in fashion, hemp long ago beatthe granola off its image. Giorgio Armani has featured hemp in his Emporio Armanicollections. Other designers have followed suit.

There's even an all-natural, eco-friendly hemp thong."You'd be surprised how well they sell," says George Bates of Shirt Magic inLewiston, Calif.

"This is for the woman who has one eye on theenvironment and the other eye on impressing her boyfriend."

The Body Shop and Earthly Body are among the cosmeticsellers that hail hemp's high concentration of fatty acids for dry lips, skinand hair. Julia Roberts told British reporters last year that she favors Alterna's Hemp SeedStraightening Balm.

Seedy Joints: If you're really trying to make astatement, check into the HempWorld hotel in Amsterdam, where there's hemp in the doormat,the bedsheets, the bathroom shower curtain, the restaurant's house wine and thecoffee.

Another seedy joint: California's Compassion FlowerInn, which calls itself the world's first "bed, bud and breakfast."

Guests are greeted at the entrance with a cannabis-leafmosaic and can learn about the wondrous weed in the hotel's hemp library.

The Compassionate Flower celebrates all forms ofcannabis. Guests can even light up a joint, if they have a note from their doctor.

"We're a safe haven for the use of medicinalmarijuana," says innkeeper Andrea Tischler, who has a prescription for medicinalmarijuana.

"Hemp and marijuana get confused so much, but mostly bypeople who don't smoke marijuana," Tischler says. "I wonder what it is that'sdistorting their senses and if we can ban that."

Written by: Buck Wolf - ABC News


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