Hemp Paper
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What does the Gutenberg Bible, the 17th century King James Bible, Huckleberry Finn, The Three Musketeers, Alice in Wonderland and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh have in common with each other? They, and almost everything else up until the close of the 18th century, were made using hemp paper.

Despite the attempt of the Chinese (who for all practical purposes invented the medium of paper for writing around 105AD) to keep the secret of modern paper making from the rest of the world, the ‘technology’ was eventually replicated the world over and traditional writing mediums such as papyrus, tree barks, clay tablets and parchments (animal skin) quickly met its end.

Why keep it a secret, you may wonder? A simple to produce, long lasting and cost effective writing medium allows the recording and archiving of events, knowledge and theories, leading to the establishment of a continuous review, extrapolation and analysis of knowledge by scholars over generations; creating the first instance of cumulative learning and communal intellectual development. A civilization based on such a premise will easily outgrow and dominate other contemporary competitors, who would still base their cultural and scientific development generationally. This explains why China was so dominant in the centuries after the discovery of the hemp paper, before the Europeans started to catch up 1400 years later.

Despite the dominance that hemp paper held in the world’s writing industry, which includes newspapers, currencies, and of course books, very few of us are cognizant of its place in history. Its hardy nature and ease of production made it into an intrinsic part of the society. The incredible regenerative properties of the hemp fibers allowed used ropes, fabrics and other by products of the hemp plant to be recycled into hemp paper, ensuring that the production value of the plants are maximized almost completely. The robust nature of the hemp paper, as well as its natural ability to tolerate humidity and pests, makes it last almost a hundred times longer than other forms of writing medium at the time.

Not an eyebrow were raised when the first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, and up until the 1920’s, the American government itself was still using the them as a writing medium, including for laws and decrees. As far as writing mediums go, the hemp paper was almost perfect.

What went wrong, you may wonder again. Well, the hemp paper industry were indicted, jailed and the keys were thrown away by the lawmakers for the simple reason of guilt by association with its cousin, marijuana, a much better known by product of the hemp plant.

In an astonishingly concerted and coordinated attack led by William Randolph Hearst and Herman Oliphant, Chief Legal Counsel for the Treasury Dept, with incriminating evidence based primarily from the testimonies of staffs from Dupont Chemicals (who were a chief competitor of the hemp plant industry at the time through their development of the nylon fabric and wood pulp paper industry), the 1937 Marijuana Transfer Tax Act was enacted and subsequently passed by the Congress. In a single, swift stroke, marijuana was banished to the dark side of the American morality scales and along with that, the entire hemp plant family.






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