5 ways cannabis could contribute to social and environmental sustainability.

As more and more evidence is revealed regarding the therapeutic benefits of cannabis flowers so the discourse continues back and forth around the pros and cons of reforming the laws that govern the human-cannabis relationship. While this discussion is almost always exclusively focussed on the psychotropic effects of the female flowers our relationship with the rest of the plant goes largely ignored. Bizarrely, cultivation of the non-psychoactive parts of the plant — the stem, leaves and seed (known colloquially as hemp) — also falls under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Despite this archaic law, knowledge that whole plant cannabis has the potential to contribute a wealth of benefits to both people and planet is becoming widespread.

Here are 5 ways that cannabis can contribute to social and ecological sustainability.

1.Housing

The UK’s deepening housing crisis is untenable, with no end in sight. A 21st century social housing strategy should be at the top of the list of priorities for any government. Cannabis stems can make a significant contribution to the amelioration of climate change and to low cost housing through the processing of the the hurds (woody shivs) to make hempcrete — a sustainable ecologically friendly alternative to concrete. British designer and presenter of TV programme Grand Designs, Kevin Macloud, is a keen advocate of hempcrete. Steve Allin, hempcrete expert, has been working with hempcrete for over twenty years and has seen the performance of hempcrete compared with standard concrete firsthand and continues to advocate hempcrete as a low-cost, ecologically sustainable building material.

Hemp Blocks

2.Food security

The UK faces a double thronged food security crisis — a crisis in production and a crisis in the cost to consumers. Currently the UK imports 48% of its food and this figure is rising. As food prices rise globally so the UK consumer has to pay more for a loaf of bread. We are already experiencing a food bank use epidemic in the UK which is steadily rising. Hemp is a food source. The hemp seed, essentially a nut, is a highly nutritional food source. It is packed full of healthy oil, protein, dietary fibre, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. The oil, derived from cold pressing the seed, is over 80% in polyunsaturated fatty acids and can provide us with our required daily intake of essential omega oils and amino acids. The leaves are a great alternative salad food and can also be juiced to make a nutritional smoothie. Currently hemp based foods are expensive but there is no reason they have to be if they were locally produced.

3.Soil health

Decades of industrial farming has had a massive impact on the health of our soil, with maize being the number one culprit. While most people give little thought to the soil in which their food is grown, it is nevertheless, a vital component in the production of our food. If our soil is not in good health then it cannot produce nutritious food. The government produced a report last year concluding that “Soil is crucial to society. Neglecting soil health could have dire consequences for food security, climate change, and public health”. This is where cannabis can provide a solution. Cannabis literally sucks up toxic heavy metals from the soil. This process is known as phytoremediation. So, before we even consider using her raw materials cannabis is at work fixing the soil. This makes it an ideal rotational crop for farmers.

4.Energy storage

One of the most exciting potentials for the ‘waste’ from the cannabis plant is its application as a low-cost graphene alternative. Graphene is the world’s first two dimensional material stronger than steel, flexible and incredible at conducting heat and electricity. One of the main issues with renewable energy is how to store it efficiently. One solution is the production of carbon nanosheets made from graphene that can be used in supercapacitors, essentially highly efficiant batteries of the future. However, Graphene is extremely expensive to produce. Once again, cannabis to the rescue! The whole stem biomass (all the unused parts of the stem) from cannabis has been found to be a very affordable alternative to graphene even being touted as ‘better than graphene’. Cannabis could provide viable solutions to future energy security here in the UK.

5.Community cohesion

It is very easy to argue that all these uses for cannabis are incredible and could be hugely beneficial to people and planet but, as with the exploitation of any raw material, who will profit from any progressive move to incorporate cannabis hemp into the mainstream? Who will be in control of the means of production? Well there is more good news because people can benefit directly. Cannabis lends itself perfectly to the co-operative model of production. This is not resigned to utopian imaginations but rooted in actual reality. Hempen, a workers co-op based in Oxfordshire run a community harvesting event for their crop of hemp; in Slovenia another co-op, Konopko, are leading the way producing biodegradable plastics from their crop; and in Oakland, California couple Karissa and Region Lewis of Full Harvest farm have developed an urban permaculture project whereby cannabis is a central element to their project. This is an incredible space where former inmates can come and learn to grow food and cannabis.

Karissa and Region Lewis

Unfortunately, these relationships with cannabis remain largely in the realm of potential due to a lack of governmental interest in sustainable solutions to the growing socio-ecological crises. It is very difficult for small scale farmers to sustain a living from growing hemp. A responsible and progressive government would first remove cannabis from the Misuse of Drugs Act. Following that, government should subsidize small scale farmers and producers to grow hemp so that they can create a viable infrastructure for this relationship to fully blossom.

Hempen