Hempsters hope for sustainable future

by Katy Rushlau / Beacon Staff • November 15, 2012

Hemposium tharp
Visitors used hemp-based twine to make bracelets.
Visitors used hemp-based twine to make bracelets.

Soap, ice cream, and bracelets don’t usually go together, but this past Thursday they were connected by one key ingredient: hemp.

 Earth Emerson and Emerson Reform teamed up to host Hemposium, an educational event to spread awareness and appreciation for hemp.

The environmentally friendly product, according to Earth Emerson Co-President, Erin Moriarty, is a variety of the cannabis plant and is grown for the fiber and the seeds. These components are valuable because they grow quickly — as opposed to trees — and can be used in the manufacturing of rope, clothing, paper, oils, plastic, and building materials.

“Hemp is a very real and very exciting alternative for the unsustainable lifestyle we are currently facing,” said Moriarty. “There is so much information out there in its favor.  It can reshape everything from the food we eat to the houses we live in to the way we take responsibility for the planet.”

The gathering took place in the Bill Bordy Theater and featured a screening of Hempsters: Plant the Seed, a documentary following seven hemp activists fighting for industrialization of the good.

Margo Gomes, a senior political communication major and vice president of Emerson Reform, a group that advocates  for change in U.S. drug policy, explained that a common misunderstanding about hemp is its association with marijuana.

“Hemp is illegal to grow in the U.S. under federal law, which I feel like most people don’t realize,” said Gomes. “And this is because of its relation with marijuana. Hemp is such a wonderful organic resource and it actually has a lot to offer.”

The approximately 40 attendees also enjoyed free hemp-based samples, including Dr. Bronner’s soap and J.P. Licks pistachio ice cream. The hemp seeds or “nuts,” according to Hemp.com, are ground and used to make oils and milk that can be used in cosmetics and as a dairy substitute.

Moriarty explained that industrial hemp and marijuana are not the same thing. She said it is important to note that hemp cannot be used for smoking, and the plant parts produce different levels of the harmful chemical, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. According to Science Daily, marijuana contains up to 25 percent THC, whereas hemp contains less than 0.3 percent.

“I’m not sure if there is a large portion of people who think you can smoke hemp twine or something,” said Moriarty. “But there is this misconception, so we just can’t have hemp grown for its true purpose.”

After the screening, the hosts passed out hemp twine. The group twisted and tied hemp bracelets and hair wraps and discussed their opinions and views about the product. 

Lia Brouillard, a freshman marketing communication major, said she thinks students should be aware that marijuana is not the only use for hemp.

“I think students should know that hemp is not the bud of the marijuana plant. It’s just its fibers,” said Brouillard. “[There are so many] benefits of using hemp products, and so much can be created with such a small environmental impact.”

Junior journalism major Kaela Holmes, co-president of Earth Emerson, said she hopes events like this will better educate people about these sustainable commodities.

“We hope that with the more education we can spread about hemp, that we can make it more socially acceptable,” said Holmes. “[It would be wonderful] to not have to rely on importing hemp from other countries or states that allow hemp for commercial production.”

With the recent decriminalization of marijuana in Massachusetts, Moriarty said she thinks this is a step in the right direction for understanding and utilizing the many components of the crop.

“Once pot is accepted, then perhaps we can start thinking seriously about industrial hemp, which would revolutionize the way we produce and consume,” said Moriarty.

Gomes also explained that the goal of Hemposium and other environmental events is to educate students about environmental, economic, and political issues, as well as to teach students to make environmentally savvy decisions.

Moriarty said both Earth Emerson and Emerson Reform hope to host similar programs in the future, including environmental campaigns next semester. She explained that there has recently been collaboration and discussion about the possibility of an alliance between the progressive groups on campus.

“That is still in its very rudimentary stages, but it is exciting to imagine a large coalition of social and environmental groups here at Emerson,” said Moriarty. “There are so many brilliant and determined activists at our school demonstrating their care and their hope. It’s really encouraging.”