Industrial hemp gains momentum at the San Francisco Green Festival

By Betsy Herbert

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 11/14/13, 12:00 AM PST

Last Saturday, I enjoyed a 3.5-mile walk from a friend's apartment in San Francisco to the 11th annual Green Festival at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. Billed as "the nation's premier sustainability event," the Green Festival is an extravaganza of organic food, green building, urban farming, solar energy, green jobs, electric cars and sustainable clothing.

The Green Festival is a joint project of two nonprofits, Green America and Global Exchange.

We arrived early, both to beat the crowds flocking to the 350 exhibits and to hear Kevin Danaher, founder of Global Exchange, laud the "new triple bottom-line economy." Danaher said this new economy is developing all over the world "from the grassroots up," spurred into action by the chaos created by climate change.

The term "triple bottom-line" refers to the three basic requirements in this new economy: social justice, environmental restoration, and financial sustainability. Danaher -- whose tough, street-smart delivery seems fashioned after George Carlin's -- said that all of the Green Festival's exhibitors were pre-screened to make sure they meet the requirements of this new economic model.

Next on my festival agenda was a screening of the newly released documentary film about industrial hemp, "Bringing it Home," produced and directed by Linda Booker and Blaire Johnson. Booker was on hand to introduce the film.

Hemp, unlike its stonier cousin marijuana, is a non-psychoactive plant.

"You'd have to smoke a telephone pole of it to get high," Booker said.

Fast-growing, pest-resistant hemp is also one of the world's most prolific sources of natural fiber and has been used historically worldwide to make paper, rope and canvas.

This engaging hour-long film begins with the story of Anthony Brenner's search for the healthiest available building materials to design a house for his young daughter, who is sensitive to synthetic chemicals. His search leads him to build the nation's first hemp house, in Asheville, N.C. Hemp, when mixed with lime, is a carbon-neutral, energy-efficient building material that is mildew, fire and pest resistant. Hemp fiber by itself is an efficient and nontoxic insulation material.

In 2001, the Drug Enforcement Agency outlawed the use of hemp in U.S. consumer products, but the agency was ordered to rescind that law in 2004 after a federal court decided in favor of Dr. Bronner's Soap and other hemp product manufacturers that sued the DEA for overstepping its authority. The plaintiffs argued that hemp contains only traces of marijuana's psychoactive element THC, similar to the percentage of alcohol found in orange juice. Their argument prevailed -- the DEA doesn't have the authority to outlaw hemp as a dangerous drug.

Still, growing industrial hemp remains illegal in the U.S., though it is legal to grow it in 31 other countries, including Canada, the UK and China.

The film demonstrates that global demand is increasing for hemp products, including textiles, paper, building materials, food products, bioplastics, and auto parts. American consumers alone are purchasing more than $450 million in hemp products annually.

But U.S. manufacturers must import hemp from other countries because it's still illegal to grow it here. More industrial hemp fiber, seed and oil is exported to the U.S. than to any other country. The film points out that hemp could be a money-making crop for U.S. farmers and create jobs. It asks "Why can't we grow it here?"

"Hemp insulation supplied by US farmers would jump start the economy; the market will be driven by consumer demand," Booker told the audience.

Booker and Johnson are now marketing the DVD online. The "Bringing it Home" website,, provides a way to host public screenings.