Jay Leno, the former host of the Tonight Show, is well known as a car enthusiast and now that extends to cannabis. According to CNBC, he recently purchased a 2017 Renew, a car designed by Bruce Dietzen to minimize environmental impact. All of this went down on a recent episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage.” The 2017 Renew is considered carbon neutral to produce; this means it doesn’t leave any part of a “carbon footprint”…..not even a toe. Essentially, it makes no release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that it doesn’t replace; any carbon dioxide that is released is offset by the materials used. For those who love their Mother Earth, this is good news. But that’s not the only interesting thing. Like a different kind of “Rolls” Royce, the car is made from woven cannabis hemp. You know the hemp necklace you made in camp, circa 1996? This is better. A car made of a plant might not seem that strong; plants wilt in the face of rain, hail, and – if cartoons are to be believed – not-so-pleasant odors. But the car isn’t only strong; it’s ten times stronger than steel. This is demonstrated during the episode by testing how much the car can bench press. Just kidding, but banging on the hood provides some insight.

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The Drivability of the Hemp Car

Though we don’t know what happens behind the cameras, at least on screen the cannabis car runs smooth. To up its greenness, recycled agricultural waste or biofuel can be used to make it go. But just because it’s drivable, does that mean it’s drivable for you? If you’re willing to shell out the cash (per the Renew Sports Cars website, the car costs a few thousand more than your run-of-the-mill new automobile). All cars are custom-made, allowing buyers to dictate – at least in part – how much they end up spending. The standards start around 40,000 dollars. This car made from hemp cannabis is stronger than steel from CNBC. The cars are built using a first-generation Miata Chassis engine. Thus, purchasers can either use the Miata motor (it’s a four cylinder) or upgrade.

Why Hemp?

Renew lists many reasons for their decision to use hemp in their automobiles. In part, it’s because hemp is lighter that steel or fiberglass, which results in a more efficient vehicle. It’s also because hemp is more resistant to dents than other materials (particularly carbon fiber). And it’s biodegradable. This last part suggests the real reason for Renew’s existence: hemp, as mentioned above, is carbon negative. Because plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and because hemp is a plant, its use impacts the environment in a positive manner. Its impact is fast too, specifically when compared to trees.

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Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but – weeping willows – they do it slowly. Some trees take decades to grow. Hemp, on the other hand, matures within three or four months

Naturally, driving a car made out of hemp is good for the planet, but it’s not always good for one’s reputation. Leno himself says this. He was quoted as saying, “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. The marijuana connection garners the interest, but then people don’t take you seriously.” The truth is, however, that this car is designed to drive and change the world; nothing more or less. It contains very little THC – anyone who thinks they’ll get high by following closely behind and sucking in the emissions is mistaken. Licking the hood will do nothing either, though  - who knows – maybe Leno will appreciate the free car wash.

Henry Ford and the Hemp Car

While Renew appears to be taking cannabis cars into the mainstream, Henry Ford may have had the idea long ago, according to lore, at least. Per Newsmax, Ford made a prototype car from hemp and other biological materials all the way back in 1941. Some people called this the “hemp car” while others referred to it as the “soybean car.” A few of the interesting things about it according to Popular Mechanics include: The car was made with hemp-derived plastics, something that upped its safety level. In fact, it was safer than other cars on the market. It was intended to run on plant fuel. Even way back in the olden days, people were thinking of ways to avoid using nonrenewable resources. It only weighed about 2,000 pounds – not light, but lighter than cars made of steel. Those weigh around 3,000 pounds. This lightness allowed for increased fuel efficiency.

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It was made of lots of crops. Sure, it had hemp, but it also used corn, soy, cotton, and wheat, to name a few

World War II halted production. When Ford began making his hemp car, the war was already underway (though America wouldn’t become overtly involved until the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941). Once the US became the main player, production of any other hemp cars was put on hold. The war ended in 1945, but America was focused on recovery efforts and the project faded into obscurity. Now, nearly eighty years later, it’s finding its way back into the limelight.