Hemp : Marijuana :: O’Doul’s : Budweiser
Recent publicity over the expanding legalization of medicinal marijuana has overshadowed the quiet progress being made in the industrial hemp arena. For those who aren’t aware, hemp is to marijuana what O’Doul’s is to Budweiser. That is to say, industrial hemp is a non-psychoactive, subspecies of Cannabis with less than 1% THC and much more CBD, which counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, rendering it useless for smoking (contrasted to that of marijuana which has upwards of 10 - 20% THC.) Hemp is used to make everything from clothing and paper, to building materials and beneficial food products. It is one of the most sustainable, rapidly growing crops, and yields nearly four times as much usable fiber as trees or cotton. It is a non-psychoactive species of Cannabis, yet it is illegal to grow in most of the United States.
As early as the 1700s, hemp was a vital crop in the U.S. Prior to 1850 all western ships used hempen rope and sails; even Old Ironsides used hempen rope and sails. Conestoga wagons were covered with hempen canvas. The hemp industry was strongest in Kentucky, Missouri and parts of Wisconsin during the mid 1800s and thrived until the Marihuana Tax Act of 1938. Then, in 1942 the U.S. government released a short film made during World War II titled “Hemp for Victory” promoting and encouraging the industrial farming and growing of hemp. Why? Because it was costing far too much to import industrial fibers and products such as rope, cloth and cords from overseas. Over 146,000 acres of fiber hemp were harvested in 1943 until cheaper fibers for cording, such as jute and sisal, initiated a second decline in the demand for hemp. Cotton soon took center stage as a more profitable crop, and with more textiles being made from cotton the decline in the demand for hemp continued. And although it has been known for decades that hemp produces a higher quality and grade of paper, wood pulp continues to be our primary paper source, resulting in the continued deforestation and resulting degradation of our environment. In the 1950s, the confusion and association with its cousin, marijuana, resulted in anti-drug legislation banning all varieties of cannabis, putting a pointless end to one of the most useful, sustainable crops in our country for nearly 70 years.
Thankfully, we are seeing signs of progress in Washington DC. This week’s federal farm bill approved by Congress includes a Hemp Amendment, which although doesn't legalize hemp production, does allow research on industrial hemp by universities and state agriculture departments in the 10 states where hemp production is legal: California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. That means more support for proving that industrial hemp can be the U.S.’s next biggest sustainable crop. Eleven more states have introduced hemp bills this year: Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. And 14 states have defined industrial hemp as being distinctly different from marijuana and removed production barriers. There are two bills pending in Congress right now that would legalize hemp completely; House Resolution 525, the "Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013," and the companion legislation, Senate Bill 359.
The U.S. hemp industry is estimated to be over $500 million in annual retail sales, with everything from handbags (left) to edible hemp hearts. The progress being made on Capitol Hill means hope for the U.S. at becoming a predominant source for one of most sustainable crops on the planet.
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