Hemp is nothing new. In fact it’s quite old, cultivated for the last twelve millennia or so for the production of rope, canvas, paper and clothing. The first American flag was made of hemp, and now it’s uses have evolved into car parts, building materials, medicine, fuel and food. It is good for the environment, enriches the soil, requires little to no pesticides or herbicides and as a compact crop saves valuable land space–truly a remarkable plant! It is such a useful and viable crop that in the early days of American history a person could go to jail for not growing it on their land! So what exactly is hemp, where did it go, and why has it been against the law to grow it in this country for the better part of a century?
First of all, let’s get this one scientific fact straight. Hemp is not marijuana. Nor is it medical marijuana or anything ‘juana and you don’t ‘juana make the mistake of thinking it is! Even though the two are somewhat related and have the same family name (Cannabis), hemp is a fibrous plant known for numerous industrial and environmental uses and does not have the psychogenic effect of it’s cousin. No high with hemp!
Yet the two are still conflated. This guilt-by-name association has been a most unfortunate misconception since growing marijuana was outlawed in 1937. Over the next several years hemp struggled for its own identity separate from it’s infamous relative. The film “Hemp for Victory”was created in 1942 encouraging US farmers to grow hemp to support the war effort, but as the years went by its association with marijuana continued to strengthen through the efforts of competing interests. Then both were named in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, effectively removing one of the most useful crops in the world from the American economy. Since then China, Romania, Hungary, India and Canada have had a grand time growing it for us. Estimated annual sales for hemp products in the U.S. are reported at more than $580 million annually.
The good news is that there is now widespread recognition amongst scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and entrepreneurs that the laws are outdated and based on misinformation. It’s time to bring hemp growing home. Although it’s still against federal law for private citizens to cultivate it, the 2014 Farm Bill allows it by permit under the auspices of a pilot or research program. Some states, Kentucky for example, have successfully reintroduced hemp cultivation through these permitting programs. Colorado legalized it in 2014. Other states have been encumbered by interpretation of language in the Federal Farm Bill and have not yet permitted private landowners and farmers to grow it, despite the tremendous potential for economic benefit.
Yet there is hope. Current legislation here in Maryland, if passed, would allow for farmers to register as hemp growers as soon as next year. If you live in this state please urge your delegate to support House Bill 698. If you live elsewhere, go to the Vote Hemp website for full information on the issues and the status of the legislation in your state. You can enter your zip code for a quick and easy full -text letter to the right folks. Just click and send to encourage your representatives to let hemp come home! Now thatis patriotism.