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Marijuana holds many roles (and nicknames) within America’s socio-political atmosphere: it’s the worst fear of paranoid mothers everywhere, a main villain in the government’s failed war on drugs, and the saving grace of college students and stoners everywhere. While weed actively remains a controversial and touchy topic for the general populous, it appears that its rouge cousin–hemp–might just become the next best thing since, well, weed.
Before we even start, let’s learn the difference between hemp and weed. Hemp and weed are both a type of cannabis plant. The latter has large amounts of THC (which is the chemical responsible for getting you high) while the former has next to none. Marijuana possesses higher concentrations of mind-altering chemicals, which is what those attending Grateful Dead concerts smoke, while the significantly less-cool hemp is traditionally used with more global purpose like for the creation of clothing, paper, plastics, and building materials.
Hemp is quite simply a wonder plant. Hemp seeds can be turned into oil, butter, milk and even flour. The oil found within the seeds can be used for fuel, lubricants, paints, cosmetics, ink, and varnishes. The stalk itself can be broken down for canvas, netting, ropes, cardboard, paper products, and even concrete. In simpler terms, Hemp has the possibility to supplement a large amount of our modern day necessities.
With hemp’s mind-blowing variety of applications, it begs the question: why is it illegal, and why can’t we grow it?
The easiest answer is that the United States’ government is filled with a bunch of squares.
Back in the 1930s, a smear campaign regarding the dangers of marijuana was launched by competing companies in the plastic and paper industry who feared what hemp could do to their businesses. Panic began to ensue surrounding marijuana; people thought the herb would lead to acts of violence, shocking depravity, and would somehow manage to destroy society. Despite hemp containing no THC, The 1937 Drug Act banned any and all types of cannabis from being grown or distributed on American soil.
Since then, pretty much any and all hemp production has ceased and we’re all missing out on its many wonders. Or are we? In 2014 President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014, which allows state universities and state departments to cultivate industrial hemp for limited purposes, such as academic research or pilot programs. Since then, 31 states have either licensed local farmers to begin farming hemp or have opened research-based hemp farms.
According to hemp farmer and bestselling author Doug Fine, hemp is just the beginning of great things for American agriculture. “It’s a fantastic and valuable crop,” he tells BTRtoday. “It heals soil, provides an income for small farmers, and produces incredibly healthy products.”
Fine is right about helping small farmers. With anti-smoking campaigns, many established tobacco farms in southern states such as Kentucky are struggling to get by. Hundreds of farmers are trying their luck with industrialized hemp. The push to become the “Silicon Valley” of hemp is driving up both employment and the economies in towns willing to try and cultivate the plant.
Hemp can bring a bright future to a lot of poverty stricken agricultural areas in the Southern and Midwestern states. Getting the Federal government to widen the availability of hemp is necessary, but is very close to becoming a reality, according to Fine.
“The governmental stance on hemp is already supportive: important hemp provisions pass by wide bipartisan margins every time they come up,” informs Fine. “The only remaining step is the commercial legalization bill S. 134 and I’m optimistic that it will pass in the next year.”
Bill S.134 is a measure proposed by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, which would exclude hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, and allow the plant to be grown for industrial purposes nationwide. Marijuana would (sadly) still be illegal, but its straight-edge cousin would be allowed to flourish in accordance to each state’s individual set of laws.
The fight to legalize marijuana might still be a long one, but the fight for the right to grow hemp might be won very soon.
“We’re already seeing this start to happen in the ground,” reminds Fine, “because farmers see the value on the growing hemp market.”