The bookies aren’t quoting “high” odds in Vegas – yet – but thousands of America’s farmers and processors are upbeat and restlessly hopeful this month after a recent ruling by the Obama White House to suspend raids on medical marijuana facilities by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
No, our farmers aren’t chomping to grow weed! But they won’t wait long to ramp up cultivation of industrial hemp – stymied in the U.S. since the federal war against “reefer madness” a half-century ago – when the DEA ever gives a similar go-ahead.
Although it technically is not “illegal” to grow industrial hemp, a DEA permit is required to do so, and none has ever been granted. The result is that over 30 industrial nations (among them Canada, France, England, Germany and China) now grow and process hemp for export to the U.S., which remains the largest market – consumer and industrial – for raw hemp on earth.
And for good reason! The growth and use of hemp is as important to American history as, well, the Declaration of Independence – which was written on hemp paper. Or Levi’s jeans, originally made with hemp fiber. Or from the very beginning, say the Jamestown or Plymouth Rock colonies, where it was illegal NOT to grow hemp!
Pressure to re-legalize the growth of industrial hemp in America has been swelling for at least a decade. Eight states – Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia – already have removed the barriers to production and research on hemp. Many of these, plus several others – including Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, California, South Carolina, and Wisconsin – have new legislation pending this spring that would push further the drive to full production. At least 28 states have had or plan to have some legislative action. You can track most of these efforts at http://www.votehemp.com.
Some of the newest legislation – in North Dakota for example – goes so far as to provide state licenses to hemp growers and to petition the DEA to back off and to allow the regulation of hemp under state law – as opposed to federal police action! This provincial revolt is echoed by farmers in other states – notably Vermont, Minnesota and Kentucky – who in recent weeks have swarmed local and state meeting halls with a sense that change at last is in the air.
If enough farm states join the already healthy industrial hemp lobby in Washington, change might be possible for the first time in 50 years. The result so far, however, is that nobody can yet grow hemp for commercial use, and the country remains culturally blinded to the difference between it and marijuana.
Both plants are classified as cannabis sativa, a species with hundreds of varieties. The two look somewhat alike to the untrained eye, and it is actually possible for them to cross-pollinate, but they have evolved on totally separate paths for the last 12,000 years and can be differentiated easily by the trained eye – or on-the-spot testing.
Hemp – one of the first crops domesticated by man – is many times larger and is bred for fiber, seed and oil. Marijuana is smaller and bred solely to maximize the enzyme THC, which is present in hemp only in microscopic quantities. A hippie would have to smoke an entire field to maybe even get a little buzz!
The arguments for allowing industrial hemp cultivation under state supervision are becoming larger every year – from many perspectives. For one thing, the crop is hearty and can be grown in just about any soil or weather condition. For another, hemp is biologically superior to almost any other crop – including soybeans (which produce less digestible protein than hemp) and corn (which produces less biofuel energy per acre than hemp). The potential economic impact goes without saying.
Even more importantly, hemp is among the fastest-growing biomasses, 100% usable, and renewable in an almost limitless number of applications. At least 25,000 products can be made from hemp, including many that now rely on petrochemicals. And, the fact that hemp has been omitted entirely from the incredible advances by U.S. agri-science for the past half-century makes its future appear virtually limitless to some in the industry.
Stay tuned. With the current economic meltdown and obvious political shift to support renewable, sustainable resources, hemp seems like a no-brainer.
But don’t get your seeds out of storage, yet. You could still get busted!