Hemp has made the news recently as Kentucky won a lawsuit against the U.S. Federal Government on Friday that allowed the state to plant its shipment of hemp seeds. The seeds were impounded upon their arrival to the U.S. as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still classifies it as a Schedule I drug. Other drugs of the same class are mescaline and heroin. Now that Kentucky has possession of the hemp seeds, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) plans to send the seeds off to universities that are interested in conducting research on the historic “cash crop.” Historically, hemp has been a highly valuable crop in America, and many believe that its uses are more ecologically sound than its preexisting stand-ins.
Original drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper, a crop that Thomas Jefferson grew in large quantities. The difference between hemp and marijuana is use. Hemp is and has been used solely as for industrial purposes. The amount of tetrahydrocannabinoids (THC) found in hemp is at most 1.5 percent, compared to more than 15 percent that is found in marijuana. The THC percentage in hemp is too low to achieve the same “high” that marijuana is said to produce.
According to hemp enthusiasts, hemp fiber is among the strongest of all natural fibers, its cultivation requires no chemicals or pesticides, and it produces four times as much fiber than pine trees per acre. Hemp seeds are also considered to be a health food as they are rich in fatty and amino acids. It is said that the crop can also be used in the manufacturing of biodegradable plastics.
In 1937, the U.S. Federal Government outlawed the growing of hemp as part of its “war on marijuana,” but had a change of heart during World War II, when imports of textiles and ropes were cut off. During this time, growing hemp for the U.S. was considered a patriotic duty under the “Hemp for Victory” campaign. According to reports, petrochemical and pulp-paper industries launched campaigns to disenfranchise hemp when they realized the significance it posed as a competitor. Between 1937 and 1970, the government considered hemp and marijuana as distinct. However this historical distinction eroded following the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970.
There is concern that hemp cultivation will inadvertently turn into cultivation of the buds that are characterized as marijuana. However, hemp farmers say that this is not an issue because they are not concerned with budding plants. The goal for hemp farmers is to grow the plant “up” not “out,” thereby encouraging tall, long stalks, rather than lush vegetation that will go to flower. Simply pruning an amateur plant before it buds can dictate this process. Historically, hemp was not cultivated for the buds in America, but rather the stalks.
There are currently 15 states that allow the growing of hemp for research purposes, however, only state agencies and universities are permitted to do so. There is much speculation as to the affects of this research, especially if much of what hemp enthusiasts have touted is confirmed. The history of hemp in the U.S. proves to be a fascinating engagement as more information is brought to light regarding its past. If it is found that industrial hemp is more environmentally friendly as a source of paper and textiles, its competitors in respective industries will have their hands full.
By Courtney Anderson