Ditched Weeds: A Brief Discussion of Hemp

Ditched Weeds: A Brief Discussion of Hemp

Hemp is illegal. Hemp isn’t really weed, but it is illegal. Before you go tackling that 17-year-old Phish fan for their hemp necklace, read on. In the US, cannabis was recognized and regulated as a psychoactive substance as early as the 1860s, but the Marihuana Tax of 1937 is the well-accepted point of the plant’s inauguration into infamy. The Act, like much historical legislation, was largely a reflection of the racist and anti-immigration sentiments of the populous and strongly rooted in government by the powerful few. Then, there was no distinction between hemp and cannabis in the law’s perspective. Today, that distinction is clear and the value of hemp is being argued. Earlier this year a southern Oregon man was issued a permit to grow industrial hemp.

A few fun facts about hemp to get started. In colonial America, it was mandated by law that landowners produce a certain volume of hemp for use as fiber. Then and now, no matter how much hemp you smoke, you will not get high, only a profound headache. The USDA stated that one acre of hemp is equal in fiber to just over four acres of trees. Throughout history hemp was a lynchpin in textiles, even playing a large role in the innovation of the automotive industry.

If anyone could grow hemp if they desired, how many people really would? How profitable would it be in contrast to growing cannabis? Would this contribute to or fight deforestation? Hemp can provide a wide variety of products for sale, even food. But in terms of raw profit, hemp pales in comparison to cannabis. Cannabis prohibition has pumped up its price but I simply don’t foresee an underground hemp paper mill getting busted, although odder things have been happened. Look into caviar smuggling for example.

One of the biggest contrasts between hemp and cannabis (besides the fact that cannabis actually gets you stoned) is the number of plants grown per square meter. Sources estimate that as many as 120 hemp plants can grow in a square meter. Compared to the luxurious space a few cannabis plants needs to prosper, that is an amazing number. When it comes to water use, hemp is relatively equal. A rough estimate is about 30,000 gallons per acre. It is a thirsty, fast-growing plant.

Cross pollination is a major issue. It can impact your sinsemilla cannabis crop for the worse by pollinating your hard-picked female plants. Who wants months of hard work upended by some hemp-heart muncher? This can be caused by wind, bees, or other animals transferring pollen from hemp to cannabis crops. Hemp is extraordinarily high in CBDs, while cannabis generally aims for high THC. In cross pollination, cannabis plants produce higher CBDs, and hemp produces higher THC. While the impact to a hemp crop could reduce the overall quality of the finished product, a cannabis crop can be devastated and rendered nearly useless. There is a real reason for concern. To avoid cross pollination, many sources say five or more miles of separation between the two crops are required.

With respect and communication between growers, these two different crops can thrive in harmony and demonstrate the worth and merit of both plants. It could be as simple as hemp growers avoiding places conducive to cannabis, perhaps even joining together to organize cooperation. Or it could become as petty and horrible as the Hatfields and McCoys, with the two parties locked in a turf war stalemate.

Hemp produces an impressive variety of products. Most are aware of hemp’s colonial application in rope and paper; today hemp products range from massage oils to organic snack foods. Even if it is a remarkably strong fibrous plant, it can provide a pleasant aromatic for a scented candle, and it makes a fine wick. A quick search of online retailers will prove that hemp has blossomed into a viable agricultural crop with an array of products.

If hemp were legal in the US and produced on an industrial scale, it could help combat deforestation by reducing demand for lumber from the Amazon. If hemp were legal, those suffering from seizures could find respite from their lifelong afflictions. If hemp were legal, people would be free to produce a cornucopia of sustainable products for their daily lives. What stands in the way? Corporate interests don’t want to see hemp legal, because they stand to lose money.

Prohibition does not work – US and world history can show us that. With the prohibition of alcohol came the largest and most profitable black market the world had ever seen. Alcohol is a celebrated substance although is it responsible for thousands of deaths annually from drunk driving, cirrhosis and its contribution to diabetes and heart disease. The prohibition of hemp protected the vested interests of the wealthiest. The prohibition of drugs led to surges in the prison industry. Bolivia legalized all drugs and saw a sharp decline in addiction and use across the board – from cannabis to cocaine. It is time to stop letting the short-sighted self-interests of the few dictate the future of us all. Legalize it.

Emerald contributor since March 2012

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