On June 17 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York pushed his state legislature to allow farmers to sow hemp seeds and to further investigate the plant’s potential for industrial and commercial purposes. On 16 June, in Florida, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that permits Florida A&M University and the University of Florida to cultivate hemp for precisely the same reasons; researchers will be able to cultivate, study, process, and develop the plant into viable products. And on 19 June, in North Carolina, Jay Foushee planted 6,000 seeds of his first hemp crop.
It took entire decades, but hemp is finally coming back in the United States. Thanks to the Federal Farm Act of 2014, state departments of agriculture and research universities are able to once again cultivate hemp. The plant became commercially unviable in 1937, when the Marijuana Tax Act subjected cultivation and sale of cannabis to severe restrictions, and impossible in 1970, when all cannabis was declared a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. And now, amidst the rushing tide of anti-prohibition sentiment toward cannabis in general, hemp is being swept back into the mainstream.
Things to do with Hemp
Hemp is sometimes called the green buffalo in reference to the plains-dwelling Native Americans’ practice of using every, single last part of each bison they hunted and slew. The plant has earned its moniker because there are a staggering number of uses for its seeds and stalks.
Hemp seeds (and particularly hemp oil they issue) can be used in preparing any number of foods, from bread to cereal to dairy products (cannabutter, anyone?). The seeds can also yield cosmetics, lotions, animal feed, paint, and even fuel.
The stalk, with its extremely tough and resilient fibers, can be used to make lightweight and sturdy fiberboard, insulation, textiles for clothing and shoes, animal bedding, and all manner of rope and cord—just to name a few. Recent innovations include a concrete substitute (“hempcrete”) and even an organic personal lubricant.
But perhaps the most valuable part of hemp is the cannabidiol (CBD) oil that can be extracted, and used for anything from reducing the severity or number of seizures in epileptic patients, to helping individuals with anxiety overcome it. CBD oil is the true miracle of hemp.
Good for You, Good for the Planet
Hemp has great potential as a crop because it’s drought resistant, and it grows extremely rapidly. It consumes a lot of carbon dioxide during growth, which is great for the atmosphere; it also detoxifies soil and re-infuses it with important nutrients, which is equally beneficial for farmland.
The one thing hemp won’t do is get you high. This type of cannabis contains extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive agent in that is prevalent in hemp’s cannabis cousin, marijuana. It is, however, an abundant source of cannabidiol (CBD), which can be used to treat health conditions like anxiety, inflammation, seizures, psychosis, and even cancer.
So Why Make Hemp Illegal, Anyway?
Hemp never deserved its bad reputation—and neither did marijuana, for that matter, but the two got lumped in together as extremely dangerous, addictive drugs alongside cocaine, heroin, and opium. Those others aside, hemp’s demonization was thanks in large part to William Randolph Hearst’s crazed pursuit of circulating his newspapers as widely as possible. Then, as now, the best way of achieving that goal was a campaign of fear-mongering sensationalism, which coincided with a general cultural push against marijuana’s (perceived) primary users: Mexican and African Americans.
Thankfully, the United States has made huge strides in tolerance and acceptance of other cultures—and of cannabis. At a time of economic uncertainty, marijuana has given many state and local economies a much-needed jumpstart, and the burgeoning acceptance of hemp may hold the same promise for other industries in the near future.