The hidden industry of hemp

Reefer madness posterBy Avalon Manly – In 1936, the movie “Reefer Madness (Tell Your Children)” was released. It was part of an alleged government push that began in the ’20s to sway public opinion against marijuana. The following year, the Marijuana Tax Act passed, starting the nation down the path towards ultimately criminalizing the growing, buying or selling of cannabis in the U.S.

The act took effect in early 1938, about the same time that “Popular Mechanics” ran an article titled ‘New Billion-Dollar Crop,’ which highlighted the value and versatility of a plant called hemp – which is also, incidentally, a member of the cannabis family.

Though the 1937 act blanketed all cannabis plants, and hemp and marijuana are related, they have many and significant differences. Marijuana (cannabis sativa indica), for instance, usually contains up to 20 percent THC (psychoactive cannabinoids) – but hemp (the male plants), less than one percent, which means that if you smoke it, it won’t get you high (in fact, it is so rich in antipsychoactive cannabinoids that smoking it would actually inhibit a marijuana high). Indica strains of marijuana grow short and bushy and are of poor fibrous quality, but hemp stalks can grow to a height of about 25 feet, to look more like bamboo than their state-altering cousin – and the fibrous quality of hemp is relatively high.

Hemp, in fact, can be formed into some of the strongest, most resilient resinous fibers available. “Popular Mechanics” raved about the versatility of hemp, and how easy and beneficial it would be for American farmers to grow.

Hemp has a short growing season and can take back fields abandoned to weeds, because its lower leaves force back more invasive plants; it doesn’t leech the soil, so fields can be reused for other crops later; it requires no pesticides to aid its survival; by using machinery that was new in 1938, hemp can be used to make almost anything, from shampoo to plastic to food to paper to cloth, which could decrease America’s dependency on foreign imports of such things, especially fiber.

There are a few main obstacles to hemp farming in the U.S. Probably the most stunting is that Americans do not tend to distinguish between the subspecies of cannabis sativa, and bracket hemp into the category of marijuana, ignoring its commercial and industrial potential. The illegality of marijuana, by association, is the illegality of hemp, just as it was in 1938, though it is no longer illegal to buy products made from hemp – just to grow it or produce said products.

The debate over legalization of marijuana is raging now, especially across Colorado. The almost viral spread of medicinal marijuana dispensaries will doubtless soon be reined in by state or federal government rulings, but the lingering illegality of hemp is no less an industrial derailment for marijuana’s slow steps toward acceptance as a legitimate drug.

It has been speculated by proponents of legalization (such as that there is a more extensive market for hemp product in the U.S. than for marijuana: People all over the country celebrate the eco-friendliness and versatility of hemp products. The rapidly-growing plant could conceivably replace timber as the source of paper, saving trees while retaining the ability to be recycled. The hemp seed contains a plethora of amino acids and essential nutrients that the human body requires, making it a useful and easily-provided food. The fibrous innards of the stalk can be made into plastic or woven into a remarkably resilient material – it was used in the early twentieth century to produce sails, because unlike cotton, hemp does not rot when subjected to salt water.

Because it is still illegal to grow hemp in the U.S., America imports hemp products from Canada, France and China, where hemp is grown freely for industrial purposes. There used to be more than 400,000 acres of hemp farmland across the U.S., when the realizations about the plant’s potential were new. Since the cannabis ban, federal resources have been expended to eradicate ditchweed, the feral descendant of the hemp that was once deliberately farmed, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

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**This article has some errors but is still a wonderful article. Most notable is that hemp is not just the male plant, rather it is cannabis sativa that does not contain enough THC to make you high or stoned check out ‘what is hemp’   . that being said, please enjoy it for what is it is 🙂