Hemp is among the oldest industries on the planet, going back more than 10,000 years. Its seeds and flowers are used in health foods, organic body care, and other nutraceuticals. The fibers and stalks are used in hemp clothing, construction materials, biofuel, plastic composites. Hemp is even more durable than cotton, lighter than steel and would have saved many trees to make paper from.
All this possibility actually exists but could not be enjoyed because people in power once decided the plant from which it's all derived has a scorned cousin named "marijuana." Because United States' hemp prohibition, it has suppressed potential jobs for farmers, products for consumers, and medicine for patients. Hemp has been largely banned in the United States, until now.
The 2018 US Farm Bill has now legalized commercial production of hemp. But what is hemp, and why should you care?
The History of Hemp
Americans were legally bound to grow hemp during the Colonial Era and Early Republic. In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which effectively began the era of hemp prohibition and effectively outlawed the possession of cannabis, including hemp, after hundreds of years of growth and use from the time of British colonization onward. The tax and licensing regulations of the act made hemp cultivation difficult for American farmers.
Then came World War II. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shut off foreign supplies of "manila hemp" fiber from the Philippines. The USDA produced a film called "Hemp For Victory" to encourage U.S. farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. The U.S. government formed the War Hemp Industries Department and subsidized hemp cultivation. During the war, U.S. farmers grew about a million acres of hemp across the Midwest as part of that program.
After the war ended, the government quietly shut down all the hemp processing plants and the industry faded away again.
During the period from 1937 to the late 60s, the U.S. government understood and acknowledged that industrial hemp and marijuana were distinct varieties of the cannabis plant. While the law was repealed in the late 1960’s, cannabis was quickly included as a Schedule 1 drug (the most “dangerous” class of drugs including heroin) in the Controlled Substances Act, a designation which still stands to this day. Hemp was no longer officially recognized as distinct from marijuana after the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. 81 years later, the 2018 Farm Bill represents the largest step towards undoing the scientifically-baseless legacy of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
A recent federal court case has re-established acknowledgement of distinct varieties of Cannabis, and supports the exemption for non-viable seed and fiber and any products made from them. One of the goals of the 2014 Farm Bill was to generate and protect research into hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill continues this effort.
The 2018 Farm Bill officially reclassifies hemp for commercial uses after decades of statutes and legal enforcement conflating hemp and marijuana, the Farm Bill distinguishes between the two by removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. This would effectively move regulation and enforcement of the crop from the Drug Enforcement Agency to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The 2018 Farm Bill expands upon provisions in the 2014 version of the annual bill, which created Hemp Pilot Programs. These Hemp Pilot Programs “created a framework for the legal cultivation by states of ‘industrial hemp’ without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration.” The 2014 Hemp Pilot Programs were a success for farmers and consumers across the U.S., from Colorado to North Carolina.
A major change to the farm bill compromise is the legalization of industrial hemp –– a boon for the increasingly popular CBD oil industry
Hemp versus Marijuana
To understand the differences between hemp and marijuana it's critical to know what each distinctly different plant is capable of doing. Hemp and marijuana are basically cousins. They both come from the cannabis genus. They both come from the Cannabis sativa species. They look and smell similar even though marijuana produces dense buds and grows to be like a bush, hemp plants are tall and thin and don’t produce the buds that marijuana is famous for.
They both have played a critical role for thousands of years for mankind- industrial and health usages. And they both contain many plant compounds called phytocannabinoids, specifically CBD and THC. The composition is the main differentiator-- the marijuana plant contains high levels of THC and lower levels of CBD. And the hemp plant contains higher levels of CBD and very low levels or even non-detectable levels of THC.
What The 2018 US Farm Bill Means
One big myth that exists about the Farm Bill is that cannabidiol (CBD)—a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis—is legalized. It is true that section 12619 of the Farm Bill removes hemp-derived products from its Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, but the legislation does not legalize CBD generally.
The Farm Bill ensures that any cannabinoid—a set of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant—that is derived from hemp will be legal, if and only if that hemp is produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill, associated federal regulations, association state regulations, and by a licensed grower. All other cannabinoids, produced in any other setting, remain a Schedule I Substance under federal law and are thus illegal.
According to the American Agriculturist, the 2018 Farm Bill will allow hemp to be regulated by the USDA, including the labeling of American-grown hemp as certified organic; interstate hemp commerce will be legalized; financing and research opportunities will open up; hemp farmers will be guaranteed water rights; the definition of hemp will be altered to make it a non-drug commodity.