Cannabis Legalization Paves Way for Industrial Hemp

The legalization of recreational cannabis is opening doors to whole new industries, and this is not just limited to the opening of marijuana farms, processors and retail stores. Marijuana’s growing acceptance has helped grease the wheel to what could be a large boon to the United States farming industry—the growing of industrial hemp.

On March 23, 2015, the Washington House committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 5012 and as of March 26, it has been referred to appropriations. This bill’s purpose is to overrule the federal ban on the production of industrial hemp, allowing it to be farmed and processed in the state of Washington.

Hemp is thought to be one of oldest domesticated plants and at one point in the United States it was considered the most important non-food crop until it was made illegal by the ban on marijuana that was introduced in 1938. The U.S. hemp retail market is currently valued around $500 million per year, all of which is imported. The U.S. is actually the largest consumer of hemp products, but the only industrialized country where it is illegal.

If this market could be localized, it would have the potential of breathing new life into the farming industry.

This issue of hemp’s legality is confusing to many people for a few different reasons. Part of this confusion comes from its close relation to marijuana. Essentially cousins, hemp is part of the same plant family as the marijuana plant and both are considered cannabis. The largest difference between hemp and marijuana is in THC content, as industrial hemp has a maximum THC content of 0.3 percent, if any at all, and marijuana can contain anywhere between 3 and 30 percent. Simply put, hemp is not something that can be reasonably used as an intoxicant.

More confusion is in the fact that hemp is sold in many stores and in many forms across the United States, but it is still partly illegal. The way the laws are currently structured in the country, it is legal to sell products made of hemp, but it not legal to grow the actual plant because it is federally lumped in with marijuana—a Schedule I substance.

While efforts were made to legalize industrial hemp production a decade ago, the Drug Enforcement Administration still cracked down on the technically Schedule I substance and prevented its production. While the production of hemp is legal in at least 19 states and the Farm Bill enables those states to research hemp, a new bill has recently been introduced to help remove it from the Controlled Substances Act and pave hemp’s way on a federal scale.

As a state, Colorado actually covered industrial hemp in its Amendment 64, the initiative that legalized marijuana, and the first crop was harvested in 2013. Washington’s legalization bill, Initiative 502, had no such clause.

The applications of hemp are incredibly wide ranging, from clothes to rope to even bricks. The First Church of Cannabis Inc., a newly established church founded in response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, actually hopes to build its first building out of hempcrete, a concrete-like substance that is hemp-based.

While great strides can still be made on a state-by-state basis, it seems like the country could benefit by internalizing the money that goes to industrial hemp. As of now though, it seems like a race between legalizing it state-by-state or federally.

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