industrial hemp

Industrial hemp has absolutely nothing to do with drug use, and these are entirely separate issues. Scott Benowitz presents the case for why the Congress should approve the Industrial Hemp Farming Act Of 2017.

In recent years, ballot measures are appearing in an increasing number of states every November regarding the potential legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and in some states, measures are also being proposed regarding the potential legalization of marijuana for recreational use.  

 The arguments in favor of as well as opposed to these measures are complex; the proponents who argue in favor of legalization as well as the opponents who want to keep marijuana illegal for both medical as well as recreational use make impressive cases.  There is no doubt that as far back as the 1930’s, our Federal government had been intentionally exaggerating the potential dangers of marijuana with films such as Reefer Madness” (1936), and such exaggerations continued half a century later in the 1980’s.  Former President Reagan’s famous quote about the effects of smoking even the smallest quantities of marijuana being as harmful as having been present in the Marshall Islands during the hydrogen bomb tests of the 1950’s showed the entire country that Federal propaganda which intentionally exaggerates the dangers of smoking marijuana was alive and well during the 1980’s too.  New research is showing that it does indeed have quite a few potentially very beneficial and therapeutic medical uses in terms of treating glaucoma, certain kinds of epilepsy as well as certain kinds of cancer.  However, it is not without its side effects too.  The more you examine the issues, the more complex they become.

Which is why I want to state very clearly now that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with this article.  In both the U.S. as well as overseas, plant biologists have figured out many years ago how to genetically engineer strains of cannabis which contain 0.00% levels of THC or any of the other psychoactive chemicals that are found in marijuana.

One Of The Most Sustainable, Resilient And Versatile Crops In The World

Hemp is used in quite a few products.  There are a number of companies which manufacture t-shirts, sweatshirts, pants, vests, and hats from cotton/ hemp blend fabrics.  There are also a number of companies which use cotton/ hemp blend fabric for upholstery in the seats of cars and trucks.  Hemp stalk fibers can be used in manufacturing thread, string, and rope.  Hemp seed oil can be used as an ingredient in soaps, shampoos, hair conditioner, skin cream, hand cream and facial cream, and some candle manufacturers also use hemp seed oil to scent wax candles.  The seeds can be used in everything from crackers, bread, granola, breakfast cereals, granola bars, as a topping on bagels, to dessert items such as cookies, and I’ve recently begun to see recipes appearing on various websites which mention using hemp seeds as a topping on donuts.  Hemp seed oil is also used to make hemp milk, and it is sometimes used as a flavoring ingredient in craft beers, coffee blends as well as in some specialty ice creams.  Although the words “herb,” “tea” and “herb tea” have been used as slang terms for smoking marijuana dating as far back as the 1960’s, the leaves of the hemp plants which have had the psychoactive chemicals genetically engineered out of them are also used as one of the flavoring ingredients in certain kinds of decaf teas too.

 We also find the seeds in the some of the brands of bird seed that we feed to our pets, and it is one of the ingredients which is used in some of the bird seeds that we fill our outdoor bird feeders with.  In some countries, parts of the hemp stalks which are known as hurds and shives are also used as livestock bedding.  In Europe, farms which raise animals for commercial have been using hemp shives and hurds for animal bedding for many years, and pet stores sell comparable products for bedding for house pets.  I don’t know of any zoos which are presently using hemp fibers for animal bedding, but if hemp hurds and shives are used for bedding for animals in commercial farms as well as for house pets, zoos can probably use it for animal bedding too.  Parts of hemp stalks can be mixed into commercial animal feed.  Dried hemp fibers can also be used as garden mulch.

 The byproducts of agricultural hemp also have quite a few other industrial uses.  The pulp can be used as an additive in an organic paper.  Extracts from the stalks can be used as one of the ingredients in biofuels.  Extracts from the bast fiber from hemp plants are used in bioplastics.  Parts of the stems are used in a variety of construction materials, including fiberboard, insulation as well as “hempcrete,” which is a form of concrete which has had bast fiber mixed into it.  Scientists are actually even presently researching whether an extract of the stalks could work in a manner comparable to graphene in prototypes of supercapacitor batteries.

 Some crafts jewelers use the fibers from hemp stalks in making various kinds of jewelry, and some artists also find uses for the fibers from the stalks in crafts projects.

This Time Inhaling Isn’t The Issue, There’s Nothing To Inhale

This has not gone unnoticed by Congress.  So far, we’ve had the proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005, the proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007, 2009, 2011- 2012, 2013, 2015- 2016, and now Congress will be debating the proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017.  

 The proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005 never progressed past preliminary discussions in Congress, and while the subsequent bills have resulted in reforming existing laws, we still haven’t reached the point yet where commercial growers can grow agricultural hemp in all 50 states.

 The terms of the proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Acts of 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015- 2016, as well as the current proposal, don’t actually require that growers use strains (or subspecies) of hemp which contain 0.00% quantities of the psychoactive chemicals.  There are a number of strains of the cannabis setiva plants that are grown for agricultural and industrial use which contain low enough levels of THC and any other psychoactive chemicals that these strains would have no potential use for medicinal or recreational use.  This is what would actually make legalization potentially useful because if a number of different strains are approved, this would mean that growers in many states would be able to produce industrial quality hemp almost year round.  Hemp can actually be easily grown both indoors as well as outdoors.  For the growers who would be growing hemp outdoors, various strains can tolerate different ranges of temperatures and humidity, so to maximize production, the FDA would have to approve several different strains for cultivation.

 With regard to use of the seeds and hemp seed oil in breakfast cereals, granola, crackers, etc., the nutritional value of the seeds varies depending on the strain or subspecies that they are produced from.  Hemp seeds lack vitamins, though they are a good source of protein, amino acids, minerals such as iron as well as essential fatty acids.  Hemp seeds are also considered to be a good source of fiber.

 The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency does, in fact, raise legitimate concerns.  The strands of hemp which contain low enough levels of the psychoactive chemicals that they would meet the Federal government’s requirements for being considered suitable only for agricultural and industrial use look exactly the same as the many of the strains of cannabis which are used for recreational as well as medicinal uses.  The FDA and the DEA need to chemically test samples from commercial crops to verify that the strains (or subspecies) which do contain the psychoactive chemicals aren’t being introduced into the crops which are intended to be harvested for use in textiles, food, cosmetics and pet food.  However, in the areas in which people have been growing hemp for commercial uses, so far, this has not become a problem yet.

The Legalization Of Industrial/ Agricultural Hemp Is Long Overdue

Farmers in quite a few countries throughout Europe and Asia have been growing industrial hemp for many centuries, and continue to do so into the present day.  

In various regions throughout the U.S., Native American tribes had made clothing as well as jewelry from hemp fibers for many thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans at the start of the colonial era.  During the colonial era, throughout the 17th and the 18th centuries, hemp had been grown for various uses, mostly for making thread and rope from hemp fibers.  It is well known that George Washington grew hemp at the Mount Vernon plantation, and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp at Monticello in Charlottesville.  Until the 1940’s, the U.S. military used rope made from hemp fibers.

The federal government banned commercial growing of hemp in 1970 as part of efforts to reduce marijuana use throughout the U.S.  Marijuana use throughout the U.S. did not in fact decline at all as a result of the 1970 ban.  In 1970 when the ban was introduced, the process of testing plants to determine if they are from the strains or subspecies which do contain the psychoactive chemicals or whether they are from the strains that would be useful only for producing stalks for textiles and seeds for use in foods and cosmetics was a much more costly as well as lengthy process as it is today.  With present technologies, DEA and FDA inspectors would be able to determine very quickly whether strains that are prohibited under the Federal law have been introduced into grow operations which are intended to be growing the strains which lack the psychoactive chemicals.

Prior to 2013, 100% of the hemp fabric, the hemp seed, the hemp seed oil and any of the other extracts that are used for agricultural or industrial purposes that were used in the U.S. were imported into the U.S. from the countries in Europe, Asia and South America which are legally producing industrial hemp.  Beginning in 2012, voters in a number of states have opted to approve state laws which permit for medical use of marijuana, and in a handful of states, recreational use is becoming legal now.  Although these laws DO contradict the Federal Controlled Substances Act and The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, the Obama administration had stated that their priority was to use the DEA to enforce Schedule II substances, and that essentially, while that Federal definition for medicinal use are far more stringent than the laws in many states, and that the Federal government had no intention to decriminalize or to legalize recreational use of marijuana, enforcing the Federal bans on medicinal and recreational use had been a notably lower priority for the Obama administration.

As I researched this article, I could not find any statements at all from President Trump, Vice President Pence nor anyone within the Trump cabinet regarding either support for or opposing the proposed legalization of industrial and agricultural hemp, so we don’t have any way of knowing where the Trump administration stands on this issue.  Because we’ve heard so little at all from President Trump or anyone on his staff regarding this issue, I’m going to assume that this issue is a low priority for them.  

The first states which legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational use also legalized growing hemp for industrial and agricultural purposes.  Just as the various state laws which allowed for the medicinal or recreational use of cannabis contradict current Federal laws, the laws in these same states which permit growing hemp for agricultural and industrial uses do also contradict Federal laws.  In 2013, the first industrial and agricultural hemp crops in the U.S. were grown in Colorado; this was done with permission from the state government, though this was not done with Federal approval.  Since 2013, voters in Colorado, California, North Dakota and Vermont have passed legislation that permits industrial and agricultural hemp farms.  24 other states have recently introduced pilot programs which permit farmers to grow hemp for industrial and agricultural use.  Again, because these programs are approved under state laws, but do not have Federal approval, these growers are operating without FDA oversight.  

The byproducts of the strains of cannabis which are grown for medicinal and recreational use (such as the stems) have been used for industrial use, but NOT in food products.  If you purchase a t-shirt or a sweatshirt which is made from a cotton/hemp blend fabric, it is possible that those hemp fibers came from plants which contained the psychoactive chemicals.  However, the seeds from the plants which are used for medicinal and recreational use are NOT sent for use in food products.  When you purchase a breakfast cereal or granola which lists hemp seeds as one of the ingredients, or if you purchase soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, etc. which lists hemp seed oil as one of the ingredients, you can be assured that you’re purchasing a product which as 0.00% psychoactive chemicals in it.

The Proposed Legalization of Industrial Hemp Could Potentially Benefit Everyone

 While 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 proposed Industrial Hemp Farming Acts were never passed, the result of these proposals was that Congress included terms in the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, which stated that state agencies and universities could study the effects of products from hemp plants which are now being grown domestically (once again- grown legally under state laws but concurrently without Federal legalization yet) having been introduced into food products, pet food, animal feed and various industrial uses.  Congress did not pass The Federal Agriculture Reform And Risk Management Act of 2013, but many of the terms of the proposed 2013 bill which related to researching numerous safe uses of industrial hemp were re-introduced in the Agriculture Act Of 2014 (also known as the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill), which Congress did pass in February of 2014.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 was signed by President Obama in February of 2014.  It is still too soon for there to be any statistics available regarding the long-term implications of domestic cultivation of hemp in the states where it is, in fact, being cultivated.  We don’t yet have statistics comparing how much hemp seed, hemp seed oil, hemp fibers, hemp stalks, bast fiber is being produced domestically, compared to how much we imported, nor do we have any studies available yet showing how the costs of any of the numerous aforementioned products that various hemp extracts are used in (ice creams, soaps, hand creams, upholstery fabric, hats, shirts, crackers, pet food, cereals, etc.) have been affected.  

What IS known is that since 2013, so far there have been a total of zero (0) incidents reported anywhere in the U.S. of anyone having any allergic reactions to consuming any products which contain hemp seeds or hemp seed oil, and no one has inadvertently ended up getting high while washing their hands with hemp oil soap or using hemp seed oil facial cream.  There have also been a total of zero (0) incidents since 2013 reported anywhere in the U.S. of animals or pets getting sick from eating animal feed or pet food which contain hemp seeds.  

It is also very obvious that the food and the nonfood products which contain extracts of hemp are becoming increasingly popular and are selling very well, both in stores as well as from internet sales.  If Congress would finally approve of legalizing cultivating hemp for industrial as well as agricultural uses, then crops could be grown in every state in the U.S. as well as in our colonies with Federal oversight, USDA and FDA supervision, as well as with the supervision of the relevant state agencies.  And as is the case with any other agricultural crop, the more of it that can be grown, the less expensive it will become.

Presently, farmers in North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, California, Montana, West Virginia, Washington, and Vermont  have received official permission from their state governments to cultivate hemp for agricultural and industrial use, but they are being blocked from doing so by the Drug Enforcement Agency, even though the strains that they’ve applied to grow to contain levels of the psychoactive chemicals so low that the crops fit the Federal government’s definition of “industrial and agricultural” hemp, and not “medical or recreational” marijuana.

If the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 finally passes, then we would be creating many thousands of domestic jobs- from the people who would be growing and harvesting the plants, to companies which transport the stalks, the seeds and the leaves to the companies which refine the stalks and extract the oils for use in the final products.  We would also be reducing the costs of all of the products which use the various products that the hemp plants produce because we’d be importing a lot less of a product which could now be grown domestically.

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *