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Nutrient-rich hemp seed can be found in health foods, and hemp oil is used in various organic health-care products. Hemp fiber is used to manufacture clothing, biofuel and rope. (BMW lines the doors of some of its vehicle models with hemp fiber.) In terms of both environmental benefits and efficiency, hemp has proven to be a great alternative to timber as a source of paper and fiber, as hemp plants mature in as little as four months, whereas trees might take decades.
The global market for hemp, in fact, encompasses some 25,000 products. Depending on the specific market being targeted, a hemp crop can generate for a farmer $300-$1,800 per acre in revenue.
Nevertheless, the crop is technically illegal in the United States, at least at the federal level. Hemp comes from the same plant species as marijuana, but is non-intoxicating, as it contains next to none of the “mind-altering” chemical compound THC. The crop is legally grown in Canada and in parts of Europe, Asia and South America – some 30 countries in all – but despite the fact it can’t produce a marijuana high, hemp’s association with cannabis kept it strictly prohibited in the United States for more than 50 years.
In the wake of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, a farmer in the state’s southeast corner made national headlines by sewing seeds for the first American commercial hemp crop to be planted in 70 years. The following year, the Agricultural Act of 2014 authorized states and universities to grow the crop for research purposes. Thirty-four states have legalized commercial hemp cultivation, in spite of remaining federal prohibitions.
Understandably, hemp’s profit potential has drawn the interest of farmers seeking to increase revenues and revamp operations. Hemp pairs well with other crops, such as grain and hay, and can be grown throughout corn- and soybean-producing regions. And, hemp is a dependable phytoremediation crop, offering a natural means of cleaning up soil contaminated or polluted by hazardous substances.
Still, in spite of market demand and an increasingly mainstream profile, industrial hemp continues to have a complicated legal outlook. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act, an updated version of previous pro-hemp legislation, introduced in July 2017 by Rep. James Comer (R-Kentucky), is under review in the U.S. House of Representatives, and would sever hemp’s legal association with marijuana, redefining it as a legitimate agricultural product and positioning U.S. farmers to more fully capitalize on the $700 million U.S. market for hemp. With 39 cosponsors, the bill enjoys bipartisan support. However, actions by current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and his cancellation of several Obama-era policies regarding marijuana-related prosecution guidelines, suggest an interest on the part of the Justice Department in maintaining a federal prohibition on hemp production.
To learn more about industrial hemp, and to stay up to date on legislative actions and the product’s regulatory status, visit www.thehia.org, the site for the Hemp Industries Association.