As the national debate surrounding marijuana intensifies, those in opposition of it’s legalization oftentimes harp on the “detrimental” physical, criminal, and legal ramifications the decriminalization of cannabis could create. However, our group has found a perspective in support of the legalization of marijuana that has yet to be met with any significant dissent — the agricultural and economic benefits of harvesting hemp.
Hemp is a particular variety of the cannabis plant and can be utilized in the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastic, cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed, and a host of other products. It contains only 1% of tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana; and therefore is not an ideal material for smoking or ingesting to ‘get high’. Researchers have traced hemp’s history as a fiber and food crop as far back as 12,000 years; and it is currently harvested in over thirty countries including Canada, Japan, and various nations in the European Union. During the American colonial period many of the founding fathers including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson regularly manufactured hemp into rope, sails, lamp oil and paper products.
Although Congress outlawed marijuana in 1937with the enactment of the ‘Marihuana Tax Act’;hemp production re-emerged briefly in 1942 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the film Hemp for Victory , spurring domestic farmers to cultivate hundreds of thousands of acres of hemp in support of the war effort. Yet, as World War II ended, so did the U.S. government’s allowance of hemp cultivation; and by 1957 federal bans on hemp production were reinstated.
Recently, the magazine Popular Mechanics reported that hemp had the potential to be “manufactured into more than 25,000 environmentally friendly products”. Additionally, hemp is known to produce a notably higher yield per acre than other common crops, such as cotton. Since hemp has a growth cycle of only 100 days, crops require few pesticides and leave soil weed-free for the planting of other crops.
Given the crops versatility, it has been highly endorsed by organizations such as the USDA’s Alternative Agricultural Research initiative and the National Conference of State Legislatures; and is legally recognized as a commercial crop by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Moreover, a growing number of health professionals have recognized hemp seed’s nutritional value, praising its high concentrations of protein, essential amino and fatty acids.
Although the cultivation of hemp has numerous agricultural advantages, allowing American farmers to plant this crop poses significant economic benefits for our nation as well. Despite the federal government’s moratorium on industrial hemp cultivation, a domestic demand exists and has been continually growing in the U.S.; with retailers and manufacturers import approximately 1.9 million pounds of hemp fiber, 450,000 pounds of hemp seeds, and 331 pounds of hemp seed oil from foreign exporters annually (federal law permits the importation of hemp fiber, sterilized seeds, and ingestible hemp-based products). Despite the fact that it grows wildly across much of the U.S., presents no threat to public health or safety, and its importing from foreign providers results in billions of dollars leaving the U.S. annually; hemp is routinely uprooted and destroyed by law enforcement. It is estimated that 98% of all marijuana eliminated by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) “Domestic Cannabis Eradication & Suppression Program” is actually hemp.
In spite of the previously enumerated agricultural and economic merits of hemp cultivation, the DEA has stated that they firmly “oppose any consideration of hemp as a legitimate fiber or pulp product”; and have obstructed efforts to enact hemp cultivation by threatening farmers with arrest. Although our federal government is unlikely to waver on hemp prohibition any time soon, public and state support for its harvesting has grown rapidly.
In recent years, a number of states commissioned studies evaluating hemp’s feasibility as an agricultural product. All of these examinations discovered hemp’s positive economic potential and conclude that the crop poses no hindering agronomic factors. In 2000, Illinois’ Industrial Hemp Investigative and Advisory Task Force found that “there is potential for industrial hemp to be an important alternative crop”. Similarly, in a report to the Agricultural Task Force of Missouri, it was discovered that “hemp’s advantages of strength and absorbency suggest it could establish a viable place in American textile markets” as well as serve as a food source for both humans and animals. Further studies (conducted by other states including North Dakota, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and Kentucky) also found that hemp maintained greater recyclability, biodegradability, and ability to offset carbon dioxide emissions than most other mainstream crops.
With these findings, our group further affirms our position that the legalization of marijuana in the United States has the potential to reap massive economic and social benefits through the stimulation of both state and national economies via the cultivation of hemp.