One bit of news lately has not received much fanfare but probably should. State by state, hemp farming is becoming legal. The latest state, I think, is Ohio, which is a surprise to those who think the Buckeye State leans heavily toward the conservative side which generally takes a dim view of anything that looks like approval of drugs. But one of the first states to legalize industrial hemp was Kentucky, certainly several shades redder than Ohio. Now some ten states have some form of permit for growing the crop. And the Federal Government has removed pyschoactively-inert hemp from the purview of the federal Controlled Substance Act, so university researchers can now grow the stuff experimentally, the first step in legalizing it everywhere. So what is going on here?
Common sense is winning out once more, that’s what. Farm hemp or more officially “industrial hemp,” is a type of cannabis and a relative to marijuana, but does not produce the drug THC in amounts that you can get high on. There’s tons of proof but I sort of know from observation. Many years ago, I watched a group of young men try their smoking best to get high— and failing— on the industrial hemp that was growing wild, as it does many places in the Midwest. A good new book on all aspects of industrial hemp is just out—Hemp Bound by Doug Fine from Chelsea Green Publishing. Not only does farm hemp not cause the results that marijuana can, but it will cross-pollinate with the latter growing nearby and ruin the subsequent plants for drugging purposes.
But human beings, being human beings, always go overboard on everything, and those with a cultural horror of hallucinogenic drugs did not take time to get their facts straight and over the past eighty years or so made no distinction between the two. I can remember a field of hemp in shocks like shocked grain that I saw on my first trip to Kentucky in 1945. I was a farm boy and I did not know what I was looking at so I asked questions. For some reason I never forgot those shocks—just across the Ohio River near Mayfield, Ky. During the Second World War, there was a shortage of rope and the government for awhile had lifted the ban on growing hemp which had been in effect since the mid-nineteen thirties.
Farmers in China, parts of Europe, and more recently, Canada, have been making good money growing the stuff. Americans buy a half-million dollars worth of hemp products every year from Canada, says the book cited above. Hemp is a most useful plant. The seeds and the fiber can make all kinds of foods, body oils, lubricants, building materials, car fuel, roofing, textiles, paper, insulation, clothing, livestock feed, you name it. There is archeological evidence that humans were using it for thousands of years. Now a few American farmers in Colorado and Kentucky are gearing up to go into production. More will surely give it a try. It won’t be easy because hemp is difficult to harvest right now. Harvesters particularly designed to handle hemp are only in the startup phase.
The easier part is in growing the crop. It will prosper, so I understand, where corn and soybeans don’t do so well. It can withstand more drouth. Hemp advocates say it doesn’t need pesticides or artificial fertilizers to grow well, so at least it probably needs less. Hemp is also touted as a soil builder, in the sense that its cultivation results in less soil blowing and erosion than most other conventional crops. Since commercial production is in its infancy, it is too soon to say how much potential profit can be made with the crop. So far, profits are reckoned in the value-added products that can be made with hemp like breakfast cereal or hemp oil.
Myself, I have to smile at the way human “progress” ricochets from one extreme to another. I can see comedy coming. What if it is proven that medical cannabis (or so called recreational marijuana) really has curative power over disease as seems to be the case. Then I suppose it too will be legalized everywhere. Then a huge struggle could arise between farm hemp and pot because they will cross-pollinate if grown too close together. The government will have to step in and dictate where one can be grown but not the other and the same people who now complain about too much government involvement in the cannabis arena will be able to keep on complaining.