The Issue on the Table : Hemp in America

{ Volume 1 }

Issue Classification(s): Low-Priority; Irrational; Wasteful; Economic

While dog has rightfully earned the title “man’s best friend” in terms of fauna, hemp certainly deserves the same title in the flora category. Since ancient times it’s been used as a low-cost fiber material for paper, rope, insulation, plastics, dry wall, beauty products, paints— the works. It’s even been used to help clean up nuclear waste. Hemp has been alongside our species to witness both our earliest inventions and our booming economies today, netting Canada nearly $50 million from hemp seed and oil exports alone in 2014.

Despite this, the U.S. has stifled its own hemp industry since 1937. In 1937, the United States passed the Marijuana Tax Act. Although hemp is the same species as marijuana, Cannabis sativa, it is not used for the same psychedelic effects. Nevertheless, it was added to the tax for economic/political reasons and, allegedly, because competing industries were quietly lobbying against it. The tax was crippling to the industry on a massive scale, and by 1950 hemp had no possible hope of keeping up with the lower-cost synthetic fibers. This, taken with a hard-on-drugs country, killed hemp production in the United States by 1960.

Now hemp could be more important than ever, due to its environmental benefits. Hemp requires virtually no pesticides and uses one twentieth as much water as cotton, a value that can be met solely by rainfall. On top of that, because hemp is an annual crop, processing hemp instead of trees for things like paper would provide a better carbon economy and reduce habitat destruction.

Every plant collects and stores a certain amount of carbon dioxide across its lifespan. When it dies, that carbon dioxide is re-released into the atmosphere. Trees, with their longer lifespans, can effectively store carbon dioxide at a fast enough rater over a long enough period of time to scrub it out of the atmosphere. By the time one tree naturally dies, it has enough offspring to serve as counterbalance. For all our amazing technology, trees are still one of the best ways to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The problem with farming trees, then, is that they aren’t around long enough to provide long-term storage of carbon dioxide. Processing a tree releases all that stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The other option, letting them grow for a longer period of time, means the lost harvest has to be made up with more acreage, which means more destroyed habitat. Even replanting these trees doesn’t solve the problem, as the new trees will take a long time to grow to provide same amount of storage as the old trees. Hemp, on the other hand, has a naturally short life cycle. It isn’t good for long-term storage of carbon dioxide, but it’s practically begging to be harvested. That’s one of the reasons we’ve used it throughout history.

Recently though, with the easing of regulations on marijuana, the hemp industry is looking to make a comeback. Small family farmers, large industries, environmentalists, economists, and certainly myself, are all wanting this industry to come back. Family farms especially, since hemp makes a great small farm crop. This link to the American value of owning a family farm actually led to the downfall of hemp, as the smaller farms couldn’t match corporate lobbying. This sector of the economy is certainly in need of assistance as small tobacco farms are being closed due to reduced consumption.

Progress was made in 2014 when a provision in the Farm Bill allowed for the limited import of hemp crops, an opportunity that more and more are taking advantage of. However, DEA agents in Kentucky wrongfully seized one of these deliveries, and only backed down when they were taken to court, revealing the aftereffects of our excessively hard-line drug policy.

In 2011, 2013, 2015, and now 2017, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act has been put forward, getting closer and closer to success each time. Hemp has long been determined a bipartisan issue, yet for some reason the legislation has been struggling to pass without unbearable modifications. This may be due to the stigma on hemp we’ve cultivated over the years or, more likely, due to continued silent lobbying from all those years back.

Fortunately, this is an issue you don’t have to work too hard on. The Marijuana Tax Act was overturned by the supreme court. Next we need to remove hemp from the controlled substance act. The gears are moving, and all the hemp industry needs right now is for us to make politicians realize that we’re watching, and that we care about this issue. All that requires is a short message to your representative. Just go to and enter your zip-code. Click “send message” and type something like

Hello. As an involved constituent, I feel the need to speak up in favor of hr 3530, The Industrial Hemp Farming act. The over-regulation of hemp is actively damaging both our country’s economy and the environment. Please support hr 3530.

And tweeting always helps (not a sentence you hear often). If you just want a copy paste message for that, here ya go:

Hemp has always been too valuable a resource for us to turn our backs on. End the over-regulation of hemp! #freehemp

As always, I would love for you to send me your problems. They could be hope-crushing, despair-inducing, or just plain stupid. Alternatively, if you’re one of those “optimists,” please feel free to submit something inspiring our species has done recently. Chin up everybody!

  1. Bickis, Ian. “Canada’s hemp industry is growing fast, but competition looms.”, 10 July 2015, Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
  2. “The politics of hemp.” Resilience, 8 Feb. 2012, Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
  3. Publications, Inc. Ogden. “The Forgotten History of Hemp Cultivation in America.” Farm Collector, 1 Nov. 2004, Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
  4. Chadwick, Matthew. “Ecological Footprint and Water Analysis of Cotton, Hemp and Polyester.” SEI — Stockholm Environment Institute, 1 Jan. 1970, Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
  5. “A tip for American farmers: Grow hemp, make money.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, Accessed 28 Aug. 2017.
  6. Maureen Meehan August 28, 2017, et al. “Pot Matters: The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017.” High Times, Accessed 29 Aug. 2017.