Hemp is old news. Records of its use date back to the first millennium BC, and George Washington is reported to have grown it at his home in Mount Vernon. Yet despite its storied history, the hemp industry has faced significant challenges in the United States due to regulation and its associations with its recreational cousin, marijuana. In recent years, however, legislation has been introduced that could allow for overdue advancement of the industry, and hemp proponents are starting to see a much greener future.
Before delving into what hemp can do, it’s important to clarify what it cannot do. Despite its botanical similarities to marijuana, hemp produces such low levels of the psychoactive compound Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that a person would be unable to achieve a high. By contrast, hemp contains elevated amounts of cannabidiol, an anti-psychoactive chemical that can block highs. While the plants do come from the same species, their uses are vastly different. One would be disappointed to find themselves smoking hemp and wearing clothes made of marijuana fibers.
Despite its differences from marijuana, the US government classifies hemp as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This means that while hemp is technically not illegal, there are strict regulations on its production. Growers must have a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or face federal charges or confiscation. This classification makes growing industrial hemp difficult, and starting with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, efforts have been introduced to Congress to alter the definition of marijuana so that it specifically does not include industrial hemp. Should these efforts succeed, America would find itself primed for a surge in hemp production and reap the many benefits that could result.