Hemp is a plant we’re hearing more about these days. However, there is a lot of confusion around this delicious and versatile plant. Many people wonder if hemp and marijuana are the same plant or are concerned they may fail a drug test or get high from eating hemp. An internet search can lead to even more confusion! This article sheds light on hemp history and clarifies a few of the common misconceptions regarding this important plant.
One of the most widely cultivated crops in the 13 colonies, hemp (cannabis sativa) was produced throughout the US until World War II. Hemp was a sustainable agricultural commodity that brought financial stability to many farmers throughout the U.S and world and was mainly cultivated for its exceptionally strong and durable fiber, This fiber was used to produce thread, cordage, cloth, paper, and canvas (the word canvas stems from the word cannabis). Henry Ford’s original diesel engine was even fueled by a mixture of hemp seed oil and alcohol and Popular Mechanics deemed hemp a “Billion Dollar Crop” in 1938.
When the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937” was enacted, it quickly put a halt to hemp farming in the U.S. The taxation and permits made it nearly impossible for farmers to profit by growing hemp. Tobacco became an alternative crop. Close to the same time, was the emergence of synthetic fibers. Cheap imports of lower quality fibers became the norm for manufacturers and the demand for high-quality hemp fiber declined. U.S. drug policies further dampened the hemp industry by linking the plant to its cousin, marijuana (cannabis indica). Because of hemp’s familial relationship to marijuana, and a lack of understanding about the plants’ differences, laws were implemented restricting or prohibiting all cannabis growth. In the 1970’s Richard Nixon placed all cannabis (both sativa and indica) on the Schedule I Controlled Substance List.
Both hemp(cannabis sativa) and marijuana (cannabis indica) are cannabis plants, but there are distinct differences between the two cultivars. Cannabis sativa is a multi-purpose crop that can be used for food, fiber, fuel and more. All parts of the plant are useful. Most anything made from petroleum, plastic, wood, paper, Styrofoam, and cotton can be produced from the hemp plant. Hemp is high in CBD (a potent anti-inflammatory) and has very low (almost non-existent, <0.03%) levels of mind-altering THC. Cannabis indica (marijuana) on the other hand, is only cultivated for its buds and leaves and contains high levels (25-30%) of mind-altering THC.
For decades, much of the world, including Michigan, has been robbed from cultivating sustainable, highly adaptable hemp. Unfounded drug policies have bullied nations and have taken away financial independence from countries where hemp cultivation provided for basic human needs. However, there is some hope that this is changing. The U.S Farm Bill of 2014 allowed individual states to establish parameters for hemp cultivation and research. Many states (look to Kentucky) have embraced this and are now cultivating hemp. In Michigan, the hemp bill requires a permit to be issued by the DEA for hemp cultivation. This arduous, and unnecessary, process has limited Michigan’s ability to grow in hemp cultivation. For more widespread cultivation to be possible, this hemp bill needs to be re-written.
Laura Noble is the owner of Lady Jane Seed Co. Edits were added by Kelly Wilson, RDN, our SE MI Local Food Coordinator.