My blog is dedicated to the exploration of industrial hemp in America including the rich history of all forms of cannabis, the evolving law and politics of hemp and marijuana, the many products made from cannabis and the capacity, real or imagined, of hemp to re-industrialize rural America and revitalize the American family farm.
In colonial times industrial hemp was grown in South Carolina, providing raw material for important sailcloth and ship riggings, as well as tents for soldiers of the American Revolution. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp and Ben Franklin had a mill that made hemp paper.
Famous documents written on hemp paper include the Gutenberg and King James Bibles and first two drafts of our Declaration of Independence.
Later South Carolina’s hemp crops were replaced by cotton and tobacco, and by the 20th century, industrial hemp had become criminalized in the U.S.A. after incorrectly being equated with psychoactive marijuana. Hemp products have since had to be imported.
Industrial hemp and marijuana botanically have the same scientific name, cannabis sativa, but they differ anatomically and chemically. The hemp plant originated in the Middle East, and has been an important crop for thousands of years. Industrial hemp plants have been selected over centuries to grow tall and thin with long useful fibers for rope, paper, canvas. Also, a healthful oil comes from its seeds, and its flowers are a superior plant for honeybees.
Industrial hemp is a fiber crop plant and marijuana is a psychoactive and medicinal crop. Marijuana plants grow shorter and broader with poor fibers. They have been selected for high levels of the psychoactive chemical known as THC, usually varying from 2 to 20 percent concentration, with buds of female flowers containing highest amounts.
By contrast, industrial hemp plants have very low amounts of THC and to grow it legally as a crop, THC concentration cannot exceed 0.3 percent as determined by regular laboratory testing. Industrial hemp is non-psychoactive in any form; you cannot get high on it. Currently there are over 20 varieties of industrial hemp with less than 0.2 percent THC that are available for crops.
So technically, though both plants are “hemps,” cannabis sativa selection has created very different varieties.
In 2009 the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress by Reps. Ron Paul and Barney Frank. The bill makes clear these differences between marijuana and industrial hemp. If passed, it would legalize growing of industrial hemp in the U.S. At present, only in Colorado, Kentucky and Vermont can industrial hemp be grown legally.
Kentucky is expected to have over 12,000 acres in hemp production this year. South Carolina is one of several states whose legislatures are considering passage of a bill to allow farming of industrial hemp. This year the South Carolina Industrial Hemp Cultivation Bill, H.3559, was introduced to the House of Representatives with 11 sponsors, including Abbeville’s Craig Gagnon and Belton’s Jay West. This bill, which recently was approved by the House, only legalizes growing industrial hemp; it does not legalize recreational or medical marijuana. Nor does it decriminalize marijuana.
South Carolina farmers are in favor the bill’s passage, and no wonder. This variety of hemp grows well even on poor soils, and does not need chemical pesticides or fertilizers or crop rotation. To quote Jefferson, hemp “is abundantly productive and will grow forever on the same spot,” unlike tobacco and cotton which are notorious soil depleters.
Small farmers would be able to grow some hemp for their bees and harvest and sell the seed to larger farms with larger crops to harvest and sell for other products. There has been some lobbying against H.3559, but hopefully the facts will bring about thoughtful consideration and support. It will be a shame if South Carolina passes up an opportunity for reintroducing a very useful crop, called a super crop by many, that could offer great economic benefits to South Carolina and its farmers and beekeepers.