On Thursday, Jun 28, 2018 the Senate voted overwhelmingly (86-11) to pass a bill that would legalize the cultivation, processing and sale of hemp.
While the biggest impact of hemp legalization would be seen in the agricultural industry, the move could be a first step toward legalizing cannabidiol (CBD) and opening the door for more extensive research.
And that would put us a short hop, skip and jump away from rescheduling cannabis entirely.
Let’s take a quick look at the provisions in the bill and some of the effects it may have on U.S. businesses, consumers and the cannabis industry.
I’m Just a Bill… Sitting Here On Capitol Hill
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2), commonly known as the Farm Bill, will now be sent back to the House to approve Senate changes or make additional revisions. Once the House and Senate agree on the included provisions, the bill will make its way to the President’s desk.
Congress reviews, updates and renews a new Farm Bill every five years or so. And the implications from the bill can impact international trade, environmental conservation, food safety and more.
The provisions for hemp legalization were pulled from stand-alone legislation proposed in April by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and are included in the much larger Farm Bill.
The reasons for the hemp provisions seem infinitely practical. Americans spend millions of dollars every year on products that contain hemp. But because of federal regulations, U.S. farmers were largely barred from cultivating and selling the crop. That means consumers were forced to buy imported products.
Farmers also couldn’t secure crop insurance or financial support when growing hemp, making it a riskier option than other, less versatile crops.
These roadblocks put a cap on some of the most exciting benefits from legalizing hemp in the U.S.
More than just a source of CBD, the hemp plant produces strong fibers commonly used to produce rope, fabric, and other consumer goods. Hemp can be used to produce biodegradable plastics, or bioplastics, that are stronger than those currently made from corn or soy.
Hemp can also serve as a source of biofuel. By collecting the “waste” from the plant’s natural oils, farmers could power their farms naturally.
Even more exciting, researchers at the University of Alberta/National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) NRC, and Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures have developed a process to convert hemp into a graphene replacement. Graphene is considered the strongest material in the world. It’s lightweight, conductive and flexible. And while graphene costs around $2,000 per gram, the hemp replacement can be produced at just $500 per ton.
That makes hemp roughly 3.6 million times more cost effective than graphene!
Hemp could also serve as a replacement for many building materials. Hempcrete is strong, breathable, and more fire resistant than many current building materials used in the U.S., which could improve building safety and reduce deforestation.
The potential impact of legalizing hemp is nothing short of incredible. Not only would current businesses need to adapt to the new source of material, but we could see an entirely new industry capable of outpacing cannabis growth.
The History of Hemp in the U.S. (and the Path Forward)
Hemp wasn’t always illegal in the U.S.
Industrial hemp was grown by several founding fathers, though not for smoking. At least, there’s no reliable evidence it was smoked. Even if it was, the low THC levels would have prevented the founders from getting high.
Early in our nation’s history, hemp was a common material used in the production of rope, sails and fabric for clothing.
George Washington cultivated hemp, according to preservationists maintaining Mount Vernon.
“In the 1760’s, Washington considered whether hemp would have been a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco…” (MountVernon.org)
Thomas Jefferson wrote at length about hemp cultivation. He sent the following instructions for Poplar Forest Management in 1811:
“An acre of the best ground for hemp, is to be selected, & sown in hemp & to be kept for a permanent hemp patch.” (Monticello.org)
Because of its relation to marijuana, hemp was outlawed in the U.S. under the Controlled Substances Act passed in 1970. Imported hemp products must have zero THC.
And while 34 states have passed legislation allowing for cultivation of industrial hemp, resistance from the DEA has prevented the crop from taking off.
Is Online Advertising Hurting the Hemp Industry?
Making things even more difficult, many online advertising platforms and financial institutions fail to distinguish legal hemp from psychoactive cannabis, making it all but impossible for hemp farmers and businesses to use traditional marketing tools and strategies to market their goods.
Even Google withholds marketing data around hemp. As a digital marketer and content development specialist, one of the first things I do when marketing a business is research consumer search trends. When I did a little digging to see how many people search for “hemp cultivation” in the entire U.S., I was given zero results.
Zilch. Nada. Yet, “cotton cultivation” returned 675 keyword suggestions.
If the Farm Bill is passed in its current form and hemp is removed from the list of controlled substances, there will still be a lot of work left before hemp businesses are able to access all of the same marketing resources available to other industries.
But cannabis and hemp business owners are nothing if they aren’t resilient. And that’s good news for consumers.
Ready. Hemp. Go.
The House and Senate still need to agree on a single version of the Farm Bill before it makes its way to the President’s desk to be signed into law. But the overwhelming support we’ve seen for the bill so far suggest the remaining roadblocks are relatively minor.
Legalization of hemp would allow for more research into CBD. It would help create a clear distinction between hemp and psychoactive cannabis, which should benefit both industries. And its myriad uses could revolutionize everything from clothing to construction to energy.
Celebrate this important step toward hemp legalization with a bit of clean-grown cannabis or naturally-extracted CO2 oil from Karing Kind, Boulder’s first recreational marijuana dispensary.
Karing Kind is located just off of US-36, one mile north of Broadway, open daily from 9am to 10pm.
While we carry a variety of strains, concentrates, edibles, salves and tinctures, inventory and stock levels fluctuate from week to week. Check our menu and follow us on Instagram for an up-to-date list of edibles, concentrates and buds available.