Cannabis Prohibition

Marijuana was increasingly criminalized throughout the early 1900s until 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act effectively rendered marijuana illegal by imposing a hefty sales tax. Criminalization continued despite pushback from physicians and pharmacists the prescribed and sold cannabis products.

Marijuana became highly politicized based on an intense propaganda campaign claiming cannabis caused irrational behavior, hyper sexualization, and increased incidence of violent crime. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 repealed the Marijuana Tax Act while federally prohibiting the use of marijuana for any reason. Assigned a Schedule I classification, cannabis was labeled as having no medical use and easy to abuse.

War On Drugs

The United States expanded the War of Drugs, a term-coined by the media during the Nixon Administration, expanded under Ronald Reagan. Mandatory minimum sentences originating from the 1950’s were repealed by Nixon, only to be reestablished under Reagan. Reagan created a federal system to track marijuana and other drug crimes. The drug enforcement budget under Reagan exploded from 8 million to almost 100 million per year.

The War on Drugs has been a resounding failure. Drug use was not effectively controlled under the United States policies and drug-related overdoses from opioids, cocaine, and heroin are at an all time high. The federal U.S. government has started to update their drug policies and reform is on the horizon.

The lasting impact of the policies will be felt for decades. Disastrously, the U.S. prison system has ballooned to accommodate hundreds of thousands of non-violence drug offenders. Among all incarcerated people in the United States, 1 in 5 is locked up for a drug offense.

Hemp Industry Destroyed

Another casualty of cannabis prohibition was the hemp industry. Giants in newspaper and print, including Andrew Mellon, the DuPont family, and Randolph Hearst, were proponents of the Marijuana Tax Act. Advancements in farming machinery, particularly the decorticator, that could strip the stalks off hemp, dramatically cheapened the production of hemp. 

These businessmen felt threatened by the potential for hemp to become cheaper than paper pulp for the newspaper industry. Hearst owned timber holdings while Dupon was looking to replace hemp with nylon.

Despite some evidence that suggests there could have been a coordinated effort among these moguls to prevent the growth of the hemp industry, most scholars don’t believe there was any conspiracy to do so. Farmers didn’t understand how to correctly use the decorticator, so the cost-savings weren’t widespread.

History of Hemp Cultivation in the United States

The hemp industry was vital during the colonial period in the Americas. The Puritans brought hemp seeds to produce fiber for sails and rigging lines for their ships. British colonists were required to grow hemp to produce fiber for British vessels. Commerce and military might in the colonial period were predominantly of a maritime nature, creating an immense need for the fiber. Hemp fiber was best at limiting decay in the presence of moisture and was easy to cultivate.

Prior to the Revolutionary war, hemp cultivation had increased to meet demands for products like cloth, sacks, paper, cordage, and more. George Washington grew hemp and Thomas Jefferson experimented with selective breeding of hemp varieties and invented a machine for the fiber process. Even the early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written by Jefferson on hemp paper.

The technological breakthrough of steam engines, dramatically reduced demand for hemp maritime products. And following the Civil War, Kentucky was the last major hemp producer in the United States. Unfortunately farming advancements for hemp were limited, with the new inventions not meeting the growers standards. Manual labor was used for the hemp harvest even in the 1920s.

Demand continued to drop after World War I and then the politicization of marijuana crippled the hemp industry for the foreseeable future. The Department of Revenue had to license all hemp growers after the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act. With the development of cheap synthetic fibers, such as nylon, hemp’s last major crop was harvested in 1958.

For decades after, anyone interested in growing and harvesting hemp was met with rejection. Licenses were not given for commercial use because of an uneducated fear of drug abuse, even though hemp has no psychoactive properties.

Shifting Sentiment

Public sentiment towards marijuana and its associated products, like hemp and CBD, has shifted in the last 20-25 years. Marijuana use is at an all-time high, as Americans turn to smoke to relax, destress, and relieve aches and pains. Despite strict drug use enforcement, the opioid epidemic has quickly exploded out of control starting in the early 2000s.

Irresponsible physicians prescribed opioids for a huge variety of health problems, without concern for the extreme dependence issues. Synthetic opioid (Tramadol and Fentanyl) deaths have eclipsed heroin and semi-synthetic opioids in the last 8 years. As the opioid epidemic grew, citizens and physicians began to search for alternative methods to pain management.

Impactful news stories on the use of CBD to help relieve severe symptoms associated with seizure disorders spread. These kinds of stories created a renewed interest in medical marijuana research. To be legally sold in the United States must contain less than 0.3% of THC.

CBD has become wildly popular and can now be purchased virtually anywhere. 15 years ago CBD would have been considered a very niche product and likely frowned up. True natural CBD is extracted from the leaves of the hemp plant, a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant.

A New Era for Hemp Farming

After almost 50 years without any hemp licenses, two North Dakota farmers were granted licenses in 2007, signaling the changing times. The Farm Bill of 2014, signed by Barack Obama, expanded the growth of hemp for institutions of higher education and state agriculture departments. The legal definition of industrial hemp was officially set at 0.3% THC or less. The goal was to begin research into hemp products and redevelopment of the hemp industry, especially for medical applications.

The Farm Bill of 2018, further legalized hemp production and removed it from the list of controlled substances. Hemp farming is still tightly controlled and licenses are required. The hemp industry will likely be regulated at the state and federal level for the next few decades, before significant oversight ends.

With the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, investors and businessmen scrambled to determine the market potential for the hemp industry. The rate of growth of hemp production is very high. Montana and Colorado are the leading growers, with over 20,000 acres of hemp each. In the last 4 years, hemp acreage has increased from under 10,000 to over 80,000 acres.

Endless Commercial Possibilities

There are thousands of potential products that can be produced from the hemp plant. The three main categories of products will be oilseed, pharmaceuticals, and fiber. Low-quality CBD products have currently flooded the market with the surge of interest, but these should be avoided. Much of the current hemp harvest is used for CBD, making up 23% of all hemp product sales. Hemp-based personal care and supplement products have also become popular and are responsible for a combined 27% of sales. Textile products and industrial applications are growing segments of the hemp industry.

Hemp fibers can be used to create fabrics, yard, carpeting, insulation and more. Hemp seeds are now a popular food item. And hemp seeds are crushed to produce hemp seed oil that is found in many cosmetic and hygiene products.

Such a range of product possibilities bodes well for the future of hemp in America, but there remains uncertainty about the future of state and federal regulations. As recently as 2019, farmers could not insure their crop in the event of disease or disastrous weather events, leaving these farmers no safety net. A ruined crop could be devastating to a farmer that has invested their savings into this business.

Two pilot insurance programs were introduced in 2020, to help protect hemp producers from natural disasters. Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) is available in select counties in   21 states and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) is available where no federal crop insurance program is available. This insurance protests against natural disaster losses, lower yields, or prevented planting. By providing this covered, the U.S. The Department of Agriculture is providing a path for the hemp industry to grow.

Hemp And Global Warming

The Earth Is A Ticking Bomb

Global warming will continue to be an important topic for the foreseeable future. In fact, the global warming discussion is about protecting that very future. 2020 saw disastrous  hurricanes and wildfires causing over $60 billion in damage in the United States. Climatologists have been warning that Earth’s global temperature is warming for decades.

This warming trend is due to the ‘greenhouse effect’ caused by the emission of gases into the atmosphere. The gases keep radiation from the Earth from escaping the atmosphere. CO2 concentration has increased by roughly 45% since the Industrial Revolution. And 33 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide have been emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere since.

Methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and nitrous oxide are other harmful greenhouse gases that are released in huge amounts by human activities. Scientists warn that global action to combat this threat is too slow and even a dramatic reduction in CO2 emission will not result in lower atmospheric levels of CO2 for 15 or more years.

Significant investment has been made into solving the global warming problem, but the majority of the focus is in altering industry and human activities to reduce yearly emissions. Reducing CO2 emissions is the goal of renewable energy industries like solar panels and electric cars. But removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere could also contribute to the overall global warming solution by lowering atmospheric CO2 concentration or at least mitigating yearly CO2 emissions. To remove CO2 from the atmosphere, a carbon sink is needed.

Carbon Sinks

A carbon sink is a natural or artificial process that stores carbon for a period of time. The artificial options aren’t scalable to remove significant quantities of CO2 and pose other risks. Natural carbon sinks include soil, vegetation, and the ocean. Every year, food crops act as carbon sinks during the growing season. Not all plants remove the same amount of CO2 and the time to maturity is important in this respect.

Hardwood trees are capable of removing tons of carbon over their lifetimes, but take decades to reach full maturity. Technically hardwood forests could be sowed and cut down before maturity, but the carbon scrubbing ability of trees is maximum at least 10 to 15 years after planting. Even if forests were planted on all available land not used by housing or agriculture, the forests would still be very young and unproductive for 15 years. If harsh realities of climate change are hitting now, in 15 years it will be too late to start dealing with the emissions problem.

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Hemp is ready for harvest after only four months. The hemp harvest is highly sustainable because it produces a variety of popular commercial products that are environmentally friendly.. Hemp produces a significantly higher yield than traditional textile crops, so the ecological footprint used to grow the crops (water, fertilizer, etc) can be reduced while still delivering in-demand products.

Hemp Strengths

Hemp can produce the same amount of material that cotton produces, on half the land. With a higher yield, less land can be used for textile crops and more land can be used for food production or freed up to grow hardwood forests as well. Most impressive of all, hemp can sequester 22 tons of CO2 per hectare, according to research conducted by the Australian government. With two harvestable crops per year, that’s 44 tons of carbon per year.

Hemp has the potential to shine in areas where new forests won’t be well-suited. Hemp grows well in depleted soils and is able to rejuvenate the soil. Hemp may be the ideal carbon sequestration crop because hemp can produce popular products, grow quickly while delivering high yields, and sequester 44 tons of carbon per hectare per year.

Biodiversity Maintenance of Hemp Fields

Commercialization of crops often leads to monoculture, but it’s important to remember that monoculture is bad for biodiversity. Biodiverse habitats are all-around better for the environment, by allowing habitats for a variety of plant, animal, and insect species and promoting healthy soils.

Healthy soils are globally some of the most important carbon sinks. Hemp is a favorite of bees, it’s seeds attract birds, and it can also grow abundantly in very young hardwood forests. Long-term forests can be planted and hemp can act as a short-term carbon sequester and fiber producer, while the trees are able to mature.

Planting with carbons sinks of different time to maturity is an excellent way to maximize carbon sequestration. The commercial value in this situation is likely not maximized, but government subsidization for a carbon sink program could prove invaluable.

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