Hemp is one of the oldest domesticated crops known to man. “It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.” (1)
Both hemp and marijuana are classified as Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal to grow in the U.S. without a special research classification from the federal government. However, outside the U.S., hemp is grown in more than 30 countries. In 2013, the top hemp-producing country was France, followed by China, Chile, and the European Union. Hemp production is also expanding in Canada, with the country’s annual crop reaching a record high of 66,700 acres in 2013.
It is legal to import hemp products into the United States. According to the Hemp Industry Association, about $500 million worth of hemp product is imported every year. (2)
There are many different varieties of the cannabis plant. Hemp refers to the non-psychoactive (less than 1% THC) varieties of Cannabis Sativa. Both hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, but are genetically distinct and used for different purposes. Hemp has a different chemical makeup and requires different growing conditions.
The hemp plant is primarily male, without flowering buds at any stage in their life cycle. Instead, centuries of selective breeding have resulted in low concentrations of THC, and tall, fast growing plants optimized for higher stalk harvests, and therefore is grown primarily outdoors.
Hemp can be grown as a renewable source for raw materials that can be incorporated into thousands of products. Its seeds and flowers are used in health foods, organic body care, and nutritional supplements.
Hemp is a good rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil, providing valuable nutrients.
Hemp requires much less water to grow and no pesticides, so it is much more environmentally friendly than traditional crops. (3)
In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act strictly regulated the cultivation and sale of all cannabis varieties. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis, including hemp, as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to grow in the United States.
We’re forced to import hemp from other countries as long as it contains scant levels of THC — 0.3% is the regulation for hemp cultivation in the European Union and Canada.
As a result of this long-term prohibition, most people have forgotten the industrial uses of the plant and continue to misidentify hemp with its cannabis cousin, marijuana.