Marijuana’s close cousin has now been legalized in California, meaning soon residents will be allowed to grow hemp on their property. Unlike marijuana, hemp is a non-psychoactive form of cannabis and is used for industrial purposes including food, clothing, shelter, paper, and fuel. On the federal level, hemp remains illegal since it is not distinguished from marijuana under the cannabis umbrella. The United States is the only developed country that has yet to recognize hemp as an agricultural crop.
There are environmental and sustainability advantages to industrial hemp; California Senator Mark Leno put it succinctly:
“It’s renewable every 90 days, grows without herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, and needs less water than corn. It is the definition of sustainability.”
The novel quality of hemp should not come as a surprise when you consider the countless medicinal values of cannabis, yet it’s hard to believe one plant can provide such utility and still be predominantly prohibited. Leno echoes similar sentiments by expressing optimism on its legalisation last Wednesday:
“This will help sustain family farms in California for the future and likely create more job opportunities. Hemp is a $500 million a year industry in California, and it’s growing at 10 percent annually.”
For 14 years, the legalization of hemp in California has hung in legislative limbo, seeing veto after veto so as to not contrast federal law. All the while, we legally manufacture hemp products nationwide, establishing a reliance on hemp imports and nonsensically incriminating growers. Said Leno, “We’ve always believed that there is no federal preemption, because we believe that that court case ruled that Congress had knowingly exempted industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 --because it’s not a drug.”
Looking down the road, there may be concerns related to cross-pollination between marijuana and hemp. Should outdoor marijuana grows become large-scale (likely post-legalization), cross-pollination with hemp would significantly degrade quality and the function of each product (in their respective medicinal and industrial attributes). Only time will tell.