Hemp, hemp hooray

With the farm bill signed into law, hemp—and its many uses—is on the horizon for farmers nationwide

In December, President Donald Trump signed a farm bill that included provisions to allow farmers to grow hemp. “Hemp” is defined as a cannabis plant that has less than 0.3 percent THC. You probably call it “ditchweed” if you’re from the Midwest.

This is a big deal. While recreational, or adult-use, cannabis gets the most attention, hemp legalization is seen by many as an even bigger opportunity.

“I cannot overstate the importance of the federal government legalizing hemp,” says Doug Fine, author of Hemp Bound: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution.

“Hopefully we can legalize all cannabis, and not just the industrial crop,” Fine told SN&R in a phone interview from his hemp farm in New Mexico.

He said that cannabis can be a money-maker, especially for smaller independent farmers, although he warns, “This isn’t a get rich quick scheme. Now that it’s legal, you have to deal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Be prepared for paperwork. You have to be in it for the long haul.”

Last year, America imported $800 million in hemp and hemp products, and the market shows no sign of slowing down.

What makes hemp popular and potentially lucrative is that the whole plant can be put to good use. Fiber from the stalks can make everything from paper to concrete, while the seeds are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Hempseed oil can be used instead of petrochemicals to make a wide range of products such as plastics or even gasoline. Hemp also grows quickly without chemicals or fertilizers. In fact, hemp plants return nutrients to the ground and are great for the environment in general.

Perhaps the biggest reason many California farmers want to get into the hemp trade is because of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the hemp plant that is known for its anti-inflammatory and anxiety reducing properties. Its become a very popular additive in everything from lotions to coffee. The demand for CBD is high, and California farmers are eager to fill the need.

However, Fine advises against betting the farm on CBD alone. “Don’t look to do just one thing with hemp. Take advantage of the whole plant,” he says.

There are some concerns about hemp. Cross-pollination between hemp and cannabis plants is one of them, said Hezekiah Allen, a longtime hemp and cannabis activist and founder of Emerald Grown, a new independent California cannabis farmers cooperative.

“I certainly hope and expect California farmers to embrace hemp. This will undoubtedly cause challenges,” Allen says. “Since hemp and cannabis are the same species, the two can cross-pollinate one another and that reduces the value of both crops significantly. That said, the potential benefits of hemp are many and I’m definitely looking forward to this new era with excitement, anticipation and a bit of hope.”

He adds that while hemp pollen can travel up to 30 miles, it is also possible to grow cannabis and hemp within a few miles of each other.

“Topography is a good defense against pollen. Similar conditions to those that people used to hide from helicopters may prove to be an asset in the era of pollen as well, although it could prove really difficult to grow seedless cannabis in the Central Valley going forward though,” Allen says.

Legendary cannabis activist Jack Herer, the man most people consider the prime impetus of cannabis legalization—and the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy, arguably the most comprehensive book about hemp and its many uses—was fond of reminding people that, “Growing hemp as nature designed it is vital to our urgent need to reduce greenhouse gases and ensure the survival of the planet.”

He passed away in 2010, but it looks like the seeds he planted will get a chance to thrive.