Making Hemp Sexy Again

Industrial hemp steps out from behind its famous sibling, marijuana

Eric Carlson says hemp will become a global “trillion-dollar crop.”

Eric Carlson says hemp will become a global “trillion-dollar crop.”

Photo by Ken Magri

"Here's a crop that's not psychoactive, but has healing effects, omega 9s — it's a super food." Eric Carlson, Chairman, CSDA's Hemp Advisory Board

Eric Carlson is on a mission to show the commercial potential of marijuana’s misunderstood sibling: hemp.

“Hemp will be the world’s next trillion-dollar crop,” says Carlson, who is chairman of the California State Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Advisory Board.

Marijuana, cannabis and hemp are the same thing, except that mature female hemp plants contain less than 0.3 percent THC. They look and smoke like regular marijuana, but won’t get you high.

The first use of hemp reaches back to 8000 B.C., before the invention of the wheel. Known for its versatility, hemp has been used over the centuries for paper, clothing, rope and food. In 1914, the U.S. $10 bill was printed on hemp and showed a hemp harvest on the back side. During World War II, “families in the Midwest were paid by the government to grow hemp for the war effort,” says Carlson.

But contemporary marijuana growers stay away from hemp production, partly from a fear that renegade hemp pollens will contaminate their outdoor marijuana crops. The profits are also greater and more immediate with marijuana than hemp.

“Here’s a crop that’s not psychoactive, but has healing effects, omega 9s — it’s a super food,” Carlson says. He reports that hemp is now used in biodegradable plastics, biofuels, “hempcrete” building blocks, fiber board and blow-in attic insulation.

As a food crop, Carlson says a typical acre of hemp can bring in $1,500, versus $300 for corn. CBDs can also be produced from hemp, which helps make it a billion-dollar industry already. Last year, an obscure provision in Prop. 64 allowed for development of a commercial hemp industry in California.

To get people interested, Carlson is hosting a “Hemp and Grow Rich” symposium on Nov. 16 at Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks. His own experiences include growing marijuana, but this symposium concentrates exclusively on the burgeoning hemp industry and ways to profit.

“So, do I think hemp is sexy?” Carlson asks himself. “Yeah!”