Hemp is not marijuana.
It looks like marijuana.
But it’s not marijuana.
It’s a plant fiber so useful that it can be used in making things from auto parts to yarn. Not quite A to Z, but close enough.
A hemp car? Really? Apparently so. “Hemp fibers have higher strength to weight ratios than steel and can also be considerably cheaper to manufacture,” reports Alan Crosky of the School of Material Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Australia. He and other researchers are working on using hemp fiber to replace plastic in some car parts. The result could be a car that has more fuel efficiency because it weighs so much less, but is still just as strong.
So why aren’t American farmers rushing out to plant hemp and cash in on this miracle plant?
Umm, because it’s kind of illegal.
In Colonial times, Virginia required farmers to plant hemp because it was deemed so useful. Rope, clothes, sails for ships — all could be made from hemp. Thomas Jefferson penned the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper. In World War II, the federal government promoted “Hemp for Victory!” Growing hemp for use in making industrial fiber was considered patriotic.
Then came another war — the War on Drugs. Hemp got lumped in with marijuana (same cannabis species, but different genetics and vastly different psychotropic potential) and was effectively banned.
The feds do allow hemp farming, as long as your state has a law allowing it and regulating it. Lately, there’s been a campaign to do just that.
However, the push to legalize hemp isn’t coming from drug-addled hippies. It’s coming from people who see hemp as a potential cash crop to replace tobacco — or no crops at all. At the national level, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is pro-hemp, and he’d never be mistaken for a pot smoker.
In Virginia, one of the main hemp advocates is Jim Politis, a former Republican member of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. He sees it as a pro-economic development measure for struggling rural areas. Another Republican, Del. Joseph Yost of Pearisburg, has already filed a bill for next year’s General Assembly to create the Virginia Industrial Hemp Farming Act.
The main objections to hemp come from law enforcement, which argues that it’s easy to confuse the two plants. The counter-argument is that alcohol looks pretty much the same but authorities do a good job of distinguishing between a craft brewery and a moonshine still.
So let’s say again: Hemp is not marijuana.
But if Yost’s bill passes, it could be a cash crop again.
Adapted from the Roanoke Times.