Hemp – cannabis’ fibrous, non-psychoactive form – has been around for a very long time. It’s believed to have been used as far back as 8000 BC, and proven to have been used at around 2800 BC, according to records from the rule of Emperor Shen Nung.
Hemp in the Past
Hemp’s production certainly didn’t stop with the ancients in Central Asia. Eventually, it made its way to Europe, to the Latin-speaking countries who gave it the name Cannabis Sativa, meaning “useful hemp.”
In fact, if you took a time machine back to around 1500 AD, you’d see hemp everywhere. It was used to make hemp fiber, which could then be transformed into paper, clothes, and boats. It was even processed into oil to use for lighting and cooking, and used medicinally.
Before long, it spread to North America where it became increasingly popular. George Washington himself grew hemp and inspired citizens of the United States to embrace its many uses. The first two drafts of the Declaration of Independence, as well as many other famous historical documents, were written on hemp paper. There was even a “Hemp for Victory” campaign during World War II to encourage farmers to grow the product so it could be used to produce ropes, parachutes, uniforms, and more.
Then it all changed; something went terribly, horribly wrong. An influx of migrants into the U.S. introduced Americans to hemp’s sister product, marijuana. Though popular with the public, the media soon took over, demonizing marijuana and, by extension, hemp. The film Reefer Madness was released in the mid 1930s, and bigwigs in the paper and lumber industries began to wage a war against cannabis, fearing that hemp would put them out of business. In no time at all, both marijuana and hemp became illegal in the U.S.
Years after the unjust attack on hemp, things took another turn; this time for the better. President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, which granted universities and state departments of agriculture the right to grow hemp if it was to be used to advance agricultural research.
But that’s not all that changed. As with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, states have the power to create their own legislature as they see fit. That doesn’t mean it’s legal on a federal level, but it does mean that the feds would have to personally step in if they wanted to crack down on individual state laws. As a result of this ability, 28 states have written hemp laws that allow the plant to be grown for commercial use, research, or pilot programs.
It seems as though industrial hemp production is inevitable, and in no place is that more evident than Colorado. Hemp is easy to grow, taking relatively little water and care. It even does well in drier climates, which is why many Colorado farmers are starting to seriously consider adding hemp to their growing portfolios.
While many companies have jumped on board the hemp ship, nobody has matched the scale of Colorado Cultivars. In 2015, during their first full growing season, the company produced 300 acres of hemp. This year, Colorado Cultivars plans to plant somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 to 2,500 acres. That’s more than all of the hemp grown in Colorado in 2015.
Hemp in the Future
What’s shocking is not how much hemp is being grown here now, but rather how much hemp has been imported to the U.S. for years. Duane Sinning, of the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Division, spoke to the The Greeley Tribune regarding exactly what we’ve been importing all these years: “Hemp hearts, hemp protein powder, full-on clothing, material to make clothing – that demand has always been there. It hasn’t really changed.”
To really make a difference in the future, farmers across the country are going to have to jump on the hemp bandwagon because, as it stands now, hemp is still pretty expensive if bought from within the U.S. For now, many American companies are still content to get their hemp products from Canada, where it’s much cheaper and has been in production since 1998.
If Americans can manage to help hemp realize its full potential, there’s no limit to what we can do. Nearly every part of the hemp plant can be used. Seeds can be used to make flour, dairy-substitute products, ink, cosmetics, and even fuel. The stalks can be transformed into insulation, concrete, netting, cloth, and paper products, amongst many other things.
The major problem with the widespread agricultural production of hemp in the United States is this: many Americans think that hemp is synonymous with marijuana. Within our little weed bubble in Colorado, that kind of thinking is quickly changing. But elsewhere in the country? Let’s just say that until more attitudes change in regards to cannabis, hemp’s growth is likely to be steady, but slow.
One thing is for sure: when it comes to hemp, Colorado is likely to be as much a leader as it has been in marijuana production and regulation. Our collective hope is that we will be able to reap the benefits of hemp to the fullest extent, and that other states will witness this revolution and follow suit.
Until then, the best way to further hemp’s reign is through education and awareness. If we can accomplish these goals, hemp, once again, stands an excellent chance of becoming one of the most economically beneficial cash crops America has ever grown.