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Hemp, the Next Super Crop?

Hemp is the cousin to the well known marijuana. It is also potentially one of the most useful crops we have access to, so what's stopping us?

Imagine a set of fraternal twins one of them is Mary and the other is named Henry, Mary is a popular girl in school and loves to go to parties and Henry is more reserved and focuses on his work but still gets in trouble with his parents because of Mary’s actions. Now what if I told you that Mary and Henry were actually Hemp and Marijuana? Hemp aka Cannabis Sativa is the lesser known cousin to Marijuana aka Cannabis indica. Hemp is an extremely useful crop but has been through controversy due to its relation to marijuana. 

So What is the difference between weed and hemp? Let’s start with their appearance. According to the ministry of hemp, hemp is skinnier leaves that are concentrated at the top with few on the lower part of the plant, and can reach up to 20ft tall. Marijuana is broad leaved and grows in a short bush. The major difference between Marijuana and Hemp is their THC value. According to dictionary.com THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the “the psychoactive component in cannabis preparations” aka the thing that actually gives you a high in marijuana. Weed’s THC value can range anywhere from 10-20% according to nbc the average in Colorado is 18.7% with a max of 30% versus the 0.3% in hemp. Not only is Hemp’s THC value so minimal but it also contains CBD (cannabidiol) which according to ministry of hemp acts as THC’s “antagonist” and leaves the minimal amount of THC in hemp useless. As stated by the ministry of hemp, “Your lungs will fail before your brain attains any high from smoking industrial hemp.”

Times are a changing, so should we. Prior to the civil war, many southern politicians and authors coined to phrase “Cotton is king” to describe its many uses and economic benefits. The crown has been stolen and there’s a new king in town and its name is hemp. While cotton has its uses, as a crop it is very high maintenance. Leafly states that cotton accounts for only 2.5% of the world’s cropland but uses 16% of the pesticides which are extremely harmful to the environment and severely impact the ecosystems that receive farm runoff and may decrease freshwater biodiversity. Cotton uses twice as much land for the same amount of production as well as almost 5 times the amount of water. Hemp requires much less water than cotton and when dried on the land will return 60% of its nutrients to the land which allows it to be grown on the same land for many years without soil depletion or crop reduction. Hemp is also just as useful as cotton if not more. Hemp can be used for cloth, fiber, food, cosmetics, animal feed and bedding, building materials, and even made into fiberglass like structure and made into cars that can then be biodegradable. Hemp would also lessen dependence on foreign oil as it can be made into an ethanol like liquid and uses to power machines  

Why is hemp still so uncommon if its so useful? During his time in office president Richard Nixon passed the war on drugs that looped hemp as illegal along with other drugs like marijuana. Since then there has been a stigma surrounding hemp. Now there are some 27 states that have passed laws favoring hemp and nearly 30 countries have legalized hemp. According to Robert Weiner, spokesperson for white house drug policy, “From a plane, it's very difficult to distinguish between marijuana and hemp, so the enforcement side of this would be extraordinarily difficult.” 

Though we have made it far in the hemp world there is still a ways to go before we can truly reach the full potential of hemp growing. Hemp is an extremely useful crop but is unfortunately linked with its cousin marijuana making it surrounded in controversy but in the near future we all could be wearing, eating, or even driving hemp.

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