The Richmond Register

February 17, 2013

Hemp – the super crop?

By Billy Ray Hughes
Guest Columnist

RICHMOND — Congress never intended for the cultivation of hemp to be halted.

“The production and sale of hemp and its products for industrial purposes will not be adversely affected by this bill” was the assurance given to the U.S. Senate when the Marijuana Tax Act (MTA) of 1937 was presented.

Henry Anslinger, commissioner of narcotics at the Treasury Department, assured the acting chair of the subcommittee hearings, saying: “I would say they (hemp growers) are not only amply protected under this act, but they can go ahead and raise hemp as they have always done it.”

The Narcotics Bureau later placed restrictions on farmers that had the effect of making it impossible to cost-effectively cultivate hemp. The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) of 1970 adopted, verbatim, the language regarding hemp from the MTA of 1937.  

The records indicate that it was Congress’s intention that the hemp industry be protected because of the crop’s importance. In fact, in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed National Defense Industrial Resources Preparedness Executive Order 12919, which listed hemp among the essential agricultural products that should be stocked for national security purposes.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) does not distinguish between hemp and marijuana although there are major differences. Hemp has less that 1 percent THC (the “high” producing component) compared to 5  to 20 percent THC content for marijuana.

Hemp is planted close together to promote long stalks whereas marijuana is spaced apart to allow the plant to become bushy. Hemp is harvested five to six weeks before marijuana. Cross pollination of hemp with marijuana greatly dilutes the THC level. Some studies have shown cross pollination to take place on plots as far as five miles apart.  

There is a growing movement in Washington to differentiate between hemp and marijuana. Kentucky’s two U.S. Senators, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, have been vocal in this movement. Thirty nations allow cultivation of hemp, and the United States imports all its hemp products. Six states have already defined hemp as distinct and several other states (including Kentucky) have pro-hemp legislation pending. The states that have enacted legislation will be poised to grow when Congress passes the necessary legislation.  

What is so good about hemp? Could the benefits of hemp come close to making it a “super” crop? Kentucky has a rich history of hemp production. There are plenty of residents who recall seeing hemp fields here in Madison County. Many are aware of the long fibers in hemp plants that made it ideal for making rope.

Europe uses hemp for textile purposes as it is twice as strong as cotton and requires no chemical pesticides. Hemp is used for paper production, and paper made from hemp lasts three times longer than paper made from wood. Hemp paper production does not require the toxic substances wood paper production requires.

Hemp seeds and hemp seed oils are becoming more popular ingredients in food and cosmetics. Hemp oil, like fish oils, is high in omega-3, which has been advised by the FDA as a way to help reduce coronary heart disease. Because of environmental contaminants like mercury in fish oil supplements, hemp oil products are gaining popularity as a substitute source of omega-3.

Canadian producers use hemp to manufacture an assortment of body-care products. Hemp pulp is used to make lightweight boards and floor coverings in China. Automotive companies are moving towards hemp and other sustainable sources as alternatives to fiberglass and petroleum-based plastics. Hemcrete is a building system that combines hemp fiber with a lime binder for seamless wall construction and floor and roof insulation. Hemcrete is 50 percent lighter than concrete but up to seven times stronger, and is more elastic and less susceptible to cracking.  

Hemp also holds significant potential for biofuel production. Because of its heartiness, hemp is cited as a crop that could yield biofuels without competing with food products. Because of its carbon exchange, rate hemp cultivation has potential for combating climate change.

In the United Kingdom hemp is being grown as part of a carbon offsetting program. New hemp based products continue to be developed.

Kentucky has the potential to be at the forefront of a brand new industry by being ready to take advantage of this opportunity. There is bipartisan support for this legislation as well as support from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

You should contact your legislator as ask them to support establishing hemp as a legitimate crop. I welcome your comments at billyray.hughes@madisoncountyky.us.

Billy Ray Hughes, a member of the Madison Fiscal Court, manages a local manufacturing plant.