The United States government has cried wolf about cannabis so many times that its credibility on the subject must be at an all-time low. Nowhere is that more apparent than when it comes to hemp.
Hemp is a strain of cannabis sativa, but is sort of the nerdish, boring, industrious cousin of the plants people use for medicine, and to just get stoned. Hemp doesn’t get you high at all, but it is useful in many other ways as textiles, paper, food, fuel and much more. A Jan. 19 paper from the Congressional Research Service titled Hemp as an Agricultural Product estimates that the global market for hemp includes some 25,000 products.
So why is this product prohibited rather than a vital part of our economy? As far as I can tell it’s because the government thinks people are stupid. The simple reason given for hemp prohibition is that law enforcement is too dense to recognize the difference between a field of marijuana and a field of hemp. It would probably take about 10 minutes to explain it to a 10-year-old. Marijuana is grown for its THC-rich buds, which form on the end of its leafy branches. The more branches, the more buds. Most marijuana growing operations feature shorter, bushier plants with lots of branches that are planted several feet apart so that the sun can get to its lower branches. These are created by pinching off the ends of the stems, causing them to branch out.
Hemp is grown for the fibrous main stem, its trunk, so to speak, and its seeds. In order to get the longest stem, hemp plants are sown a few inches apart so that the plants literally compete for sunlight by reaching up. Anybody who has visited a dense forest has seen the phenomenon of a canopy of tall, skinny trees with few lower branches and very bushy tops. That’s the way hemp is produced, in order to maximize the harvest of fibers. Pinching the ends to make the plant bushy is a no-no.
It’s true that the leaves are identical. However, cannabis is grown for the THC; hemp contains only negligible traces of the substance. As for any law enforcement officer who can’t figure it out, technology has advanced to the point where you can actually test the stuff. It’s not that hard. There is no need for cops to stand around in a field sniffing at a plant to try to figure out what it is.
You could come across a situation where a hemp farmer hides a few marijuana plants among the rest of his crop. It could happen. But by that standard it would be akin to prohibiting cars because some people drive too fast, or prohibiting alcohol because some people drink too much.
At the same time you have the weird situation of a vast, multibillion-dollar marijuana underground wherein people pretty much use pot with impunity in order to get high. Yep, a lot of people get arrested for marijuana use or distribution, but that doesn’t seem to stop much of the action.
Nobody is producing underground hemp — at least that I’ve heard of. There is not enough profit in it to risk running afoul of the law. Instead, we import piles of it from China, Canada and other countries where they grow it. Oh, yeah, we get a lot of marijuana from other countries too.
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