Hemp History Week Pushes for Legalizing Industrial Hemp in USA

Photo: Industrial hemp field
Photo: Industrial hemp field

This week, May 2-8, is Hemp History Week.  A more accurate title would be “Legalize Industrial Hemp” Week, as that is the purpose of these next several days, during which 550 events related to the promotion of hemp will occur across all 50 U.S. states.

The first such week was held last year.  Hemp products are currently legal, evident in the cereals, supplements, milk substitute, and protein powders sold in stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  The issue, however, is that companies import 20 tons of hemp oil from Canada to create a market that last year was worth at least US$400 million.  The reason?  Since the mid-20th century, industrial hemp has been banned in the United States because the government does not distinguish between food- and industrial-grade hemp and the other member of the Cannabis family that makes you high.  At least six states have authorized farmers to grow the crop, but very few do because of the risk that federal agents will destroy their yield.

It was not always this way.  Hemp farming in the United States dates back to the colonial era.  Hemp was a staple from the 1600s until the mid-19th century, and founding fathers including George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson grew the crop.  With the backlash against marijuana smoking in the 1920s and 1930s, however, the U.S. government declared hemp a narcotic with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937–later legislation outright banned it.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture briefly allowed hemp farming during World War II to help the war effort, and George H.W. Bush’s parachute that saved his life in late 1944 was reportedly made from hemp.  Henry Ford also built an experimental car body made with hemp fiber.  Despite advances in paper and pulp processing and the promise of new uses in thousands of other products, hemp farming has still been illegal in the U.S. since post-World War II.

Since 1998 the U.S. as allowed the import of food-grade hemp, and companies including Nature’s Path, Nutiva, and Manitoba Harvest make a bevy of products from breakfast cereals to high-protein supplements.  Washington DC is also starting to get it, as politicians with diverse views from Barney Frank to Ron Paul have introduced legislation to legalize industrial hemp production.  For now that bill languishes in Congress, but hemp products have become more popular.  The benefits are numerous:  easy to farm with almost no need for herbicides or pesticides, easily gaining the “organic” label for farmers; adaptability to most climates; promise as a biofuel feedstock;  potential for water remediation technologies; and building materials.  For the hemp lobby, however, the road ahead is a long one.

Most of this week’s events focus on food, and it is easy to see why.  Shelled hemp seeds taste like sunflower seeds, and hemp protein powder is a good post-workout or meal replacement without the chalky taste of other health supplements.  To learn more, visit an event locator here.

Leon Kaye is the Editor of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

4 responses

  1. In February 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the DEA cannot ban hemp cereals and other hemp foods. In the seven years since this ruling, not a single person has been injured from eating hemp cereals and other hemp foods. The DEA was WRONG when it tried to ban hemp foods and it is WRONG to continue to ban the production of hemp in this country and the production and sale of other cannabis products such as medicinal and recreational marijuana!!

    Marijuana has repeatedly been proven to NOT cause cancer, heart disease, brain damage, liver disease, emphysema, or any other significant health issue, and its addiction potential is about on par with coffee. In all respects, marijuana is far safer than beer and wine and should, at the very least, be controlled by exactly the same laws as alcohol.

    When the government banned stores from selling marijuana it unwittingly eliminated all legal competition to drug dealers. Without competition, these criminals can demand any price they want which draws them into our communities and makes our children LESS safe.

    We need legal adult marijuana sales in supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies for exactly the same reason that we need legal alcohol and tobacco sales – to keep unscrupulous black-market criminals out of our neighborhoods and away from our children. Marijuana should be legal to sell to adults everywhere that alcohol and tobacco are sold.

  2. Making Cannabis Sativa (all variations) illegal was, is, and will always be one of the dumbest things humans ever did in our history.

    Was done to keep a few white men rich, and it’s still being used to horde wealth.

  3. I feel this would be a step in the right direction toward making Pot work to help our damaged economies. Marijuana is the safest drug with actual benefits for the user as opposed to alcohol which is dangerous, causes addiction, birth defects, and affects literally every organ in the body. Groups are organizing all over the country to speak their minds on reforming pot laws. I drew up a very cool poster for the cause which you can check out on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/01/vote-teapot-2011.html Drop in and let me know what you think!

  4. It also is one of the ONLY plants that can crowd out weeds in fields with no pesticides, it works by blocking them from the sun. Weeds that pesticides are useless against, and yearly more and more pesticide is being used against them… instead of crop rotation to change the dynamic of their fields. Hemp roots go so deeply into the soil & they help draw up nutrients and make soil deeper and more friable. As a gardener and aspiring farmer I can think of no better cover crop, rotation crop, that also yeilds out as a cash crop.
    If more farmers struggling with pigweed that are currently spraying with Round-Up  and growing GMO because it’s the only thing that will live through the spraying of weed killers, would be given the opportunity to grow hemp with out losing money for the year…many WOULD DO IT!!!

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