Legalization - Industrial Hemp
products million cultivation cannabis
Industrial hemp and marijuana both come from the Cannabis sativa plant, but while marijuana can contain THC levels of 3 to 15%, cannabis plants grown for industrial hemp contain less than 1% of THC. Industrial hemp can be used to make many products, including rope, textiles, plastics, paper products, and oil.
U.S. law bans the cultivation of hemp but permits the sale of hemp products. From only a few million dollars in the early 1990s, global hemp sales reached $75 million in 1997. According to the Hemp Industries Association, sales of hemp products were about $250 million in 2004 and were expected to reach $350 million in 2005, largely on the strength of increased demand for hemp-based food products. Many agree with David Monson, a farmer and state legislator in North Dakota, who said, "We in North Dakota believe this [hemp] is a legitimate crop that can make us some money, help the environment, and maybe save some family farms" (U.S. News & World Report, March 8, 1999). Growing hemp is legal in Germany, France, Spain, and Britain. Romania is the largest commercial hemp producer in Europe.
The changing economic fortunes of many of the nation's farmers have forced them to look to new alternatives. An acre of hemp can earn more than an acre of wheat, soybeans, or barley in some states—but cannot compete with tomatoes, potatoes, or tobacco. In 1999 the Virginia legislature approved the "controlled, experimental" cultivation of hemp. By 2001 Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Vermont, and Virginia had all passed legislation supporting either research into or cultivation of hemp, and several others had considered but rejected such proposals.
The DEA opposes the cultivation of hemp and has indicated that it will not register or permit it. The DEA indicates that it is hard to distinguish between a field of legitimate hemp and one of illegal cannabis. Since laboratory testing is needed to absolutely determine the difference, this would certainly slow down the process of fighting drugs. Finally, the DEA fears that legalizing hemp may be the first step on the way to legalizing marijuana.