How Did Hemp Become D.C.’s Bipartisan No-Brainer?
The one thing uniting left and right these days is cannabis—no, not the kind that gives you the munchies, but its agricultural powerhouse of a cousin.
We live in divided times, politically speaking. An agreement on gun control? Budget? The environment? Forget it. The gears of government are so coagulated with bile they’ve all but frozen.
Yet there is one thing that has the right is rallying alongside its hated liberal brethren.
No, not weed. C’mon, don’t be silly.
More than just a bag of cured bud capable of making noodly guitar jams seem brilliant, the other type of cannabis is, while also scheduled as illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, not psychoactive, unless you count the high that comes from raking in wads of cash.
Industrial hemp, maligned stepbrother to stoner requisite marijuana, is something of a miracle plant.
Its strong fibers can be woven into textiles and ropes that are stronger than cotton and made into biodegradable plastic polymers, paper, concrete, and other building materials. It also can be synthesized into a sustainable biofuel that works in diesel engines.
The seeds of the plant are laden with essential fatty acids such as Omega-6 and -3, can be made into protein rich hemp “milk,” and are so bursting with protein they’re comparable to meat and eggs. Oh, and before you start wagging your finger and muttering about hippies, know that hemp is damn near free of THC, marijuana’s active “get you high” ingredient. It only has about .025 percent of the compound, as compared to the 3 percent to 25 percent THC in its psychoactive cousin’s flowers.
There’s absolutely no threat of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out.
Even as a crop, hemp is a winner.
Naturally hardy, it requires little in the way of pesticides and less fertilizer than corn. As if that isn’t enough, hemp by nature is a so-called mop crop, sucking impurities from the soil.
Case in point: The plant has been used to clean up the soil around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site.
It was also once a mainstay of the U.S. agricultural portfolio, until it became roped in with the antidrug effort and made illegal alongside its hard-partying relative. As the lack of psychoactive properties in hemp have long been known, there are those who whisper the real reason for the demise of the industry lay in a conspiracy to promote then-debutante fiber nylon.
Be that as it may, hemp is back, baby.
Actually, it never really left.
While the persecuted plant is illegal to cultivate domestically, products derived from it are totally OK. And we here in the United States have been the No. 1 global importer of hemp for years, usually sourced from China and Romania.
As cultural predispositions toward marijuana slowly yet inexorably shift, hemp is finding itself again in the spotlight because of its connection to pot, only this time it’s in a good way. While it may be a while before you can legally procure pot in your local bodega, the political push for the legal production of hemp is on, at both a state and federal level. And, proving yet again what a miraculous material is it, hemp is the one thing that seems able to garner bipartisan support.
While hemp is a given in legal-weed states like Colorado and Washington, and soon Oregon, others are jumping on board. Twenty states, including Hawaii, Maine, North Dakota, Montana, Vermont, and conservative bastion Utah have marked industrial cannabis as distinct from marijuana, moving them a step closer to green-lighting production. New Jersey also passed a resolution in support of hemp, though Gov. Chris Christie ultimately vetoed it.
But the real breakthrough is coming at the federal level.
A bipartisan coalition from both the Senate and House of Representatives has rallied behind complementary bills S. 134 and H.R. 525, dubbed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, which would require the federal government to respect state laws on hemp cultivation and remove the plant from the Controlled Substances Act.
Championed by 45 lawmakers, including Republicans Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and Thomas Massie, and Democrats Jared Polis, Jeff Merkley, and Earle Blumenauer, the bill is the closest thing to political harmony the Hill has seen in a long, long time.
The reason for this rarest of harmonic convergences?
One word: Jobs.
A pilot program in 2014 permitted states to plant research crops. This one would blow the doors wide open, offering a huge boost in potential for agricultural jobs. Ten times as many jobs as the Keystone Pipeline would be provided 10 years from now, according to Rep. Massie.
The only pushback hemp legalization is experiencing comes from law enforcement officials, who argue that they can’t tell it apart from actual marijuana, though the two plants, after millennia of separate genetic pushing, bear little resemblance to each other.
With agriculture looking to replace tobacco and an increasing need for, and focus on, sustainable materials and biofuels, hemp could be just the savior the American farmer has been seeking.
“Hemp for victory,” indeed.