Based on information presented in an official rulemaking petition to the US Drug Enforcement Administration to remove industrial hemp from federal drug schedules.*
Industrial hemp is an agricultural commodity produced into thousands of products. Industrial hemp fibers are used in fabrics and textiles, yarns and spun fibers, paper, carpeting, home furnishings, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, and composites. Industrial hemp hurds are used in various applications such as animal bedding, material inputs, papermaking, and composites. Industrial hemp seed and oilcake are used in a range of foods and beverages, and can be an alternative food protein source. Oil from the crushed industrial hemp seed is used as an ingredient in a range of body-care products and nutritional supplements.
Industrial hemp cultivation and use has environmental benefits (e.g. less pesticide use, alternative to clearcutting forests, etc.) as well as economic benefits to farmers (a profitable rotation crop, crop diversification, etc.) and manufacturers (e.g. technically superior and more environmentally friendly feedstock, etc.)
27 U.S. states have changed their laws, distinguishing industrial hemp from marijuana. Canada, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, among others, are nations that distinguish industrial hemp from marijuana.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress allowed for industrial hemp cultivation in those states that have legalized it, but only if overseen by an academic or state institution, and only for the limited purpose of research. Bipartisan legislation in Congress to fully remove industrial hemp from the US drug schedules is pending in both houses of Congress, but is not progressing.
Industrial hemp and marijuana are both in the Cannabis genus. There is scientific dispute as to whether Cannabis is one or several species, or one species with subspecies, etc. However, science and industry recognize varieties that center on two poles: High THC/Low CBD (“marijuana”) and Low THC/High CBD (“industrial hemp”).
The intoxicating ability of Cannabis is based on the percentage of the cannabinoids THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocanninol) and CBD (cannabidiol) the plant contains. Marijuana contains high amounts of the intoxicating cannabinoid THC. Industrial hemp, on the other hand, contains greater amounts of CBD, which is not intoxicating and, in fact, counteracts the intoxicating effects of THC. While there are small amounts of THC in industrial hemp, there is always more—often several-times as much—CBD. It takes at least 1% THC in a Cannabis plant to intoxicate.
Growing industrial hemp in close proximity with marijuana can interfere with marijuana production.
DEA is considering “rescheduling” “marijuana” (which DEA currently defines to include industrial hemp” from Schedule I (no accepted medical use and high potential abuse) to a lower schedule (accepted medial use with lesser degrees of risk of abuse). Such a rescheduling won’t help industrial hemp. As long as industrial hemp is legally a “drug” it cannot be freely grown. Between 93.7% and 99.3% of “marijuana” seized by law enforcement each year is, in fact, industrial hemp—commonly known as “ditchweed.” As local law enforcement is compensated for any “marijuana” seized, they are incentivized to boost the body count. Local law enforcement harvests industrial hemp each year, but farmers cannot.
The U.S.S. Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat, first set sail in 1797 rigged with 60 tons of canvas and rope made from industrial hemp. In the 1890s, industrial hemp was handled in the same way as any other farm commodity, in that USDA compiled statistics and published crop reports, and provided assistance to farmers promoting production and distribution. In the early 1900s, industrial hemp continued to be grown and researchers at USDA continued to publish information related to industrial hemp production and also reported on industrial hemp’s potential for use in textiles and in paper manufacturing.
The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act defined industrial hemp as a narcotic drug, requiring that farmers growing industrial hemp hold a federal registration and special tax stamp, effectively limiting further production expansion.
Industrial hemp was briefly brought back into large-scale production during World War II. In 1943, U.S. industrial hemp production reached more than 150 million pounds on 146,200 acres. This compared to pre-war production levels of about 1 million pounds. By 1948, production had dropped back to 3 million pounds on 2,800 harvested acres, with no recorded production after the late 1950s.
In 1970, Congress enacted the Controlled Substances Act, which statutorily defined “marihuana” as all Cannabis sativa. In that same law, Congress directed and authorized DEA to make changes to the drug schedules as new information developed. Today, science is clear as to what distinguishes marijuana and industrial hemp.
Today, majorities of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana. While the polling hasn’t been done, it is safe to assume that even greater majorities favor the relegalization of industrial hemp.
* Kerr, Andy and Courtney N. Moran. 2016. To Remove Industrial Hemp from the Federal Drug
Schedules: An Administrative Rulemaking Petition to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration