Farmers across the South are revisiting a plant from deep in the region’s past: industrial hemp, an incredibly versatile crop, hemp fiber, oil seed and flowers are used for a myriad of products—including health foods, dietary supplements (e.g. CBDs), cosmetics and body care products, building materials, automobile parts, bio-composites, batteries, bio-fuel, textiles, paper and other products.
Hemp is among the fastest-growing categories in the natural foods industry, hemp seed is a rich source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs), providing both SDA and GLA, highly-digestible protein, and naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E and iron. An excellent source of dietary fiber, hemp seed is also a complete protein—meaning it contains all ten essential amino acids, with no enzyme inhibitors, making it more digestible by the human body.
Known as marijuana’s non-potent cousin, hemp is not likely to replace the billions of dollars that tobacco once provided, but proponents say they’re willing to take a chance on a crop they hope will breathe new life into the South’s family farms.
Those efforts have faced resistance from law enforcement groups that worry that hemp farms could be hiding acres of marijuana, which would become harder to detect. When the 2013 farm bill was signed into law in February of 2014, the hemp amendment to the farm bill, Sec. 7606 Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research, defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana, which is subject to prohibition per the Controlled Substances Act. This was an historic moment in the longstanding effort to legalize hemp as the act asserts that industrial hemp is not psychoactive, having less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol on a dry weight basis and therefore presenting no drug value.
The bill further allows for states that have already legalized the crop to cultivate hemp within the parameters of state agriculture departments and research institutions.
The South has largely resisted legalizing pot, even for medical use. (Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and recreational pot is legal in four.) But in states where tobacco once reigned supreme, industrial hemp has come back into vogue.
Given the momentous progress made this past year, including the first legal hemp crops harvested in Colorado, Kentucky and Vermont since the 1940’s, farmers in the south are determined to keep up the momentum on the issue in Congress so that 2015 lawmakers allow U.S. farmers to once again cultivate hemp.
In January of 2015, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in both the House and Senate, H.R. 525 and S. 134 respectively. If passed, the bill would remove all federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, and remove its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. In defiance of clear Congressional intent regarding the legitimacy of industrial hemp for agriculture and industrial applications, the Drug Enforcement Administration has hindered attempts at progress made by agriculture departments in many states that have legalized industrial hemp farming, by refusing to grant permission for state licensing of potential hemp farmers and by not granting import permits for certified hemp seed.
Despite contradictory actions among federal authorities, the number of states that have pro-hemp legislation continues to increase. Currently, 23 states may grow hemp per Sec. 7606 of the Farm Bill, including California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
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