What Is So Wrong With Hemp, or So Right? Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Hemp and marijuana both refer to a plant called “Cannabis”. The difference between the two is how the Cannabis plant is cultivated and what it is bred for. Hemp is an English word more commonly used when the Cannabis plant is grown for non-drug purposes or industrial uses such as fuel, fiber, paper, seed, food, oil, etc. However, marijuana is a word of “Spanish derivation that was primarily used to describe varieties of cannabis that were more commonly bred over time for medicinal and recreational purposes.” Not so true anymore.

Unfortunately, it seems that the more popular public consensus in the United States is that hemp and marijuana are one in the same. This belief has been nurtured by the dissemination of much misinformation and the “current refusal of the Drug enforcement agencies to distinguish between an agricultural crop and a drug crop.” Although doomed by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectually criminalized cannabis and levied high taxes on medical marijuana and industrial hemp, hemp cultivation wasn’t technically disallowed. However, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) predecessor, said its agents couldn’t differentiate between industrial hemp and marijuana, a stance the DEA maintains today, so fewer farmers were willing to grow it. The exception came during World War II, when the armed forces experienced a severe fiber shortage and the government launched an aggressive campaign to grow hemp (Mass 36). But after the war, hemp production faded away, and the last legal crop was harvested in 1957” in Wisconsin (Mass 36). “Marijuana’s propaganda-fuelled history, one filled with lurid stories, one-sided information, slander and corporate profiteerism,” has not let hemp remain unscathed. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) repealed the Marijuana Tax Act but incorporated verbatim that Act’s definition of “marijuana.”

” (16) The term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.”

The 1970 Act abolished the taxation approach and effectively made all Cannabis cultivation illegal, except where the DEA issued a limited-use permit. So, strictly speaking, it is not illegal to grow hemp in the United States, rather it is just illegal to grow the crop without a special DEA permit to do so. “Growing hemp is kind of like driving, you can’t drive without a license and you can’t grow hemp without a permit. The difference is that it is almost impossible to get a permit from the DEA to grow hemp. An example of this would be John Stahl, of the Evanescent Press, and his DEA permit story.” So the opportunity cost of being almost impossible to grow hemp in the United States legally is having it illegal to grow hemp in the United States like other agricultural crops.

Currently, the laws and regulatory fees in the United States make it financially prohibitive and impossible for prospective farmers to finance gaining licensure from the Agriculture Department and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) (Wetzel 37).  Farmers that want to start growing hemp as a crop must first pay fees in the range of $200.00 or more, which includes surcharges to cover a criminal background check (Wetzel 37). Applicants must also provide latitude and longitude coordinates specifying exactly where they plan to grow their hemp fields and provide two sets of fingerprints (Wetzel 37). However, the most daunting obstacle is the mandatory annual registration fee of $2,293 required by the DEA, which is nonrefundable and does not guarantee that the agency will grant permission for the applicant to grow industrial hemp (Wetzel 37). Despite these daunting restrictions, Fortune 500 companies have begun to reinvigorate their interest in hemp for industrial purposes (Kane 12).

As an agricultural crop, cannabis can thrive without the use of pesticides, rejuvenates the soil as it grows, reaches maturity within three to four months, requires less water to grow than cotton, and can produce up to four times as much paper per acre as trees (Kane 12).  Cannabis plants also produce a much stronger textile than cotton, building materials with twice the strength of concrete or wood, a cleaner-burning diesel fuel, better oils and superior paints, “biodegradable plastics, and more digestible protein per acre than any other food source (Kane 12).  Hemp fibers are also used in a wide array of colorful textiles, like silks, wools, cottons, rayon, nylon, and flax, and fashioned into a vast array of consumer goods, from clothing to rugs (Kane 12).  As a food source, hemp seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, protein, Gamma Linoleic Acids (GLA), omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins E, C, and B, calcium, iron, and zinc and are most nutritious when eaten dehulled (Blackwood 176; Kane 12-13).  Although these numerous benefits associated with the industrial production of hemp, the fact that, as a member of the cannabis Sativa family of plants, industrial hemp contains less than 1% of the psychoactive ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (whereas marijuana contains 3%-15% THC on a dry-weight basis) (Fortenbery and Bennett 99) has allowed the DEA to classify the entire species of plant as a controlled substance, making it illegal to grow the plant in America.

Currently, 32 countries globally, including England, Canada, and Germany, produce industrial hemp (Rausch 11) and it is not illegal to produce or consume foods made using hemp seeds (Blackwood 176). In addition, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington have legalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes and state-sponsored studies on the economic viability of industrial hemp have been produced for Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin (Fortenbery and Bennett 97). In the states where medicinal use is legal, it is also legal for individuals with licenses to sell or use medicinal marijuana to cultivate plants for this purpose although the legal amounts vary from state to state (Cockburn 9). For areas of the country that are still suffering adversely from the economic downturn, like the town of Vallejo in Northern California, patients licensed to use medical marijuana also purchase a variation of common grocery items, such as pot-infused olive oil, butter, and barbecue sauce (Vekshin 31). According to Vekshin (31), “The shop sells several hundred “edibles” each week, including brownies, cupcakes, and biscotti with weed baked right in”, which helps patients with chronic ailments. However, since the Federal law still prohibits use, possession, and sale of cannabis, dispensary owners still encounter resistance from disapproving community businesses and the DEA (Vekshin 31).

By 2005, the street value of cannabis in the United States, primarily marijuana, was peaking at around $2,500-$3,000 a pound and is currently fetching prices of $6,700 a pound in San Francisco and LA for growers (Cockburn 9). According to Casswell et al. (227), a New Zealand National Drug Survey determined that the average marijuana user spent about $1313-$7000 NZ, annually. Additionally, the cannabis market was estimated to be valued at $190 million NZ (Casswell et al. 227).  In the United States, sales of hemp products have reached an estimated $100 million a year, but national farmers are not able to profit from this demand for products and distributors have to import all of the stalks, leaves, and seeds used to make them from China, England, and the other countries where hemp is grown freely and legally (Hightower 4). Although currently illegal, the substantial market for cannabis products is large, steady, and undeniable.

However, in order for the enormous potential uses of hemp to be realized substantial changes have to be made to the federal laws that still penalize users and producers of cannabis products even though state laws allow such actions.  Essentially, there are a multitude of benefits to cultivating hemp as an industrial plant, in much the same way corn and other plants are grown and harvested. Environmental benefits include diminished pollution of the air, water or soil since the plant can be successfully grown without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and increased soil composition through continual cultivation of the plants (Mass 37). It is a natural weed suppressor due to fast growth of the canopy and plants shed their leaves all through the growing season, adding rich organic matter to the topsoil and helping it retain moisture with reported excellent hemp growth on land that had been cultivated steadily for nearly 100 years (Mass 37). Because it is an extremely fast growing crop, hemp produces more fiber yield per acre than most other sources. Therefore, the amount of land needed for obtaining equal yields of fiber place hemp at an advantage over other fibers. Hemp can produce 250 percent more fiber than cotton and 600 percent more fiber than flax using the same amount of land. Where the ground permits, hemp’s strong roots descend for three feet or more. The roots anchor and protect the soil from runoff while building and preserving topsoil and subsoil structures similar to those of forests. The bark of the hemp stalk contains “bast” fibers, which are among the Earth’s longest natural fibers. The fiber is also stronger, more absorbent and provides more insulation than cotton (Mass 37).

Works Cited

Blackwood, Alisa. “Give Hemp A Chance.” Health (Time Inc. Health) 17.7 (2003): 176. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Casswell, Sally et al. “Estimating The Dollar Value Of The Illicit Market For Cannabis In New Zealand.” Drug & Alcohol Review 24.3 (2005): 227-234. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Cockburn, Alexander. “Marijuana, Boom And Bust.” Nation 290.15 (2010): 9. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Fortenbery, Randall T. and Michael Bennett. “Opportunities For Commercial Hemp Production.” Review Of Agricultural Economics 26.1 (2004): 97-117. EconLit with Full Text. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Hall, Joshua C., and Jesse Schiefelbein. “The Political Economy Of Medical Marijuana Laws.” Atlantic Economic Journal 39.2 (2011): 197-198. Business Source Elite. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Kane, Marie. “Hemp Industry Prepares To Grow. (Cover Story).” In Business 21.6 (1999): 12-14. Business Source Elite. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Mass, Ed. “Hemp.” Natural Life (1 May 2009): 36-38. CBCA Complete, ProQuest. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Rausch, John S. “Harrelson Trial Highlights Benefits Of Industrial Hemp.” National Catholic Reporter 36.39 (2000): 11. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.

Vekshin, Alison. “A City That’s Really Gone To Pot.” Bloomberg Businessweek 4243 (2011): 31. Business Source Elite. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

Wetzel, Dale. “Lawmaker Holds Hope In Hemp.” State Legislatures 33.3 (2007): 37. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Nov. 2011 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

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