American Hemp: Could this "Weed" Be What Finally Unites Americans Across the Aisle?
By James Joiner
James Joiner is an award-winning writer and photographer as well as a 1% for the Planet ambassador.We live in a time of intense – and intensifying – political divisiveness.
It’s an issue that has ground our government to a halt and left elected officials running in circles screaming epithets and rhetoric. Yet through the constant chaos, there’s one surprising thing both sides can agree on.
No, not weed. While marijuana legalization is gathering enough momentum to eventually topple even the old ‘war on drugs’ crowd – even former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has joined forces with a cannabis company. But dragging the powers that be along behind the grinding wheels of progress with the promise of giant bags of cash is different than having them champion a cause on both sides of the ideological aisle. Containing almost no THC, hemp wouldn’t do much but give you a headache if you smoked a garbage bag full, but it has liberals and conservatives singing in unison like nothing else.
It’s actually no surprise marijuana’s hard-working, non-psychoactive sister is gaining this sort of groundswell support. Along with a host of natural healthy properties – our own NED hemp oil is extracted from the flowers of independently farmed industrial hemp – hemp seeds are laden with essential fatty acids, such as Omega-6 and -3, and boast protein potentials that rival meat and eggs. The plant’s strong fibers can be woven into textiles and ropes that are stronger and cleaner than cotton, and it can also be converted into biodegradable plastic polymers, paper, concrete, and even a sustainable biofuel that can power diesel engines.
Did we mention “sustainable?”
Hemp is such a sustainable crop that it requires little in the way of pesticides and far less fertilizer than other industrial crops, such as corn. It’s also a “mop crop,” meaning it sucks impurities from the soil as it grows, leaving the ground cleaner and more fertile than when it was planted – so much so that it’s being used at Chernobyl to help with nuclear contamination. Never mind that staple crops such as corn and soybeans are becoming dead center of a trade war, with prices already plummeting and China cancelling orders.
Family farms in rural states – which are predominantly “red” states, meaning they traditionally vote Republican – have struggled for years with crashing crop prices. They also face imminent new threats from climate change, including an overall decrease in the health benefits of their vegetables. To finally end the senseless 80-year prohibition on hemp will provide much-needed relief, allowing them access to a rapidly growing industry that is projected to total more than $2 billion by 2020. This would mean a dramatic lifestyle shift for farm communities, one whose benefits far outpace the need for more of the usual political hairsplitting dividing Republicans and Democrats.
“I believe, honestly, that hemp is the only thing that’s really gonna bring agriculture out of the rut that it’s been in for the last 30 years,” hemp farmer Ryan Loflin told Iowa Public Radio. Loflin is from Colorado, one of the now 35 states with research pilot programs to incentivize hemp farming.
Luckily, Washington politicians agree.
At the end of June, the House of Representatives and the Senate each overwhelmingly passed bills that included language to legalize cultivation, possession, and sale of industrial hemp. It would also make it eligible for crop insurance and research grants.
"Consumers across America buy hundreds of millions in retail products every year that contain hemp," said none other than Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a floor speech. "But due to outdated federal regulations that do not sufficiently distinguish this industrial crop from its illicit cousin, American farmers have been mostly unable to meet that demand themselves. It's left consumers with little choice but to buy imported hemp products from foreign-produced hemp."
The bills now need to be combined and sent to committee for senate and house leaders to reach an overall agreement - a process that will likely be protracted due to a separate, politically contentious section regarding food stamps. Once agreed upon, the bill gets sent to the president for signing into law.
The overarching question people are now asking is if and when we’re going to see an end to cannabis prohibition. Alongside the Farm Bill, more than one bill has been introduced in the senate to federally legalize and tax marijuana, most recently by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. With 9 states allowing for recreational pot use and 21 permitting medical access with a doctor’s prescription, President Trump has pledged to protect state’s rights to determine their own marijuana policy.
Of course, that’s far from advancing full federal legalization, or even signaling real bipartisan support for it. But no matter where you fall on the topic of THC, giving farmer’s back the right to grow one of the crops this nation was built on, especially one that could end a generations-long financial decline for small family farms, is a no-brainer.
James Joiner is an award-winning writer and photographer as well as a 1% for the Planet ambassador. A former senior editor at Esquire and The Daily Beast, he recently retired from full time journalism to focus more on fighting for conservation and environmental issues through storytelling.