Darren Richardson

What kind of a country would prohibit cultivation of one of the most useful plants on the planet?

If you live in the United States, the answer is your very own homeland.

That plant is hemp, which has been used by civilizations everywhere since ancient times for such practical purposes as paper, rope, food products and more.

So why has growing hemp been a crime in the US for so many years?

Because hemp is another name for cannabis sativa, the scientific name for the plant commonly known as “marijuana.” Even though hemp was an important crop throughout much of American history, anti-marijuana hysteria in the 1930s led to it being outlawed.

After the 1930s, George Washington's advice to "make the most of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere" was largely forgotten.

Government wises up

But there is light on the horizon. Finally, after several decades of ignorant, fear-based attitudes toward restoring legal hemp farming in America, Congress took a step in the right direction in passing the farm bill in early February.

President Barack Obama signed the bill Friday in East Lansing, Mich., making hemp farming legal under federal law at pilot programs across the nation in states that have already legalized the versatile crop.

As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, a brief section buried deep in the 959-page bill authorizes colleges and universities to be authorized to grow industrial hemp for research purposes if they are located in a state that allows hemp to be grown and cultivated.

At this point, nine states allow hemp farming, the Post reported: California, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine. An additional 11 states have hemp-legalization bills pending this year, according to the Post.

The industrial hemp industry is now poised to become a major fact of American life, eventually bringing job growth to wide swaths of the country.

Hemp produces one of the most useful fibers known to man. HempHistory.org says it produces 10 percent more fiber than cotton or flax when grown on the same land. Hemp will become a common fiber for making all manner of textiles.

The hemp seed is packed with nutrition, including essential fatty acids and proteins. Nutiva.com provides this useful information:

A recent report funded by the Canadian government states that hemp protein is comprised of 66 percent high-quality edistin protein, and that hempseed contains the highest percentage of this of any plant source. Hemp also contains three times the vitamin E contained in flax. Unlike soy, hemp is not genetically modified, and it doesn’t contain the anti-nutritional qualities commonly found in soy.

Hemp’s uses don’t stop there. A 2010 article in USA Today called homes built out of hemp the “cutting edge of green building.”

Hemp is not a drug

Best of all, for those who erroneously believe that hemp is somehow going to get everyone who touches it high as a kite, there is absolutely no risk of that happening.

Just as an intoxicating drink can be made from, say, corn or apples, cannabis sativa can be cultivated in a way to produce buds packing psychoactive chemicals that will indeed change the perceptions of the users. But hemp cultivated for more practical purposes is not at all suited for recreational drug use. Just as people can eat corn on the cob and apple pie with no intoxicating effects, we can happily consume hemp seeds and keep a clear head, too.

In the space of a few years, we will come to realize that outlawing hemp was one of the most counterproductive measures in American history.

To put it as bluntly as possible, legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes is a completely separate issue from legalizing industrial hemp for the aforementioned uses and more. If you’re one of those people who is always complaining about Congress and the president, why not take the time to contact your congressional representatives and thank them for doing something right? And if you want to thank the man who signed the bill that legalized hemp farming, the president can be reached here.

It’s not every day we can say our government made a wise decision, but today – at least as it relates to the future of hemp farming – is one of those days.

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