June 3 kicks off the fourth annual Hemp History Week, with nearly 700 supermarkets around the country participating in special promotions of food, beverages and clothing made with this multifaceted oilseed crop. Whole Foods Market alone has signed up most of its stores to highlight products made with hemp.
Unfortunately, hemp has a checkered past, despite the fact that the father of our country, George Washington, grew fields of it at Mount Vernon. The problem has been that federal law enforcement never distinguished between hemp and its psychoactive cousin marijuana when agencies developed drug policies in the 20th century. They basically outlawed all forms of the plant.
Some 230 years after Washington’s last hemp harvest, bipartisan legislation wending its way through the halls of Congress promises to rectify this oversight. A pair of bills under consideration by both the Senate and the House would once again allow U.S. farmers to cultivate industrial hemp — defined specifically as “the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis.” Congress may be deadlocked on many issues, but hemp farming isn’t one of them.
It’s estimated that sales of hemp products in U.S. stores total some $500 million every year, though virtually all the items sold in this country are made with crops grown in Canada. Legalizing hemp farming would bring many of those millions back into the hands of U.S. farmers.
It’s not just a money issue. The health and sustainability benefits of hemp have been well documented. It’s among the most popular sources of vegetarian omega-3s and -6s, is a complete protein and is a good source of dietary fiber. Also noteworthy: Hemp is gluten free.
States, which have struggled in recent years from cutbacks in federal aid, are especially eager to see hemp farming approved. To date, eight states have decriminalized hemp production, while another 31 have taken steps to do so.
Given the recent willingness of some states to even consider decriminalizing marijuana, or opening medical marijuana facilities, it seems the feds are in danger of falling behind the times. The best thing they can do is put aside their fear of hemp.
Indeed, if the current momentum in Washington is successful, organizers will have the opportunity to change the name of their campaign to Hemp Criminalization Is History Week.
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