Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!

written by mara welty

illustrated by kezia setyawan and becky hoag

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Throughout the United States, expanses of land — covered in tall, entangled stalks of the Cannabis sativa L. plant — belong to more than 25,000 acres of hemp farms in 19 states. The crops are sustainable and regenerative, thriving across a large variety of climates. Though its cultivation was strictly regulated by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the production of hemp is reemerging — and organic farmers in Oregon are actively taking a role in its regeneration.

In recent years, Oregon and 33 other states have implemented hemp legislation that would ease restrictions on the plant’s production by distinguishing it from marijuana. Although both are from the same plant, hemp derives from the stalk, while marijuana is harvested from its unfertilized flower and contains high traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). As such, Oregon lawmakers petitioned to remove industrial hemp, the low-THC, non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana, from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

In 1923, the Oregon legislature outlawed the distribution of nonmedical cannabis following the rise in popularity of Indian hemp, otherwise known as “hashish” within the Portland area. Hemp was further restricted following the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Although the bill still allowed for the possession and transfer of medical and industrial cannabis, it imposed an excise tax on all hemp sales, making the plant relatively under-utilized until its reemergence within the counterculture of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The new legislation, which was unanimously passed by Oregon legislature in March, specifically calls for the federal distinction of hemp from marijuana, its classification as an agricultural seed, and the expansion of hemp research.  The bill also allows hemp to be grown from cuttings and in greenhouses, as opposed to solely in outdoor fields, as the 2009 bill previously stated.

HEMP’S REVIVAL

Farmers began to reignite their interests in industrial hemp following the legalization of marijuana in Oregon, along with the federal Agricultural Act of 2014, which allows institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to cultivate industrial hemp for research.

Though hemp farmers are still scarce, about 1,300 acres of industrial hemp were grown in 2017, according to Lindsay Eng, director of Oregon Department of Agriculture’s industrial hemp certification program, which was formed in 2015.

During the program’s first year, 13 farmers signed up for licenses to grown hemp. Today it’s 358. Farmers are required to register as either growers — those who grow the plant —or handlers — those who process the plant —and must have their hemp harvests certified by Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) officials. According to the ODA, 118 handlers were also registered as of May.

The Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, a collective of industrial hemp farmers in Oregon, is a non-profit group dedicated to the development of a sustainable industrial hemp industry. Specifically, they advocate for policy that will protect the agricultural interests of hemp producers and relax rules regarding its cultivation.

The organization helped enact the two 2017 Oregon State Laws that created a statutory authority for the process of industrial hemp and industrial hemp concentrates and extracts, which was signed into law by Governor Kate Brown in March of 2016.

Upon its legalization, many growers entered the industry with one goal in mind: Cannabidiol, or CBD, an active ingredient in cannabis that lacks THC, the psychoactive extract of the cannabis plant. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the product, CBD oil has been linked to treating medical diseases like Alzheimer's, Multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s. Echo Connection, an organization that helps individuals access medical cannabinoids, has also conducted preclinical trials that indicate the oil has anti-tumor effects and slows the progression of cancer.

A TREE’S UNLIKELY ALLY

According to Eugenian David Ivan Piccioni, the cultivation of industrial hemp will also save the trees. As a hemp enthusiast and strong supporter of both its medicinal and environmental benefits, Piccioni believes Oregon’s legislation is a move in the right direction.

Piccioni says that the production of hemp is optimal to saving our ecosystem since hemp strains can grow as high as 20 feet and require no pesticide use, unlike cotton production. The plant is also strong and fibrous, making it optimal for paper processing, as it reduces the need to use chemicals like sulphuric acid and bleach, which are used in wood-derived paper production.  

“It’s bad enough that we clear cut an area of Oregon,” Piccioni says. “Hemp can grow in large quantities, industrially, within small spaces.”

NATION OF HEMP

According to The Hemp Business Journal, the hemp industry is projected to grow 700 percent and hit $1.8 billion by 2020. The growth pertains to consumer sales of hemp-derived products sold through dispensaries.

The U.S. Hemp Crop Report has documented a recent boom in hemp cultivation: Colorado leads this expansion, with 9,700 acres of planted hemp, while Oregon follows closely behind, growing 3,469 acres annually as of 2017.  

Hemp-based CBD sales are already persuading industry insiders to increase production and expand their markets. Specifically, Hemp, Inc., a global leader in the industrial hemp industry, reports that it intends to make North Carolina the “Epicenter of the Industrial Hemp Industry,” with plans to grow up to 25,000 acres of industrial hemp.

The large acreage is expected to improve farmer profitability and improve the economy. The organization is also commending Oregon’s efforts to further expand legislation and the state’s industrial hemp program.

Currently, Vote Hemp, a national grassroots hemp advocacy organization, is attempting to pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 3530) in Congress, which would exclude hemp from the definition of marijuana and federally grant farmers legal rights to cultivate hemp commercially and supply the products nationally. The bill was introduced to the House in July 2017 and referred to the Committee of Energy and Commerce, in addition to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations in September. It now awaits further action.

“We are extremely encouraged by the recent developments in Oregon’s legislation. Our goal at Hemp, Inc. is to make America great again by making America hemp again,” said Bruce Perlowin, CEO of Hemp, Inc.

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