Hemp, which looks just like marijuana, is, like marijuana, now legal in Colorado and Washington and illegal federally. PHOTO: Reuters
When marijuana became legal in Colorado and Washington State, following ballot refernda, industrial hemp did as well. Hemp being illegal is one of the more pointless harms visited on America by the War on Drugs, and because there is no good reason for industrial hemp to be illegal (it cannot get you high), it may avoid some of the legal battles that marijuana will inevitably face.
Hemp, a biological cousin of marijuana, can be used for food, clothing, rope, paper, plastic and even car parts. It is one of the most versatile materials on the planet, one that the cotton industry has long seen as a threat.
Michael Bowman of Wray, Colorado is devoting 100 acres of his 3,000 acre farm to industrial hemp this growing season. "We think 100 acres is a good number," he says. "It's not a garden plot, and it's enough to have enough product at the end of the day that we can do something real with it."
Bowman's hemp is as much an experiment in politics as agriculture. Federal law does not distinguish between marijuana and industrial hemp, meaning that industrial hemp is classified as a Schedule I drug along with heroin and cocaine. Which makes zero sense.
Bowman says he'll turn his first crop into an edible oil. "Our goal is really to try to understand: Is this a viable crop? Getting the research and data gathered this year will be a good step one," he says.
It's unclear what will happen to marijuana with its increasingly ambiguous legal status in the United States. Hopefully hemp can sidestep that battle, so that the U.S. can have one more harmless, valuable and versatile crop.
Can hemp achieve full legality even if marijuana cannot? Provide your thoughts in the comments and on twitter.