Hemp confusion hinders U.S. farmers

Not marijuana | Hemp is processed for fibre and lacks the THC chemical present in marijuana

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Hemp and marijuana might be the same species, but they are about the same as a Great Dane and a Chihuahua, says a University of Florida professor.

Brandon McFadden said the dogs are also the same species but no one would ever consider them identical.

Yet he said many people don’t understand how hemp and marijuana differ.

There are an estimated 25,000 uses for hemp, he said, while marijuana is essentially a medicine or psychoactive drug.

“You cannot get high off of hemp,” he told the Farming For Profit conference.

Hemp was grown in the United States during the colonial period and began to drop off significantly only after the 1930s, he said.

“At one time, it was actually illegal not to grow hemp in parts of Virginia,” he said.

About 15,000 acres of hemp were grown in the early 1900s, and the country was importing 4,000 tonnes of hemp fibre.

McFadden said the demise of hemp began when Harry Anslinger, who headed the country’s prohibition effort, was appointed commissioner of the federal bureau of narcotics, now known as the Drug Enforcement Agency.

He began a campaign against marijuana, which led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

That also put a halt to hemp production because it outlawed the entire species.

The need for hemp rope during the Second World War led to a “hemp for victory” campaign, but hemp was last grown legally in the mid-1950s.

Early Canadian settlers also grew hemp, but that stopped when markets dried up and other crops took their place.

Hemp is much taller than marijuana, is planted densely and grows on a main stalk. Branching and flowering are discouraged.

Marijuana plants are shorter, and the branches and flowers are where the desirable chemical compounds are found.

McFadden said Americans are still struggling with the difference as states move to legalize medical or recreational marijuana use.

For example, 350 pounds of hemp seed moving to North Dakota from Manitoba were recently confiscated, as was a shipment from Italy to Kentucky.

“Obviously we’ve got some producers interested (in growing hemp), but they’re having a hard time getting started,” he said.

Some research has shown that retail sales of hemp-based products are worth $500 million per year. The U.S. imported 11.5 million tonnes of hemp in 2011, which was double what was imported in 2007.

Aside from potential economic benefits, McFadden said there are agronomic benefits that U.S. growers would welcome.

Hemp grows in a variety of climates, is a short-season crop, offers natural weed suppression because it’s planted so densely and is a natural aerator because it has deep roots.

It doesn’t require as much fungicide or pesticide as other crops, but there also isn’t much agronomic information because the research hasn’t been done.

McFadden said the industry has to do a better job of differentiating itself from marijuana. He pointed to “hemp fests” held in many major cities in North America.

“I can guarantee one thing: there is no hemp to be found at these hemp fests. This is high THC marijuana.”

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