It’s time to end the stigma around the the world’s most useful plant.
Hemp is not marijuana. In fact, before the 20th century, the distinction between the two was quite clear. Hemp was widely used for purposes of food, clothing, and paper. During times of war, hemp was even considered an essential resource, as it was the source of the strongest ropes and sails.
Yet, all of that changed in the 1930s. Political winds shifted against cannabis and somehow hemp got grouped into the mix. Reviewing why this happened, we come to learn that confusion between the two plants was intentionally contrived by our industry and political leaders at the time. Sadly, their corrupt motives led to an innocent plant’s slow demise and prohibition that still continues today.
BRIEF HISTORY OF HEMP AND MARIJUANA
Although hemp has been part of human history for over 10,000 years, it started getting controversially mixed up with its psychoactive cousin in the early 1900s. With synthetic plastic, tree paper, and petroleum oil industries growing in popularity, political winds turned against hemp.
The origin of this controversy in the US can be traced back to 1930, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was founded. Originally, the Bureau focused its attention on opium and cocaine, dismissing any concerns about cannabis. However, by 1932, attention soon turned to cannabis and the FBN commissioner launched a 5 year crusade to pass a bill that would restrict both marijuana and hemp.
Nobody can be sure why Harry Anslinger, the FBN commissioner, was fighting so obsessively against cannabis (nor why he included hemp, instead of just marijuana, in the bill). Psychoactive cannabis (“marijuana”) was relatively obscure in the public eye and hemp was still a domestic crop at the time. It’s hard to even find any records of public issues regarding marijuana, so much so that when Anslinger was trying to generate public sympathy around this bill, the FBN often received letters stating “Your article was the first time I ever heard of marihuana”.
Considering the public sentiment at the time, we can assume that marijuana (and the larger cannabis family) was not even remotely a national or public concern. What we do know is that Anslinger was the nephew-in-law to Secretary of Treasure Andrew Mellon, a banker who was financing the growing petro-chemical dynasty of the Du Ponts. It was later to be found that Mellon had personally created Ansligner’s position.
Eventually, Anslinger prevailed in his crusade. His continued lobbying efforts led to the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, which levied taxes on all cannabis including hemp.
This raised plenty of protests at the time. The National Oil Seed Institute pointed out “The seed of [hemp] is used in all the Oriental nations and also in a part of Russia as food. It is grown in their fields and used as oatmeals. Millions of people everyday are using hemp seed as food. They have been doing that for many generations, especially in periods of famine.” Farmers, hemp paper companies, hemp chemical corporations all raised their objections of the heavy tax that would cripple their company and industry. Yet, to no avail, the bill was passed by fall of 1937.
Hemp’s misfortunes didn’t end there. The full out prohibition of hemp finally came in 1970, when president Richard Nixon declared “War on Drugs”. Somehow, hemp ended up getting included as a Schedule 1 Drug – they claimed it as dangerous as heroin and LSD!
WHY HEMP IS STILL CONFUSED WITH MARIJUANA TODAY
Nobody can deny that the popularity and demand of marijuana is exponentially bigger than hemp as of today. Marijuana organizations such as NORML are much bigger and better organized than that any of the hemp organizations. So as the movement for marijuana legalization grew, hemp activists tended to tag along. In a sense, this also facilitated in opening doors for hemp.
But this also came with a side effect. The general public continued to perceive hemp as the same thing as marijuana – or just as some bastard child of psychoactive cannabis.
To make matters worse, many cannabis groups also started to use the term “hemp” in their brand names and marketing. Let’s take two of the biggest cannabis festivals in the US: Seattle’s HempFest and San Francisco’s HempCon Festival.
Both these festivals are geared mainly towards medical, psychoactive cannabis (“marijuana”). So when the general public sees the billboards for these events or reads a promotional ad online, it’s easy for them to think “Hemp = Marijuana”. So in the eyes of the general public, where marijuana still carries a negative stigma, hemp is one and the same.
HOW HEMP AND MARIJUANA ARE DIFFERENT
The distinction between hemp and marijuana can be made in multiple ways. At the end of the day, all these reasons show that hemp cannot be grown with or near marijuana, nor can it be used in similar ways.
The main difference between the two is in its chemical composition, specifically in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the chemical responsible marijuana’s psychological effects.
An average batch of marijuana contains anywhere from 5–20% THC content. Some premium marijuana can have up to 25-30% THC. Hemp, on the other hand, has a max THC level of 0.3%, essentially making it impossible to feel any psychoactive effect or get a “high”. This threshold is heavily regulated in countries that allow the cultivation and production of hemp. Hemp also typically has high cannabidiol (CBD) content that acts as THC’s antagonist, essentially making the minimal amount of THC useless.
The environment in which hemp and marijuana are grown is strikingly different. Hemp is grown closely together (as close as 4 inches apart) and are typically grown in large multi-acre plots. It can also grow in variety of climates and its growth cycle is 108-120 days.
Unlike hemp, marijuana requires a carefully controlled, warm, and humid atmosphere for proper growth. Its growth cycle only 60-90 days. Medical cannabis also cannot be grown too close to each other. They are typically grown 6 feet apart.
If, somehow, marijuana grows among (or close to) a hemp field, the hemp’s pollen would immediately ruin the marijuana crop, diluting marijuana’s psychoactivity.
Applications & Benefits
In its application, hemp and marijuana serve completely different purposes. Marijuana, as it is widely known, is used for medicinal or recreational purposes. Hemp is used in variety of other applications that marijuana couldn’t possibly be used in. These include healthy food, beauty skin products, clothing, paper, and other everyday products. Overall, hemp is known to have over 25,000 possible applications.
HEMP IS NOT MARIJUANA: IT’S TIME TO DISTINGUISH THE TWO
People may agree or disagree with the stance that hemp is clearly different from marijuana. However, one fact that we can all agree on is that it is ludicrous that hemp was prohibited in the first place – a completely non-psychoactive plant being categorized in the same group as ecstasy and heroin.
But sadly, it has. What’s done is done.
We can’t change the past, but we can definitely change the future. We can help realize all of hemp’s full potential in the modern world by rebranding it for the useful plant that it is.
Hemp’s reputation has been stained and the negative stigma that surrounds “cannabis” will take many years (or even generations) to disappear. I hold nothing against marijuana, and strongly believe that its full legalization will come in the near future. However, by distancing hemp from marijuana and by having marijuana brands stop using “hemp” in their marketing, we will be able to revive hemp in the public eye for all its useful everyday or industrial applications.
And who knows, maybe that will help the negative stigma around marijuana to disappear quicker too.