A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Fields of New Dreams

Hemp Becomes THE Crop Again

By Harry Matthews

“The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.” (Geek alert! Though this is the opening quote of Galadriel in the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring, the words were actually spoken by Treebeard the Ent towards the end of the book, Return of the King, as he bids farewell to Galadriel and Celeborn.)

And so our world is changing, some places more quickly than others. Ten years ago, if you asked me if I thought hemp would be legal to grow anywhere in the U.S., saying nothing of the legalization of it’s more adult cousin marijuana, I would have scoffed and said “not in your wildest dreams.” And yet seemingly our wildest dreams are racing ahead of us on an almost daily basis. With recreational marijuana now legal in a number of states, the mass production of hemp and its many byproducts is fast becoming an almost nationwide phenomenon.

With the passing of the 2014 federal farm bill “Hemp Pilot Program” and the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, many states are quickly getting on board to grow and produce numerous products from the miracle curative CBD oil, for food, clothing, textiles, building materials and much much more. A recent nationwide research poll found that over 25,000 different and unique products are now utilizing this amazing crop.

As the laws are mandated through state legislatures, naturally some locales are more far-seeing and open with what can be done in their municipalities than others. Though New York State has opened its doors to hemp cultivation, it is still far behind neighboring states such as Vermont and Massachusetts, where the laws are much less Orwellian and more trusting of the populace to do the right thing.

Speaking of Vermont, I have a nephew who works for one of the largest commercial hemp growing operations in the state, The Vermont Hemp Company, which grows many acres of the crop and then make their own products with what they reap, selling what remains to other local companies that are able to utilize all parts of the plant. Now that’s good business!

So… are marijuana and hemp the same thing?

Although biologically speaking the two are cousins, hemp is completely different from marijuana in its function, cultivation and application. These differences didn’t stop our political leaders from getting confused about it all, however, and grouping all cannabis species as a Schedule I Drug, banning it in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. Even after nearly 50 years, the government still seems to have some confusion in distinguishing the two plants. Although differentiating legislation is now being written, progress has been slow.

In application, you see, hemp and marijuana serve completely different purposes. Marijuana is, as most of us know, has medicinal and recreational uses. Hemp, while looking like marijuana, contains only trace elements of the psychoactive chemical THC that makes marijuana what it is.

Today the main use for hemp is for the CBD oil that is produced from its leaves, seeds, and flowers. CBD oil, which is widely available and legal in all 50 states, is used to treat a wide range of maladies including cancer, arthritis, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and stress.

Beyond that, the fibers of the plant can be utilized for numerous textile applications in shoes, clothing, building materials, and insulation. And seemingly new uses are being found for this amazingly versatile plant almost daily. Talk about an entrepreneur’s motherlode material!

As for marijuana, it’s legality as a recreational substance is proving highly successful in the states that have allowed for such use. It has also proved to be an enormous boon as a cash crop, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to state tax coffers in those states that allow it. And all the new cash allows for many much-needed infrastructure improvements, from the building and repair of roads to bolstering educational systems.

For farmers there could hardly be an easier crop to grow. Hemp takes very little encouragement to grow big and strong; it thrives in almost any type of environment and doesn’t do nearly the amount of damage to the soil that other cash crops like corn and soy do. And because it grows so quickly it may be possible to plant two crops per year in our area, thus doubling a grower’s output.

As farmers throughout the country struggle to grow ridiculous amounts of corn and soy, often depleting the soil to such a degree that it might take years to recover the nutrients needed to have a successful crop, hemp farmers are seeing their profits pile up as the country slowly comes around to understanding that we have a vital resource at our fingertips that has the potential to transform agriculture everywhere.

In the end, what it’s going to take to make this phenomenon national is an enlightened public electing an enlightened government that is willing to start understanding that in hemp we have a possible goldmine cash crop at our fingertips that can help save our suffering land and the farmers that work it while infusing much-needed cash into farming communities that have been lead down the path of unsustainable agrobusiness. And along the way so many other possibilities arise — from ending the clear-cutting of ancient forests in the Northwest for paper and wood (hemp makes a much better paper, and will soon be a standard building material), to finding much needed and natural remedies for PTSD, cancer, and many other ailments.

Seemingly, there is no end in sight to the myriad uses of this miracle plant. All we really need do is to allow ourselves to see the forest for the trees. Or perhaps see the fields for our dreams… and allow our world to change back to what it should have always been.