An NC Hemp Exhibition is highlighting the history and potential benefits of hemp as a commercial crop. Farmer Justin Hamilton has set up the exhibit on his farm, and it’s open to the public along with other attractions such as miniature horses and display plots to inspire urban veggie gardeners.
Justin is excited at the prospect of being allowed to grow industrial hemp, but can’t do so just yet. He feels that education is the key to helping people understand that hemp definitely isn’t marijuana and that it has hundreds uses as both a fiber and a possible medicine.
Cannabis, hemp, marijuana: what’s the difference?
Both hemp and marijuana are forms of cannabis, explains Justin – but marijuana contains higher levels of THC and produces the mind-altering effects that caused both plants to be banned. But the history that Justin’s display highlights shows that hemp wasn’t always considered a ‘bad guy’ in the US. The plant has a long history of cultivation, and between its seeds and its fibers, it can be turned into 25,000 different products.
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Medical cannabis movement has brought about a new focus on hemp
Colorado’s permissive attitude towards marijuana has also allowed farmers to begin growing hemp again, with a legal definition of hemp preventing confusion. In North Carolina, October 2015 legislation decreed that growing hemp was once again legal.
Farmers “hurry up and wait”
So why isn’t Justin growing industrial hemp yet? According to the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association, that’s because he’ll need to get a license first, and no provisions for licensing are yet in place. It will take some time before hemp’s ‘legal’ status as an agricultural crop can be explored by farmers.
Senate bill 313 has outlined a route towards a pilot program, but a commission will first have to scrutinize the State Board of Agriculture’s recommendations. This process will cost in the region of $200,000, and the money can’t come from government funds. That leaves funding the process in the hands of organizations such as NC’s Industrial Hemp Association – and they’ve only raised $52,000 to date.
Hemp from 1600 to today
The NC hemp exhibition depicts the US history of hemp from the 1600’s onwards. There are quotes from Thomas Jefferson’s diary, an article taken from a 1938 issue of ‘Popular Mechanics’ and a breakdown of the medicinal and nutritional value of hemp.
NC farmers and city dwellers who visit Wallace farm will certainly get a good overview of the history of cannabis in the US and will gain a better understanding of why industrial hemp differs from marijuana. Justin Hamilton hopes that spreading the word, people will provide greater support for the process that will ultimately turn hemp into a cash crop.
NC could make billions from hemp
The congressional Research Service has already looked into the potential financial benefits of allowing industrial hemp cultivation in NC. Hemp-based products could net $581 million for the state annually. From a farmer’s perspective, Canadian hemp producers are netting around $250 per acre, but the climate doesn’t allow them to realize hemp’s full potential. In NC, Jason thinks it would be possible to grow up to three crops of hemp a year that could be used for fiber, food and medicinal purposes, boosting the per acre value to $5,000.
Should industry bodies be funding the development of the permit system?
Even once the funding is in place, there will first be an investigatory commission followed by a ‘pilot program’. Meanwhile, other states are already issuing industrial hemp growing permits at state level. Should NC wait for legislation at national level?