By James Franklin
Many people confuse hemp as nothing more than a form of marijuana. As attitudes toward marijuana ease, hope for the future of hemp-based products is high. While both hemp and marijuana are varieties of the cannabis plant, hemp’s psychoactive effects are virtually nonexistent. Under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), growing of hemp was made illegal without a permit in the US due to its relation to marijuana. Confusion over these two plants has lasted generations, leading to many debates as well as stigma.
Hemp uses vary widely and, according to the US Department of Agriculture, over 25,000 possible products can be made from this versatile plant. Agriculture and food, textiles, recycling, automotive, bio-fuel, furniture, paper, construction materials and personal care are just some of the categories in which hemp products are included. While trees take roughly 20 years to mature, hemp has a growing cycle of just 12–14 weeks.
Because of its height and high planting density, hemp is very effective for killing tough weeds by minimizing the pool of weed seeds in the soil. This can help farmers avoid using herbicides on other crops. Not only that, but hemp can be used as a “mop crop” to clean impurities from the environment, such as wastewater, excessive phosphorus and a variety of other soil toxins.
The biggest threat to the hemp industry is the difficulty of marketing and selling a non-psychoactive product that social media and financial institutions refuse to distinguish from marijuana. Opponents of cannabis legalization even work to ensure that both forms are prohibited.
The two need to be considered separately, in part because the sheer number of benefits from hemp could solve many of the world's resource shortages. From the perspective of a business that only uses hemp as a material—hemp has nothing to do with marijuana.