Congress considers re-legalizing industrial hemp

An image of a hemp stem

On January 8th, 2015 the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators McConnell, Merkley, Paul and Wyden. The bill is identical to S. 359, which had been introduced during the previous (113th) Congress. An identical companion bill, HR 525, was introduced on January 22nd in the House of Representatives. If passed, this bill will roll back over 60 years of industrial hemp prohibition.

An image of a hemp stem

Industrial hemp may in the end prove to be more revolutionary than its sexier psychoactive sibling (photo by User:Natrij [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The bill distinguishes industrial hemp from marijuana, defining industrial hemp as containing less than 0.3% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, which is produced from different cultivars of the same plant species as hemp.

Last January President Obama signed the 2013 Farm Bill, which for the first time since hemp was first outlawed permits limited hemp farming for research purposes in those states that allow it. This legislation goes much further, removing industrial hemp completely from the schedule of controlled substances. It does not however impact state laws which in most states still outlaw industrial hemp.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the potential that industrial hemp has to change the face of our economy. While medical and recreational cannabis have been getting most of the press, re-legalizing industrial hemp may be a start towards correcting a number of imbalances in our current system. For example, industrial hemp has the potential to help us reduce our dependency on fossil fuels in several ways.

First, hemp can provide two types of fuel:

  1. Hemp biodiesel – made from the oil of the (pressed) hemp seed.
  2. Hemp ethanol/methanol – made from the fermented stalk.

Second, hemp can be used to make supercapacitors, which in turn make batteries for electric cars easier to charge.

Third, hemp can be used to make bioplastics, plastics made from renewable biomass. Currently most plastics are made from petroleum by-products.

And fourth, hemp can be used to create a building material for fuel-efficient homes. The material has excellent insulating properties and also acts as a thermal mass, storing heat in warm parts of the day and releasing it later to create a stable indoor temperature with little or no supplemental heating.

Hemp by itself will not eliminate our dependence on foreign oil but it will go a long way towards reducing both. Tell your representatives in Congress to support S. 359 and HR 525!

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