In 2018, Congress passed The Farm Bill. Reauthorizing what was the previous United States bill known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, this bill held extensions to important agricultural and nutritional policies while also introducing a new legal crop – hemp.

 Redefining Hemp

 This Farm Bill allows hemp to be legally grown and cultivated throughout the U.S., which has not been legitimately authorized since the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Hemp was suddenly banned because of its relation to cannabis Sativa, which carries psychoactive cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is defined as a Schedule I substance. 

The 2018 Farm Bill officially defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, grown or not, with a tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of no more than 0.3 percent.” 

 Over time, hemp has flourished into becoming a promising plant and element to many products and common objects found in society today. There was a time where hemp was universally accepted and appreciated, as a viable resource and cause of income for farmers around the globe. The cannabinoid cannabidiol, CBD, can be extracted from hemp and used to create a variety of sustainable CBD products, while still following the <0.3% THC regulation. While FDA has not approved CBD to be used in foods or cosmetics yet, the Wyden Bill introduces why CBD-derived products should be approved in dietary supplements and cosmetics. 

Ancient Hemp History

 Hemp is not a new recent discovery to society. The hemp plant has been traced back to Asian regions in 8000 BCE, where it was used as a fiber cord for pottery and the seeds and oil were incorporated into foods. As history progressed, hemp became a common household item incorporated for a wide range of materials – from canvases, clothing, rope, paper, foods, the first American flag was even made with hemp!

 By the 1700s, hemp was considered a cash crop around the world and laws even required hemp to be grown in multiple American colonies to increase income and trade. Further recognition of this crop was honored in a documentary produced by the U.S. government during World War II. “Hemp for Victory” encouraged farmers in the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp during this time, claiming the plant’s various benefits (hemp produces 4 times more paper per acre than trees), can substantially help provide additional resources to the war.

 Because of this urging support from the government during World War II, 400,000 acres of hemp were planted during 1942 – 1945. It was not shortly after that the government quickly returned to its stance of banning the plant and directly shut down the hemp industry.

From a Forbidden Plant to a Valuable Resource

Ever since the ban on hemp was lifted by the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers and companies have wasted no time exploring and utilizing the endless sustainable alternatives hemp continues to provide to various industries.

This newfound acknowledgment and rediscovery of hemp, intertwined with historical evidence of how hemp fiber was first used, has begun to replace common resources with more sustainable alternatives. Plastic, cotton, and fossil fuels, all general materials used daily, can be replaced with hemp without negatively compromising environments and ecosystems with hazardous, non-biodegradable, and toxic elements.  

 Hemp can simply reduce the waste issue and climate concerns we are currently facing. Every part of the hemp plant can be used to recreate a new material or positively impact the environment in some way.

 The outer stalk of hemp can be used as fiber for textiles, canvases, and ropes, and the tougher inner core is used for paper, construction, and animal bedding. With a short growth cycle of 4-6 months, planted hemp has become a quicker and more sustainable option than growing trees for paper.

 Additionally, farmers can use this plant to restore the health and quality of their soil. Planting hemp eliminates the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides and wards off other unwanted pests or weeds with its dense yield and deep roots.

 What’s even more? Hemp plastic may be able to reduce the amount of plastic made from petroleum, leaving minimal harmful toxins to be absorbed from Earth while remaining possibly biodegradable and non-toxic. Considering hemp retail and distribution, many companies are transforming packaging and product material into more sustainable, biodegradable materials. Reasonably inexpensive and sustainable many are considering hemp as an efficient bioenergy feedstock compared to other crops. 

Founder of USA-based Sana Packaging, James Eichner says, “Packaging should be regenerative and help heal the environment throughout its lifecycle. About 50 percent of the plastics we create are for disposable products like packaging. Packaging also accounts for 30 percent of our waste and typically becomes trash within a single year of production. Reusability is what we need most right now.”

 Hempcrete is also a material that is paving the way for a more sustainable future. This concrete-like material is composed from hurd with other binding material. We should mention that not all hurd is created equal and it’s best to use hurd from a fiber variety in comparison to a cannabinoid stalk. The hurd to be used in construction should be dust-free and a certain micron, too. Hempcrete has been noted as carbon negative, producing hemp for this type of construction item removes more carbon from the air than it takes to produce it.

 Hemp companies are not only contributing their efforts to sustainable practices but breaking the negative stigma around hemp that was wrongly shunned by the government for decades before.

Growing Changes and Rising Impacts

 An industrial hemp movement is here to take over.  

The industrial hemp market size value was 5.33 billion USD by the end of 2020 with an estimated 2027 forecast to reach 15.26 billion. There is no doubt that the hemp industry will see a significantly profitable increase in the next decade alone. But this stimulating expansion will greatly contribute to more than just the hemp and agricultural industry. 

The concern of climate change and the overuse of toxic resources and fossil fuels progress each year. Hemp companies and products across the country are advancing their knowledge and use of hemp to create more efficient and sustainable alternatives to daily operations and materials used. You can read the National Hemp Association’s Climate Action Plan to the Biden Administration on how hemp can be a part of mitigating climate change.

To this day, hemp can be used in over 25,000 different applications. Troubling history and previous laws may have put a hindrance on the hemp industry for some time, but today the industry is seeing numerous companies and brands support and promote the many benefits of this natural plant.  

Final Thoughts

 While the industrial hemp industry continues to thrive, it is up to the companies who share the industry to pave way for a more sustainable future. After all, if companies don’t set a tone for the sustainable future hemp holds, how will it ever happen?

Written by NHA Volunteer, Mell Green