Growing consideration for hemp

December 19, 2012

Advocates of hemp are working to change laws, so hemp can open up new opportunities for farmers and manufacturers of food and body care products.

In this year's November elections, history was made as Washington and Colorado became the first states to pass ballot initiatives to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational use. However, advocates of hemp, a plant you cannot get high from, are still working to change laws that will legalize its production in the U.S., the only industrialized country in the world where it is illegal to grow.

Why does hemp get a bad rap? Simply put, it is part of the Cannabis sativa L species, which also includes marijuana. However, unlike marijuana, hemp is a low THC variety that will not act as a psychoactive drug, and is grown for the use of its seeds, oil and fiber.

Prior to World War II, the state of Kentucky grew 94% of the country's industrial hemp, but when laws were put in place to make marijuana illegal, hemp fell under that umbrella. Agricultural commissioner, James Comer, is making it a top priority to change these laws in efforts to bring jobs and new opportunities for farmers to Kentucky. The problem: For law enforcement, it is difficult (and could be costly) to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. In addition, despite hemp's potential as an economically viable commodity, it is uncertain that farmers will venture into such an undefined market, and is there a stigma attached to hemp that will deter consumers from purchasing products?

In August of 2012, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced S. 3501, the Senate companion bill to H.R. 1831, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2011. If passed, the bill would remove federal restrictions on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis.

According to SPINS data, combined U.S. hemp food and body care sales grew in sampled stores by 7.3%, or $2.98 million, over the previous year ending December 26, 2011 to a total of $43.5 million.The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a non-profit trade association consisting of hundreds of hemp businesses, estimates the total retail value of hemp products sold in the U.S. at $452 million, when including clothing, auto parts, building materials and various other products.

Clearly, the door is open for lawmakers, farmers, retailers and consumers to reconsider the benefits of hemp production, and SupemarketGuru/The Lempert Report, which has been sampling and reviewing hemp products for years, expects to see growth in areas such as consumer acceptance and product innovation. Retailers can help guide their shoppers by educating them on the benefits and helping to remove the stigma hemp may carry because of its close association with a mostly illegal drug.