Will the debate over legalizing Marijuana help being attention to it's healthier cousin, hemp?
More than ever its popular to support the growing marijuana business model. There are two parts of the discussion – medical marijuana that is now legalized in twenty-three states and the District of Columbia; as well as the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in four states. President Obama, for example, stated on CNN’s Weed 3: The Marijuana Revolution hosted by Sanjay Gupta M.D., “I’m on record as saying not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology.” And then theres music legend Willie Nelson who recently announced plans to roll out his own brand of marijuana, Willie’s Reserve, in Colorado and Washington State, where recreational use of the drug is legal.
What I'm wondering about however, is how can all this attention on marijuana help it's more nutritious cousin, hemp, to finally become a mainstream crop here in the US? Twenty-two states have actually legalized industrial hemp farming and the Industrial Hemp Farming Act introduced in both the House and the Senate in January of this year is encouraging more farmers to grow this very sustainable crop.
In a climate that many including myself view as under siege, hemp restores nutrients to the soil via phytoremediation and does not require chemical pesticides or herbicides. In fact, even George Washington grew hemp crops, as did Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on their lands. But while our forefathers grew it for use in rope, canvas, fabric and paper, today hemp is even a more important ingredient in our efforts to consume nutritious foods. Hemp seeds are a rich source of Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids and other polyunsaturated fatty acids. Hemp actually has almost as much protein as soybeans and rich in Vitamin E and has proven beneficial effects on our cardiovascular health. Which is why, in full disclosure, I became an advocate and supporter (unpaid) of Hemp History Week when it first launched in 2009.
In Canada it's legal to grow industrial hemp, and many hemp products come from there, like, milks, tofu, yogurt, snack bars, granola, waffles, pancake mix, oatmeal, protein powder, oil, shakes as well as being sold as seeds that you can sprinkle on just about any food. But for hemp foods to reach their potential it is important to discuss and separate the controversy over these two plants. It is true that both come from the same plant Cannabis, but the important difference is that industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% of Tetrahydrocannabinoids or THC (the ingredients that make a person high), while marijuana’s THC content can be 5-10% or more.
Expect to see a lot more headlines and discussion about legalizing marijuana especially as the presidential Campaigns gear up. It will be important for all of us to separate these two very different crops and not lose what could be one of agriculture’s most important and nutritious crops to misunderstanding and politics.