In 1938, Popular Mechanics Magazine ran an article titled “Billion Dollar Crop” touting the potential in the American hemp industry; in 2014 those predictions are finally beginning to see their day.
Just as consumers lined up on New Year’s Day to buy the country’s first legalized marijuana in Colorado, the Colorado Department of Agriculture adopted the state’s first industrial hemp rules. Beginning March 1, legal hemp farmers will pay an annual registration fee of $200, plus $1 an acre. Research and development carries a registration fee of $100 plus $5 an acre. The funds will go to state efforts to ensure crops contain less than 0.3 percent THC, legal qualifying the material as hemp.
Hemp, however, stands to provide the Colorado state economy plenty of buzz. Though cannabis sales are expected to bring in as much as $270 million a year, including $47 million in annual state and local taxes, a mature hemp industry is expected to bring in 10 times that, assuming the federal government does not intervene.
The hemp could be used for a wide variety of uses, from foods to construction materials twice as strong as wood, to plastics, to even car bodies. This has been done before, with a dream to “build automobiles from the soil,” Henry Ford built a car in 1941 made from plant fibers that contained hemp. It even ran off hemp fuel and was made from hemp grown on Ford’s farm.
Kentucky has also passed a law legalizing the production of hemp last August after Gov. Steve Beshear opted not to veto it. The law even had the backing of such staunch conservatives Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, who have promised to work towards legalization efforts on the federal level so the DEA does not step in.
“I am proud to introduce legislation with my friend Rand Paul, which will allow Kentucky farmers to harness the economic potential that industrial hemp can provide,” McConnell explained in a joint statement with Paul. “During these tough economic times, this legislation has the potential to create jobs and provide a boost to Kentucky’s economy and to our farmers and their families.”
So far, 31 states have introduced pro-hemp legislation, and 20 have passed legislation. Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, California, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia have passed measures defining industrial hemp and removing barriers to production.
Yet hemp remains illegal under federal law, creating a situation where the feds could conceivably sweep in and place everyone involved under arrest. Though Obama has promised to back off recreational marijuana sales in legal states, there has been no word regarding industrial hemp production.