Throughout many areas of the United States a small, slender plant can be found growing in the wild. It is commonly referred to as hemp. Hemp is a plant that comes from the Cannabis sativa family. Hemp looks strikingly similar to marijuana and can very easily be mistaken for it, but these two plants are far from being the same. The major difference between the two is that hemp contains no chemicals that produce the same euphoric effect produced by marijuana. The plants growing in the wild are the descendants of those that at one time were grown in abundance on many farms. For generations hemp has been grown, cultivated and processed into many useful products in the United States. The uses for hemp were numerous and the profit from this crop was higher then that of most other cash crops. Today, in the United States growing hemp is illegal in almost every state. The possibility of reintroducing hemp cultivation in the United States is something that is now being debated in several state legislatures and in the United States Congress. There is a rather large movement pushing for the repeal of laws that prevent this crop from being grown.
Hemp cultivation cannot and should not be reintroduced in the United States. Hemp may have served a useful purpose in the past, but there is no place for it in today’s society. Two major problems will arise from the cultivation of this plant. Law enforcement agencies will struggle to fight drug trafficking. Because fields of marijuana and hemp are almost completely indistinguishable, measures would have to be taken to protect the rights of those practicing hemp cultivation. This would slow down the efforts of those whose job it is to thwart domestic growth of the illegal drug. Also, allowing hemp cultivation would open a large market for hemp to be used in cooking products and foods. This would cause major problems for employers, in that drug testing would be rendered useless because hemp contains trace amounts of the psychoactive element found in marijuana. With these two major concerns, there is only one way to deal with the issue. The federal government should ban hemp cultivation until bio-engineering can be used to eliminate the presence of these psychoactive elements, and alter the appearance of the crop so that it may not be mistaken for marijuana.
An incident occurred in October of this past year that illustrates the ongoing battle over the hemp issue. One of Canada’s leading weekly magazines, Macleans, published an article that described an incident that occurred in Detroit. A rather large shipment of birdseed was seized by U.S. Customs officials. The reason for this action was that the seeds were industrial hemp seeds and did contain trace amounts of tetrahydrocanabinol (THC). This is the chemical that produces the euphoric “high” for marijuana smokers (Clark 86).
In this case, the THC content was 0.0014%. Marijuana contains anywhere between 4 to 20%. 0.0014% is a small amount, too small to have any narcotic or psychoactive value, but a spokesperson for the DEA made the point that these seeds could be used to produce foods that, when consumed, would cause drug tests to show the presence of THC. He raised an interesting question: “What happens to the people who are using hemp oil to cook and THC turns up in their drug test?” (Clark 86). This is a great question.
Today, in the United States there is an overproduction of many crops. According to a recent report from State Legislatures, “Congress has to bail out American farmers. Grain prices plunged in 1999, well below the break-even point, as did the livestock market. Pigs were selling for as little as $40 apiece; wheat for less than $2.91 a bushel, driving farm losses” (8). Introducing hemp cultivation would only add competition to these crops, driving farm losses even higher.
Advocates argue that farmers would prosper from cultivating hemp, but two separate studies strongly suggest that in the long run it would succumb to a fate similar to other crops. The Department of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky conducted a study to determine the commercial success of hemp. It concluded,
“…a crop of hemp seed, or grain, and straw could bring a return of as much as $319.51 per acre, compared with $135.84 per acre of white corn…but inevitably though, the price of raw hemp will plummet once processing technology gets up to speed and when supply meets demand.” (Kane 36)
This finding makes the assumption that hemp will not meet the consumer demands for several years, but what if there is no demand for hemp? A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that the current demands on hemp imports could be satisfied by the cultivation of less than 2,000 acres of land. It also goes on to say that hemp competes with flax as a fiber, but that production of flax in the U.S. is minimal. It states that, “there would not be enough demand for hemp fiber to make it profitable.” The article also compares the market for edible goods to that of the sesame and poppy seed markets. These are small markets and insignificant for mass hemp cultivation. The article points out that, ” it [hemp oil] cannot be used for frying, it has a short shelf life, and it hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a salad oil” (AP 1).
With so many alternatives to hemp and so few demands, should it be cultivated and then used in food products that would render drug tests useless? In today’s society almost every business relies on drug testing to screen potential employees who may have a drug problem. Testing applicants and then continuing with periodic testing can be costly for the business, but in the long run keeps individuals with drug addictions from hurting themselves or others on the job. If hemp is used in foods, then present methods of testing for THC would be useless. Trace amounts of THC would be found in people who ate these products. The group that uses marijuana would be able to blame the positive test results on edible hemp products.
If these tests were rendered useless then millions of dollars would have to be spent in order to develop new methods of testing. If testing became more costly then many companies could go out of business or even abandon drug testing altogether. Does having the right to cook with hemp seed oil justify destroying the reliability of a test that makes the workplace a safer environment for millions in the United States?
Hemp can also cripple law enforcement. Without the aid of reliable drug testing, law enforcement agencies across the country could see a major increase in crimes committed on the job. Even the agencies themselves would have to question the personal habits and possible drug activities of their own members. Fighting drug trafficking would also become a nightmare. Since the dried leaves of hemp and marijuana are almost indistinguishable, tests would have to be conducted to determine if shipments into the U.S. are illegal or not. Visual identification of this drug would be useless. Development of expensive techniques would be needed to overcome this obstacle. Small amounts of marijuana could be smuggled into the country through larger shipments of hemp. Also, this would be a problem for law enforcement officials that try to stop domestic growth of marijuana. The present method of combating domestic growth is simply burning all forms of Cannabis that are found. Law enforcement officials spend millions of dollars in time and resources annually by burning large fields of marijuana and wild hemp, often referred to as ditch weed.
Marijuana cannot be grown near hemp because cross pollination would occur, resulting in a less potent (and less desirable) form of marijuana, but the use of infrared imaging from air units would be useless in determining if large fields were hemp or marijuana. This would require more ground units patrolling larger areas in order to make up for the inability of positive identification from air units.
If hemp grown in large quantities then the age-old practice of burning anything that is suspicious would have to end. Law enforcement agencies would have to take up the practice of checking farming permits (or other records), or training individuals to make visual identification of the plants in question. This would involve more time, money, and manpower on law enforcement officials. In the long run, while police agencies are spending more time regulating and overseeing hemp cultivation, less time will be spent tracking down those who grow marijuana.
The solution to this problem is the introduction of bio-engineered seeds that would be THC free. Currently, many corporate seed producers are developing seeds that are identical to present seeds, but they do not contain the THC component. In a few years this will solve the issue of drug testing. Once the trace amounts of THC are removed from industrial hemp, then hemp will have no effect on drug testing. With the technology to genetically alter and form new types of hemp there must be a way to alter the appearance of the plant. If the appearance can be altered in some way to make it look less like marijuana, then law enforcement agencies across the country will have an easier time tracking marijuana verses losing time over false identifications.
There was a time when this country depended on hemp. Hemp helped shape this nation, it played a vital role in so many areas, it helped this country fight wars and grow into the industrial giant that it is today, but in today’s society the drug problem overshadows the positive benefits of hemp. Hemp does have many benefits, and eventually a market could grow to support it, but now is not the time. Law enforcement officials work hard to regulate the drug problem in this country. Their job should not be made more difficult just to appease and accommodate a small group who wants domestic cultivation. Also, the drug problem has made drug testing a common practice by many employers in the United States. By allowing hemp cultivation in this country more people may use hemp products and fail drug tests. Destroying the reliability of drug testing will only create dangerous conditions for employers. When bio-engineered seed become available then the drug testing problem will be solved, but with trace amounts of THC in industrial hemp the government cannot and should not be pressured into repealing current laws. With so many other resources available, and the negative implications of hemp, its presence is no longer welcomed in the United States. It has served a useful purpose for many years, but there is no place for it in today’s society.