Yes, hemp is in the same family as pot. But if pot is the family’s carousing party animal, hemp is the humorless worker bee who is all business.
A number of states, including South Carolina, finally are beginning to recognize that distinction as well as hemp’s potential as a major cash crop. Earlier this month, the S.C. General Assembly quietly legalized the growth of industrial hemp.
Promoters of hemp, a material that can be used for dozens of purposes, have insisted for decades that it bears no resemblance to marijuana, which is a separate variety of Cannabis sativa. But hemp cultivation was first prohibited in the U.S. in 1939, along with all other cannabis varieties, and the federal government piled on in 1970 by classifying all forms of cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
Fans of hemp had made little progress until 2014, when federal regulators finally recognized the potential for hemp production and authorized pilot programs to grow it. Now, more and more states are experimenting with hemp with an eye on competing with robust international production in countries such as China, which provides about 90 percent of the hemp now used in the United States for industrial purposes.
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South Carolina’s entry into the hemp business is good news for the state’s farmers and a potential boon to the economy. The S.C. Department of Agriculture and the State Law Enforcement Division soon will issue 20 licenses to grow hemp on up to 20 acres as a pilot program.
And if those projects succeed, the cultivation of hemp could quickly spread.
Hemp, which grows well in warm climates and in almost any type of soil, should thrive in South Carolina. Agricultural experts say the state’s farmers could bring in three or four crops of hemp a year.
And the demand for hemp is growing globally. The material, which decades ago was used to make rope in the U.S., now is used for cloth, composites for car and airplane parts, for skin creams and soaps, and even dietary supplements.
Buyers in Europe and China burn it to run power plants. Hemp reportedly burns cleaner and longer than wood chips and other forms of biomass.
Regulators have unnecessarily blocked the development of a U.S. hemp industry because of its association with marijuana. But hemp contains 0.3 percent or less of the psychoactive chemical that gets you high, which marijuana can contain up to 40 percent.
Hemp is easily and cheaply grown, requiring few, if any, dangerous pesticides or fertilizer. And farmers should have no problem finding a market for their hemp.
We applaud state lawmakers for looking past hemp’s stigma as a relative of pot and recognizing it as a potentially ideal new crop for S.C. farmers.