BY NOW, you know that cannabis is awesome for medical and recreational applications. But what about hemp?
Hemp is a type of cannabis sativa plant with low THC content and a skinny, tall-growing profile. At the risk of sounding like a ponytailed guy named Paul after one too many bong hits, I'd like to point out that hemp is also pretty awesome, and can be used to make a wide range of products—and not just drawstring tie-dye hemp pants, bracelets, and ponytail scrunchies, either.
How wide? More than 50,000 uses and counting. These include fuel, paper products, textiles, food, medicine, concrete and other building materials, molded plastic products, and so on. And it's not breaking news that hemp can replace all the petroleum and forest products that are currently and destructively used to make these things.
About 2,000 years ago, paper was made from hemp in China. During WWII, between 1942 and 1945, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) waived hemp farmers and their sons from military service. But this being 'Murica, we threw away the many benefits of the hemp plant when we ignorantly labeled it a drug, and forbid farmers from cultivating it domestically. Because plants are bad and scary and dangerous, unlike, say, this delicious tumbler of whiskey.
- Hemp farm
- Photos curtosey of Jerry Norton
The USDA requires industrial hemp plants to have a THC content of .3 percent or less. That's not a typo—a plant cannot have more than one third of one percent THC. For some comparison, most of the tested cannabis flower you purchase in dispensaries is 12 to 28 percent THC. And while that difference should be enough to assuage the fear that curious children are going to wander into fields and smoke this plant—which produces a fiber used to make sails and rope, and tastes as such—it has not.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states have passed laws relating to hemp cultivation. Thirteen of those, including Oregon, allow commercial production of hemp. Seven states have laws that say hemp is limited to agricultural and academic research programs.
So who's growing hemp in Oregon, and how is that going? Enter Jerry Norton, founder of American Hemp Seed Genetics. Norton first tried getting hemp into the minds and homes of Oregonians when he opened a hemp store in Salem 10 years ago, which he had to close after a month due to lack of interest and demand.
Norton renewed his interest in hemp a year and a half ago when he applied for, and received, a state license to be a hemp grower and handler. The most challenging aspect was sourcing the seeds. He attempted to work with Oregon State University on this, and they couldn't provide any options, so he finally located seeds in Eastern Europe. (This makes hemp seed the second-largest export out of Eastern Europe, right after wives for Donald Trump.)
This summer, Norton grew a hemp crop of 2.5 acres, along with 500 plants in a greenhouse. He yielded 1,000 pounds per acre, and once the plants had dried, this yielded between 12 and 25 grams per plant. (For comparison, most of the sun-grown cannabis farmers I've worked with yield between five and seven pounds per plant, and in some cases more.) The plants had a life cycle, from sowing to harvest, of 106 days, which Norton says could be modified to 90 days to maximize CBD flower production. Once extracted, he wound up with a product that was 35 percent CBD and .003 percent THC. Next year, he plans to increase his grow site, and produce two crops—April to June and July to September.
Norton used his crop to produce a variety of products—like high CBD products for medical patients. The seeds were used for food and oil products, and the stalks were processed into building materials, including "hempcrete," a concrete substitute that is lighter, stronger, and longer lasting than traditional concrete. It was the first time in more than 100 years that Oregon has produced a legal crop of industrial hemp.
Growing and using hemp is good for our state, our neighbors, and our economy. So let's remember as we continue to grapple with the world's problems: A pot plant doesn't need to get you high to be of great value.