Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced a bill in Congress a few weeks ago that would modernize the hemp industry, develop specific guidelines and encourage federal research into a wide range of potential applications for the crop.
Among other areas of investigation, it would mandate research into everything from the use of hemp food products for public school lunches to the potential therapeutic value of the crop’s extracts for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to even its ability to clear contaminants from nuclear sites.
The legislation, titled the “Hemp for Victory Act,” Bill 3652, also focuses on research into the plant as an alternative to plastics and its ability to prevent soil erosion. And it would establish grant programs to develop studies on hemp’s potential as a domestic agricultural commodity and to create tools to protect farms growing it.
President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are actively developing regulations for the crop. USDA rules are expected to be released ahead of the 2020 planting season, but FDA has indicated that regulations providing for the lawful marketing of hemp as food items or dietary supplements may take years without congressional action. Gabbard’s proposal goes far beyond simply developing baseline regulations to cultivate, process and sell hemp products, though.
For reasons unclear, Rep. Gabbard’s bill does not emphasize one aspect of industrial hemp which may be more important than all the other points in the proposed legislation. And this is unfortunate, as the bill was introduced at about the same time as the emergence of a public movement suggesting that the planting of a trillion trees around the world might stave off climate change. That certainly isn’t a permanent solution and it would cost $300 billion to do it. “The chief drawback of reforestation as a solution to the climate crisis, per The Guardian, is that trees grow slowly. The projected restoration could take 50 to 100 years to reach its full carbon sequestering potential.” Still, this was seen as “cheap.” But an article by Ellen Brown proposes something even cheaper.
“Fortunately, as of December 2018 there is now a cheaper, faster and more efficient alternative – one that was suppressed for nearly a century but was legalized on a national scale when President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This is the widespread cultivation of industrial hemp, the non-intoxicating form of cannabis grown for fiber, cloth, oil, food and other purposes. Hemp grows to 13 feet in 100 days, making it one of the fastest CO2-to-biomass conversion tools available. Industrial hemp has been proven to absorb more CO2 per hectare than any forest or commercial crop, making it the ideal carbon sink. It can be grown on a wide scale on nutrient poor soils with very small amounts of water and no fertilizers.”
Hemp was used for thousands of years, until in the 1930’s its cultivation was outlawed. “[H]emp products threatened the whole petroleum industry. Henry Ford first designed his cars to run on alcohol from biofuels, but the criminalization of both alcohol and hemp forced him to switch to the dirtier, less efficient fossil fuels that dominate the industry today. A biofuel-based infrastructure would create a completely decentralized power grid, eliminating the giant monopolistic power companies. Communities could provide their own energy using easily renewable plants.”
The criminalization of hemp grew from the fact that hemp was related to marijuana, even though hemp cannot really be used to get “high.” But hemp has so many other uses that it competes with other industries. Rep. Gabbard’s bill expands on those possibilities.
But the greatest asset of industrial hemp is its apparent ability to combat climate change. In other words, we have a cheap, easily grown plant that reduces CO2 while at the same time developing many other potential uses. Farmers can become an important part of the industrial world.
This is why other Democrats need to join with Rep. Gabbard. By promoting a federal program to grow hemp, they will be combatting climate change but also improving American industry. They will be adding to jobs and improving our economy. Senators Sanders and Warren should hop on this bandwagon right away.