Cannabis has been used for nearly twelve thousand years, dating back to ancient Taiwan where archaeologists have discovered hemp cord embedded in the sides of pottery fragments. Ancient Chinese fabrics utilized hemp for clothing as well in addition to a multitude of other uses including shoes, grain, bowstrings and paper. The medicinal value of cannabis has been acknowledged since 2800 B.C. by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung and by Chinese surgeon Hau T’o in the second century A.D., who combined cannabis resin and wine to create an anesthetic.
Fast forward to Jamestown, Virginia in the early 1600s: Colonists were legally required to grow hemp by the King of England. By the latter half of the century, hemp farmers were encouraged to use hemp as legal tender to mitigate up to a quarter of their farming debts. Hemp was used to make rope, clothing, paper, for medicinal purposes, and occasionally as a recreational drug.
Following the infamous 1936 propaganda film “Reefer Madness,” the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 inflicted the first legal restrictions and taxation of the cannabis plant and began prohibition. The film was a form of many brainwashing propaganda against the cannabis plant, perpetuating a false narrative regarding the psychoactive effects of consuming cannabis. The film completely disregarded the many uses of this plant: textiles, fibers, protein, food, clothing, building materials, plastic replacement, fuel, animal feed/bedding, beauty products, and the true healing properties the cannabanoids have on the mind and body. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 categorized cannabis as a Schedule I substance, which asserts that there is a high potential for abuse of and no accepted medical use for the controlled substance. The 2014 Farm Bill was instrumental in the movement towards legalization of industrial hemp, as it allowed for the cultivation of hemp strictly for research purposes. The 2018 Farm Bill expanded on this movement by removing the research criteria and opening cultivation to any licensed farmer in states that wish to legalize production.
Hemp IS Marijuana
Cannabis is cannabis, as far as science is concerned and is a flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family. The Cannabaceae family consists of two genera, Humulus (hops) and Cannabis, and the plants in this family are recognized for their elevated levels of terpenophenolic metabolites (terpenes), or aromatic chemicals that influence the smell of plants such as oranges, pine trees, and herbs.
Although there was some debate as to the number of Cannabis species, genetic sequencing has determined that C. sativa is the only true species. However, common language describing sativa or indica types refers to subspecies of C. sativa.
Hemp and drug-type marijuana are both members of the C. sativa, which contains cannabinoids in addition to the aromatic terpenes. Over 100 cannabinoids have been identified, two of which are of particular importance and interest: ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana while CBD is a versatile chemical with many beneficial effects acting as an antidepressant, antipsychotic, antianxiety, and anti-inflammatory.
While science doesn’t differentiate between “hemp” and “marijuana,” the law does. The only deciding factor is the work of Dr. Ernest Small, a research botanist who began studying and writing about cannabis in the 1970s. In 1976, Small and his colleague, Arthur Cronquist, published “A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis,” which set a dividing line between hemp and marijuana at 0.3 percent THC for purposes of establishing a biological taxonomy. Small never intended his 0.3 percent demarcation to have legal significance. In a 2018 interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, Small—who continues to research and write about cannabis—explained:
At that time, when I did that study and published it, I had no idea that that would be used as a practical measure for countries licensing the amount of THC that would be permitted in order to grow it.”
Yet relied on it was. According to the USDA, “Hemp” is defined by the 2018 Farm Bill as “the plant species Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
Marijuana. Or “marihuana”, as defined in the CSA, “Marihuana” means all cannabis that tests as having a THC concentration level of higher than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.
As of Jan. 15, 2021 the USDA delivered it’s Final Interim Rule regarding hemp, and not much was changed except for the negligence level. THC allowance level is still 0.3% and testing of non-consumable, textile-only products is still required.
Constituents were allowed to comment and present research in efforts to enact various changes within the legislation before the Rule was delivered. One of the changes that cannabis growers fought for was increase in THC levels. In true totalitarian fashion, the Agricultural Marketing Service along with the USDA ignored all comments and research, and thus stated:
AMS appreciates understanding different views on the psychoactive effects of THC. However, this topic is outside the scope of the final rule, and AMS made no revisions to the program based on these comments. The 2018 Farm Bill defined hemp as having a THC concentration of 0.3 percent or less. Medicinal use of hemp or CBD is covered under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. ch. 9, sec. 301, et seq. and under the FDA’s jurisdiction.
Although AMS states the topic of THC was outside the scope of the final rule, it is in fact, discussed in length throughout the document and negligence was changed from .5% to 1%.
While the United States has made great improvements towards cannabis cultivation, we still have a way to go. It is up to us to end the stigma and continue to fight for the freedom of this amazingly versatile, world saving plant.
Reminder to all Cannabis Growers, if your state regulates hemp or cannabis, you MUST follow that legislation over USDA.