Cory Sharp of Moses Lake, Wash., has a problem, and it’s a big one.
He has as much as 80,000 pounds of hemp seed from a 75-acre crop he planted in June. He’d like to crush them for their oil, but no facility exists in Washington for that purpose. He can’t cart them across state lines, or into Canada, where facilities exist, because the crop is illegal under U.S. law.
Hemp, like marijuana, is a cannabis plant. Unlike its cousin, hemp contains very low amounts of THC, the chemical that produces the “high” in marijuana. Nonetheless, it is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance and lumped in with the likes of heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
That was not always the case.
Hemp has been grown for fiber for centuries. Colonial Virginia required its cultivation in 1691 and it became an American staple until the 20th century. By the 1930s it had been lumped together with marijuana and made illegal by most states — some say at the bidding of cotton interests.
During World War II the federal government encouraged farmers to grow hemp to replace jute and other fibers from Japanese-held areas in the Pacific necessary for the manufacture of rope. The plant proved so prolific that farmers in the Midwest still struggle to stamp it out of ditches and fence rows more than 70 years later.
States that have recently moved to legitimize pot under provisional legal cover from the Department of Justice have also moved to allow commercial hemp production.
As we’ve said before, we have no moral objection to hemp. Hemp is to marijuana what a poppyseed muffin is to heroin. That it remains illegal under federal law is our only problem with hemp.
And that’s Sharp’s problem, and the problem of all growers. The wink-and-nod protections they receive from their states are sufficient to bring a crop to harvest, but insufficient to guarantee commercial prospects.
There is no doubt that hemp is commercially viable. Imported hemp products — oils, foodstuffs and fiber — are widely available in shops large an small across the country.
The limitations placed on Sharp and his fellow hemp growers were not unforeseeable. It would have been better to wait until Congress had lifted the prohibition. But the cart is already before the horse.
There are efforts being pressed by members of the congressional delegations of states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana to change the law and decriminalize cannabis. We have never embraced “legal marijuana,” but we don’t see any reason hemp should be classified as a controlled substance.