Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa L. It is a tall, slender fibrous plant similar to flax or kenaf. Farmers worldwide have harvested the crop for the past 12,000 years for fiber and food, and Popular Mechanics once boasted that over 25,000 environmentally friendly products could be derived from hemp.
Unlike marijuana, hemp contains only minute (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In addition, hemp possesses a high percentage of the compound cannabidiol (CBD), which has been shown to block the effects of THC. For these reasons, many botanists have dubbed industrial hemp “anti-marijuana.”
More than 30 industrialized nations commercially grow hemp, including England and Canada. The European Union subsidizes farmers to grow the crop, which is legally recognized as a commercial crop by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Nevertheless, U.S. law forbids farmers from growing hemp without a federal license, and has discouraged all commercial hemp production since the 1950s. NORML is working to allow American farmers to once again have legal access to this agricultural commodity.