Hemp has been called the oldest domesticated crop, and it’s thought that a piece of hemp fabric dated to approximately 8,000 B.C. is the oldest relic of human industry. The use of hemp can be easily tracked Romans and Julius Caesar where it was used as a building material, among other things. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to grow hemp. Long story short, hemp once had a great reputation.

Today, we know from use cases and scientific research that hemp can be very beneficial in providing relief for a long list of health conditions. It’s also used in building materials, foods, fuel, rope, canvas, insulation, paper products, clothing, and more. The list of uses is quite long.

Since hemp is easy to grow, grows very quickly, requires very little water and no pesticides to grow, and adds CO2 and other beneficial components to soil making it ideal for crop rotation, farmers could generate significant revenues from hemp at a time when other commodities, like corn, are struggling.

However, hemp’s reputation over the past several decades has suffered significant damage.

What’s the Problem?

The problem in the United States is misperception. In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act created strict regulations related to the cultivation and sale of all varieties of cannabis, and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all forms of cannabis (including hemp) as a Schedule 1 drug. This meant it became illegal to grow, sell, buy, or use hemp in the U.S.

And that’s where the problem began.

While a single plant, Cannabis sativa L, is the source of both hemp and marijuana, the two substances are very different. First, hemp is cultivated much earlier in the plant’s growth cycle than marijuana. A hemp plant with developed flowers on it is a bad thing.

Furthermore, the THC-level (which is the component that gives marijuana its psychoactive effects) in hemp is less than 1%. Farmers cultivate hemp to ensure the THC-level does not exceed 0.3% — the legal limit for industrial hemp in the United States, Canada, and the European Union. At this low level, one would need to consume a massive amount of hemp product to feel any type of psychoactive effects.

In other words, there is nothing “drug-like” about hemp at all. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that the U.S. Farm Bill allowed states to pass legislation that would allow the cultivation of hemp for research and development purposes. Special hemp licenses are required to grow and process hemp, and these rules could vary between states and counties.

Today, 34 states have enacted hemp bills and 19 states grew hemp in 2017 (up from 15 states in 2016). According to the 2017 U.S. Hemp Crop Report from Vote Hemp, 25,541 acres of hemp crops were grown last year (an increase from 9,770 acres in 2016), and 32 universities conducted hemp research.

However, the problem of misperception still remains. While the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which was introduced in the House and Senate in 2015 and re-introduced in August of 2017, would remove hemp from the list of Schedule 1 drugs and remove federal restrictions on its cultivation, the fact is hemp is currently still on a list of prohibited controlled substances that includes drugs like heroin and LSD.

What’s the Solution?

Until the wider public understands that hemp is not the same as marijuana, and when properly cultivated, does not produce psychoactive effects through consumption or inhalation, hemp could continue to struggle.

This is a plant that is rich in Omega 3, 6 and 9. It’s a complete protein (meaning it contains all 10 essential amino acids), is an excellent source of dietary fiber, and contains naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals like iron and Vitamin E. It’s industrial uses range from fuel and lubricants to paint, varnish, ink concrete, biocomposites, cardboard, filters, insulation, and more.

However, despite all of those benefits (and there are many more), hemp’s reputation tells a very different story all because misperception.

Fortunately, more states are enacting hemp bills each year, and the number of active state licenses continues to climb. Cannabiz Media is currently tracking hemp licenses in the Cannabiz Media License Database. Subscribe to the Database for all of the data and information.

Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.