A study published in the journal Visual Communication in August 2019 found that the media still uses negative stereotypes when referring to cannabis consumers, including medical marijuana patients. As a result, much of the public uses the same stereotypes, and unfortunately, many of the same stereotypes are applied to the hemp industry.

It’s those perceptions that need to change in order for the hemp industry to truly flourish in the United States.

The Background Story

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 when 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 were required to grow and process hemp, and these rules varied between states and counties.

Things changed when the 2018 Farm Bill passed making industrial hemp legal in the United States. According to VoteHemp, 511,442 acres of hemp were licensed nationally in 2019, which was a 455% over the 78,176 acres licensed in 2018.

In total, 48 states have laws allowing hemp production, 34 states have licensed hemp cultivation, and all of the current information related to those hemp licenses is being tracked in the Cannabiz Media License Database.

However, states can still enact their own laws related to hemp, and those laws could be stricter than federal laws. For example, the Governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem (Rep.), published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month writing that her state would not legalize hemp until law enforcement has a reliable and efficient way to differentiate marijuana from industrial hemp. She went on to say she would veto any bill to legalize hemp in South Dakota that comes to her desk in 2020.

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 primarily because of misperception.

While the media is certainly a good place to start to remove stereotypes and stigmas attached to both the cannabis and hemp industries, education and research are still needed to change lawmaker and consumer perceptions.

With the U.S. hemp market predicted to grow exponentially in the near future, this is an industry that everyone is watching, and Cannabiz Media is currently tracking more than 12,000 hemp licenses in the Cannabiz Media License Database. Schedule a free demo today and see how the information in the Cannabiz Media License Database can help your business grow.

Originally published 2/6/18. Updated 9/16/19.