(NaturalNews) Despite the proliferation of hemp products entering the green marketplace these days, there is still confusion among some consumers about the differences between industrial hemp and cannabis that's grown for recreational and medicinal marijuana. Some of that confusion may result from the Controlled Substances Act of 1937 that fails to differentiate marijuana from industrial hemp in the ban of their cultivation. While some states have legalized growing industrial hemp varieties, farmers have been cowed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's opposition. A bill introduced in May 2011 would amend the CSA to exclude industrial hemp.
To understand the distinctions between cannabis grown for industrial hemp purposes versus that cultivated for marijuana requires a little botanical clarification. Within the cannabis genus there are three species: Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis ruderalis. Over thousands of years of cultivation, these species have naturally hybridized and have been crossbred by humans for various purposes, resulting in hundreds of strains. Those strains bred for their seeds, oil and fiber contain infinitesimal quantities of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main substance responsible for the euphoric effects of recreational and medicinal marijuana. Smoking industrial hemp varieties is more likely to result in a headache than a high.
Based on standards established under the UN Narcotics Convention, a number of cannabis strains have been developed that contain minimal quantities of THC, which is further reduced during industrial processing, so that the end product contains virtually no THC. Despite this, the DEA continues to oppose industrial hemp cultivation arguing that pot proponents are really seeking a "back-door" route to getting all forms of cannabis legalized. The agency, with some justification, argues that with thousands of hemp strains confusing the picture, enforcement of industrial-only hemp cultivation is problematic. In March 2003, the DEA issued rules permitting sale of products such as food, oil, paper and textiles that contain no THC whatsoever.
Meanwhile, industrial hemp is being grown in Europe, Australia and Canada where THC content is limited to 0.3%. In contrast, cannabis raised for recreational or medicinal pot typically contains at least 3% THC, with many of the new and most potent strains offering THC levels of 20% and more. In Canada, the government has issued a list of low-THC cannabis varieties that may be cultivated for industrial hemp. Proponents of cultivation in the U.S. counter the DEA's arguments over enforcement difficulties, urging the U.S. to follow Canada's example by establishing a list of permitted industrial hemp varieties.
Much of the world's hemp production today caters to the increasing popularity of hemp oil that's rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp textiles and apparel are also enjoying a vogue, especially among green consumers concerned about the sustainability of the clothing they choose. Because hemp requires little or no commercial fertilizers or pesticides, it has become a textile of choice among eco-friendly shoppers.
In May 2011 H.R. 1831, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2011, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp while distinguishing it from marijuana, was introduced. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Capitol Hill watchers don't give the bill much of a chance -- similar bills have died in committee in each of the last three congressional sessions.
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