In October 2019, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore hosted its first Industrial Hemp Conference. This comes at the end of the first year the federal government has allowed hemp to be grown in the state. The benefits are undeniable – hemp has a multitude of uses and is projected to become a major cash crop in the next few years. In fact, it’s projected to be a $26.6 billion dollar global industry by 2025 (Cision). As more states move towards producing hemp and legalizing recreational marijuana, interest in hemp farming is peaking in Maryland.
Hemp and its Many Uses
Hemp, a member of the cannabis family, is very different from high-THC marijuana. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC, making it virtually non-psychoactive. In other words, there is no “high” associated with hemp.
Hemp plants have been harvested for over 10,000 years. Once a flourishing US market, it was abruptly abolished by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. This legislation was championed by groups with investments in tobacco.
The hemp industry was so successful because of the many uses for the plant. It was so successful that before 1937, it was mandatory that farmers dedicate a certain portion of land to hemp production. Some of those uses include:
- Construction Materials – Hemp is used to make cement and concrete which are thought to be more durable and weather-resistant. These materials are low-toxicity, have good thermal insulation, and are more efficient to produce.
- Food – Hemp protein and milk are becoming very popular in the US. Hemp contains more calcium than dairy milk, amino acids, omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids, and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
- Clothing/Fiber – Before the cotton industry first became successful, hemp was used to make clothes. The environmental benefits of hemp clothes are motivating more people to switch from cotton to hemp clothing.
- Plastic – Biodegradable plastics can be produced from hemp. As more people are looking for alternatives to plastic, this particular use could become extremely profitable.
- Paper – Like plastic, paper and its production is a big source of environmental waste and pollution. Hemp paper is more sustainable and more durable – it lasts much longer than regular paper without deteriorating.
- Oil-Based Products – Hemp can be used to make oil for candles, paint, and skincare products, just to name a few. Even better, it’s completely non-toxic.
- Fuel – Hemp is also used to make fuel. As people begin to look for alternatives to fossil fuels, environmentally sustainable ones, called “biofuels,” will undoubtedly become more popular.
Hemp Farming and Marijuana in Maryland
2019’s lift on harvesting hemp in Maryland has led to widespread interest. UMES has even created a program for farmers to partner with them for assistance in producing the crop. Responses to hemp farming and the possibilities associated with the rapidly growing industry have mostly been positive. Governor Hogan has signed multiple pieces of hemp-related legislation into law in the last few years. This goes hand-in-hand with the rise of the medical marijuana industry in the state and movements towards legalization.
Most states that have ultimately legalized recreational marijuana have started out with decriminalization. Maryland is one of those states. The trend has generally been a steady movement towards the ultimate goal of recreational legalization.
In 2012, medical marijuana was introduced and legalized in Maryland. In 2014, possession of 10 or fewer grams of marijuana was decriminalized. Two years later, in 2016, possession of paraphernalia and smoking in public were also decriminalized. This, along with the recent legalization of hemp farming, shows a steady movement towards the final step of recreational legalization.
Maryland is far from the only state to have seen this trend. The map below shows which states have legalized recreational or medical marijuana as of July 2019.Most of the states that now have recreational marijuana also have legal hemp farming. They tend to follow a similar trajectory – starting with decriminalization of marijuana and introduction of hemp.
Hemp’s Influence on Marijuana Legalization
Now that hemp is no longer a Schedule 1 drug, it is legal to smoke. In fact, people are smoking hemp cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco. Hemp is also being used to make products like lotion, cosmetics, and food products for humans and animals. CBD, another substance that comes from the hemp plant, is rising in popularity for its medicinal, non-psychoactive effects. It is generally smoked, applied to the skin, or taken by mouth.
At this point, it is impossible for drug tests to differentiate between hemp and high-THC marijuana. This is because these tests detect cannabis in general rather than THC level. Drug dogs also cannot distinguish between cannabis and marijuana. This presents a problem for prosecutors and police. If it can’t be proven beyond doubt that a substance is illegal, a case can’t be prosecuted.
Many believe that legalizing hemp paves the way for recreational marijuana legalization. If both substances are legal, the issue of not being able to distinguish between the two is eliminated. This is becoming a more pressing issue – some state and city attorneys are halting prosecution of marijuana charges altogether because of it.
The Future of Cannabis in Maryland
As interest in hemp farming spreads through the state, we are likely to see more legislation related to cannabis. Hemp products are becoming more popular, especially as the popularity of CBD skyrockets. The chart below reflects the massive popularity of these hemp-derived products.
These products make up a multi-billion dollar market. Considering the fact that tests and drug dogs are unable to distinguish between THC and hemp accurately, it’s clear that laws will need to change.
A bill proposing legalization of marijuana in Maryland will be on the docket in 2020. Task forces have been dedicated to researching and planning around this. Subcommittees are examining the potential effect on crime, public health, taxation, and licensing. Lawmakers have even proposed a plan to tax legal marijuana to fund education. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, through funding from marijuana tax, is projected to boost Maryland public schools by $3.8 billion per year.
Whether Maryland will legalize recreational marijuana remains to be seen. It can certainly be said that efforts are being made towards this as a potential goal. The growth of hemp farming as a new industry has been viewed by some as one of those efforts. With more states introducing plans for legalization, recreational marijuana could be in Maryland’s future.
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