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Sensi Magazine

Hemp's Second Time Around

Mar 18, 2019 12:21AM ● By Leland Rucker
With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp has officially lost its designation as a dangerous drug and should be treated like any other agricultural product from now on. Expectations are over the moon about a market explosion and a multibillion dollar industry.

“American farmers are promised a new cash crop. … It is hemp, a crop that will not compete with other American products. Instead, it will displace imports of raw material and manufactured products produced by underpaid peas-ant labor, and it will provide thousands of jobs for American workers throughout the land.”

But wait, those lines are from an article published in the February 1938 Popular Mechanics magazine under the headline “New Billion Dollar Crop.” That same month Mechanical Engineering magazine claimed hemp to be “the most profitable & desirable crop that can be grown.” In an age before instant publishing, both pieces were written in early 1937 but didn’t come out until a year later. In the interim, hemp had been regulated out of existence in the United States.

Except for even loftier predictions, today’s headlines mirror those from 1937. Estimates of just how large the market will expand range from a modest $10 billion to more than $20 billion in the next five years, depending upon whom you ask. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, no cannabis fan but whose state could be a major beneficiary of that projected windfall, put his full weight behind the Farm Bill. “At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling,” he told Roll Call during negotiations, “industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future.”

There is also an eruption of hemp-based products coming to market in all kinds of powder, tincture, sublingual and pill forms. And, again, it’s not the first time this has happened, either. Cannabis in various forms and amounts was utilized in pharmaceutical medicines made by almost every major drug manufacturer in the late 1900s and early 21st century. It was far more prevalent than we imagine.

The online-only Antique Cannabis Book lists more than 2,000 products with cannabis among the ingredients. It was first mentioned in the US Pharmacopoeia (the official catalog of medical drug applications) in 1851, and by the 1860s was being suggested for a variety of ailments, and included instructions on how to extract and make your own medicines. The 1916 edition, not long before the persecution of cannabis began in earnest, includes a section on testing procedures for using it on dogs.

Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, Smith Brothers, and Squibb all sold cannabis extract drugs, remedies, pain killers, liniments, and powders, for almost every malady known to humans. You could buy cannabis products under the Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck labels. The Tancro Drug Company’s One Night cough syrup contained alcohol, cannabis indica, chloroform, and morphia (morphine), which probably worked, although it might have knocked you out rather than stopping your cough.

Restrictions on medical cannabis began in 1906, and prohibition gained steam in the 1920s, leading ultimately to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which basically regulated cannabis and hemp out of business. “Using the same arguments that the American people no longer bought regarding beer, cannabis prohibition began,” writes Doug Fine in his excellent history Hemp Bound. “Banning (in actuality, restricting to zero by not issuing federal permits) hemp cultivation is like banning wheat. It’s a surreal policy. Absolutely, 100 percent baseless.”

Baseless or not, the US gave up hemp production, and the rest of the world obliged by filling in. Today, ironically, most American businesses that create products have to import hemp, much of it from Canada and China. To bring all that business back to the United States is a nativist dream come true.

That should all begin to happen soon, although the country will no doubt rely upon imported hemp for years to come. It’s going to take awhile for the federal government, specifically the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Drug Administration, to come up with rules and regulations, and the infrastructure necessary for growing, processing, and distribution still needs to be built out.

When the last Farm Bill was passed, Colorado enacted rules and has worked alongside farmers to plant and process crops. The state planted more hemp than any other in 2018, and everyone expects it to move quickly to come into compliance again. “We’re obviously waiting for regulations to come down from the federal government,” says Samantha Walsh, an activist who sits on the board of the Colorado Hemp Industries Association. “We’ll do whatever we need to conform and continue so that Colorado will treat it like any other agricultural commodity in a regulatory framework,” she says. “There’s no need to re-create the wheel.”

CBD, or cannabidiol a chemical compound produced in certain strains of Cannabis sativa, including hemp wasn’t discovered until 1940, but the medical cannabis market looks much like it did a hundred years ago. CBD is found today in products that lift your libido and stimulate hair growth. It’s being infused into coffee, lip balms, bath bombs, skin-care lotions, analgesics, cold remedies, mascara, and pomades, in every form imaginable, a trend that’s only likely to continue and expand.

Colorado has always been at the forefront of development and technology in the hemp industry. Much of that will be on display at the 6th annual NoCo Hemp Expo, which is moving this year from Ft. Collins to the Crown Plaza DIA March 29–30, and is expecting more than 8,000 attendees from around the world. “Being one of the top-growing states is wonderful,” says Walsh. “Developing genetics or brand new harvesting or processing technology, that’s where we hope Colorado will shine.”