In May 2017, South Carolina passed a law to create a pilot program for increased hemp cultivation, and in November 2018, the state offered 40 permits, up from 20 the year before. For every available permit, the state has received more than three applications. Also doubling is the number of acres farmer are permitted to dedicate to hemp; the number will increase to 40 acres in 2019.

Hemp’s Varied Applications

Hemp is the same plant as cannabis, but it contains less than 0.3% of THC. While hemp does not serve to get people high, it does have thousands of uses. Its fibers are used most famously for rope, but they also find applications in clothing and textiles of all types. In addition, its fibers can be used in a manner like that of carbon to make strong, lightweight components, for example in automotive and construction applications. Hemp fiber can also be used to make paper and cardboard. Hemp seed and oil are used to make food for animals and people, as well as lotions. Hemp oil can be used as a fuel, and hemp can also be used to make CBD oil, which is one product on which South Carolina’s farmers are focusing.

For farmers, hemp is promising. Relatively easy to grow and sell, hemp can be more profitable than other crops. As many as four crops may be grown per year. To take part in South Carolina’s pilot program, farmers must pass a background check, associate with a university research program, and have a buyer ready to buy the crop. While the pilot program is highly regulated, the expectation is that as it expands, regulation will decrease.

A High Potential Growth Market

In contrast to more saturated markets, sales of hemp have been climbing steadily in the United States. According to the Hemp Business Journal, in 2017 hemp sales reached $820 million, with growth expected in coming years. Two leading product areas are CBD oil and products with industrial applications. Currently, the United States imports 90% of its hemp from China, leaving plenty of room for increased domestic production.

Hemp products are a growth market. According to Brightfield Group, “CBD is growing faster than cannabis in the U.S. and will soon be a $22 billion industry.” Forbes, citing Brightfield, claims that “hemp CBD sales have already hit $170 million in 2016 and a 55% compound annual growth rate over the next five years will cause the market to crack the billion-dollar mark.” One example of what CBD oil is used for: to treat anxiety and depression in humans and pets, especially in states where marijuana remains illegal. Since pets are more sensitive to THC, and the ingredient in some food oils is toxic to dogs, quality control is important, which casts doubt on untested and imported CBD products and gives regulated domestic products an advantage.

Until 1939 and the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act, hemp was widely grown in the United States. In 1970, passage of the Controlled Substances Act all but eliminated hemp farming in the country, as hemp and marijuana were legally categorized as one and the same. Hemp may soon become legal again nationally, however, as key members of Congress have voiced support for industrial hemp.

What do you think? Will industrial hemp soon be legalized nationally? Leave a comment below.

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