Hemp: Menace Or Miracle?

  • Industrial hemp, a species of cannabis with low THC content, may offer great economic and agricultural effects if legalized.
  • “There’s the huge problem, the giant barrier of separating out the industrial crop from the fact that its first cousin is a drug, but it’s my understanding that it has too many product benefits to ignore,” said Michael Gold, Ph.D., associate director at University of Missouri’s Center of Agroforestry.
  • If industrial hemp were legalized, it would promote a healthier economy by providing alternative sources for many common goods.
  • According to Congressional Research Service reports, America is currently importing hemp. However, if exporting hemp were allowed, economic growth would follow.

 The century-old debate concerning legalization of cannabis growth continues.

With the recent marijuana decriminalization ordinance and a local HempFest hosted by Springfield, the city is on high alert in regards to cannabis.

According to the Congressional Research Service, cannabis is a genus of flowering plants including multiple species of hemp. Some forms of genus cannabis have a higher THC content than others.  THC is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, one chemical in cannabis that produces psychoactive effects.

These higher THC plants are more commonly known as marijuana, while others have an insignificant amount. The Congressional Research Service defines a significant amount as being greater than 0.3 percent. Growing cannabis, both hemp and marijuana, without permit in the U.S. is currently illegal.

The first attempt at government control of the plant was the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which greatly reduced the economic benefits of growing hemp for farmers. By 1970, The Controlled Substances Act made it illegal to freely grow hemp in the United States.

Michael Gold, Ph.D., the associate director at the University of Missouri Center of Agroforestry, said hemp historically was a major crop in Missouri.

“It has a tremendous number of uses in terms of product output,” he said. “There’s the huge problem, the giant barrier of separating out the industrial crop from the fact that its first cousin is a drug, but it’s my understanding that it has too many product benefits to ignore.”

Some of the agricultural uses and benefits of hemp are:

  • strong natural fibers for textiles
  • strong, long-lasting, and acid-free paper
  • viable source of motor fuel
  • hemp wood and charcoal have little polluting after effects
  • high potential for alternative plastics
  • high protein content with little unsaturated fat
  • deep roots help maintain healthy top soil

Attempts to legalize hemp have ramped up over the last 20 years, both locally and nationally.

As recent as May 2011, Congressman Ron Paul had proposed legislation distinguishing industrial hemp from higher THC species of cannabis. In order to be classified as industrial hemp, the plant must contain less than 0.3 percent THC. This eliminates the psychoactive effects of the plant, but in Paul’s bill, growers must still obtain a license.

In 1997, Senate Bill No. 79, cited as the “Industrial Hemp Production Act of 1997” was proposed to the Missouri State Senate, allowing growth of industrial hemp in the state. Similar to Paul’s legislation, the bill promotes the regulation of industrial hemp through licensing and strict management of the species.

It is evident that the debate is still live and well, even in Southern Missouri. Many local supporters came out to Springfield’s HempFest earlier this September to educate and spread awareness of the benefits of industrial hemp.

Daryl Bertrand, a Springfield NORML and ShowMe Cannabis group member, discussed economic benefits and history of industrial hemp in Missouri.

“Missouri and Kentucky were the largest producers of hemp until 1937 when it was outlawed.  Then it was brought back during wartime during WWII. They were able to produce it again, but had to stop after the war.”

His wife, Trish Bertrand, is also a Springfield NORML and Show-Me Cannabis member. At HempFest she addressed misconceptions associated with industrial hemp.

“They say you would be able to grow marijuana in a hemp field, but that’s impossible because if the hemp pollinated the marijuana, the marijuana would be absolutely worthless as a drug, they would not be able to sell it.”



Congressional Research Service

U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration

History of Hemp

Senate Bill No. 79

Agriculture Task Force

Michael Gold, Ph.D., Associate director at the University of Missouri Center of Agroforestry

Trish Bertrand, Springfield NORML member

Daryl Bertrand, Springfield NORML member

Shane Franklin: Interviewing, audio, photography

Leena Shadid: Research, script writing

Kelsey Berry: Interviewing, photography, script writing

Maria Sanchez: Photography and gallery, research