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Why Do We Refer to Hemp as “Industrial Hemp”?

When researching products containing CBD, you may have come across the term industrial hemp being used to refer to the specific low-THC hemp cultivars used to make CBD hemp oil. While the term industrial brings up imagery of dirty factories and polluting smoke stacks, the truth behind hemp cultivation is much less sinister.

In fact, products made with “industrial hemp” are perfectly safe for commercial use. This is especially true when the hemp is grown without pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers like the hemp used to extract the CBD hemp oil in our products. So how did we come to use a term like industrial to describe an otherwise innocuous plant?

To better understand how we classify cannabis in to hemp and marijuana, it helps to know some history. In 1937, the U.S. government passed the Marihuana Tax Act, essentially prohibiting the cultivation, sale, and possession of the entire cannabis genus. The act made no distinction between hemp and marijuana, grouping all varietals under a single designation. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act passed during the Nixon administration and placed cannabis under Schedule I, reserved for the nation’s most dangerous drugs. Again, no distinction was made between high-THC marijuana and low-THC hemp. Under current regulations, the DEA maintains that marijuana and hemp are one in the same, despite the varying characteristics of each plant.

To learn about the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp, read our article outlining the two here.

Suddenly, the term “industrial hemp” starts to make sense when used to differentiate between psychoactive marijuana and fibrous hemp, both of which are in the cannabis genus. After all, hemp does indeed possess a daunting number of industrial uses. Hemp pulp or fiber can be used for paper, rope, or textile clothing. Hemp can also be used in naturally biodegradable plastic, which is more environmentally responsible than traditional petroleum based plastics, and can replace petroleum as a fuel when made into biodiesel. Finally, hemp fiber even works in crafting building materials like acoustic and thermal insulation, fiber board, and even hemp building blocks.

However, hemp can also be used in food for both humans and animals. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw or ground into meal, can be used to make hemp milk, and can be pressed into oil. Hemp seed also makes up much of the bird seed and farm animal feed used in Europe. Finally, hemp can also be an effective source for cannabidiol (CBD), the primary cannabinoid in hemp, because it doesn’t contain the high levels of THC found in marijuana.

It is in this role in human consumption that the term “industrial hemp” takes on its undesired tone. Just as you probably wouldn’t want to drink “industrial milk” or use “industrial cooking oil”, many consumers balk at the term “industrial hemp”, especially when describing the ingredients in their cosmetics, lotions, or dietary supplements.

Then why do we use the term industrial? It could be linked to the need to distance industrial hemp from “Indian Hemp”, the long disused term once referring to marijuana. It is just as likely meant to be a euphemism to describe the intended final uses for hemp: more emphasis on legitimate commercial products and less on illicit uses.

The term industrial hemp is also found in North Dakota’s 1997 House Bill 1305, which set up feasibility research into industrial hemp production in the state and seems to have solidified the use of the word industrial in all future U.S. legislation.

More recently, the term was central to the function of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which was introduced by Texas Representative Ron Paul and designed to amend the Controlled Substances Act to remove “industrial hemp” from the definition of “marihuana”, allowing its cultivation in America.

This act held two important changes. First was separating apart hemp and marijuana in the eyes of the federal government. The second was creating an official definition of “industrial hemp” as Cannabis Sativa L. containing a THC content of under 0.3% THC. However, despite repeated attempts, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act never made it out of committee. If it had passed, it would have permitted American farmers to compete in global hemp markets. As it stands now, manufacturers are left importing the hemp needed to create their products.

Currently, there are 26 varieties of low THC hemp approved by the EU with less than 0.2% THC. While many may connect industrial hemp production to emerging economies in Asia, in fact France is the leading producer of the world’s hemp. Of the 30 countries that grow hemp, nearly ⅔ are in Europe, often on small family owned farms and grown free of pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.

So to keep with this more accurate vision of hemp cultivation, we at Medical Marijuana Inc. intend to change the way we reference this versatile plant – a turning away from the dysphemistic term industrial for something more accurate: such as commercial hemp, agricultural hemp, or even just hemp.

  • Brenda Clement

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