Industrial hemp is an invaluable renewable resource that is gaining popularity in the U.S. marketplace. As states in the U.S. continue to legalize hemp, more and more hemp products are found on local store shelves.

The U.S. is currently the largest importer of industrial hemp grown products in the world. To date, almost all hemp merchandise on U.S. shelves are imported into the U.S., as the commercial cultivation of industrial hemp is still illegal under U.S. Federal law. Although market data is not readily available, the Congressional Research Service estimated that the U.S. imported $12,271,000 worth of hemp goods in 2011. In 2013, the U.S. imported approximately $36,866,000 of products made of hemp. Now in 2016, it’s clear to see the demand for hemp in the U.S. is increasing exponentially.

Similarly, as U.S. imports of hemp increase, the U.S. market share for hemp products is increasing exponentially. In 2010, Vote Hemp estimated U.S. retail industrial hemp sales at $419 million. In 2013, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated U.S. retail sales around $581 million. In 2015, HIA estimated U.S. retails sales at more than $620 million. These products were all produced with imported hemp. It’s time U.S. farmers share in that market.

Legalize Industrial Hemp

At least 27 U.S. states have distinguished hemp from marijuana, removing barriers to production. As more states re-legalize, declassify hemp and begin hemp production, we will start to see “Made in the U.S.A.” products on store shelves.

Currently, hemp grown products in America are produced, manufactured, and sold under the auspices of market research, compliant with provisions in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill). Pending action on the federal level, U.S. farmers will soon engage in full commercial cultivation.

Many U.S. states have enacted hemp cultivation legislation specifically for the economic opportunities that industrial hemp provides. For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky base their support for hemp legalization, and in particular Kentucky’s hemp legalization in 2013, on the economic benefits of industrial hemp. Senate Majority Leader McConnell stated,

“After long discussions with Senator Rand Paul and Commissioner James Comer on the economic benefits of hemp, I am convinced that allowing its production will be a positive development for Kentucky’s farm families and economy…The utilization of hemp to produce everything from clothing to paper is real and if there is a capacity to center a new domestic industry in Kentucky that will create jobs in these difficult economic times that sounds like a good thing to me.”

Legislative Committees around the country that are reviewing proposed hemp bills are echoing industrial hemp’s potential as a mechanism to create jobs and provide abundant economic opportunities. One of the focuses of the Oregon 2016 Legislative Session was the implementation of industrial hemp legislation that provides for a sustainable industry that will provide farmers with an alternative crop as well as put rural communities back to work. In Oregon, this is especially important for those communities that have been negatively affected by the decline in the timber industry. Rural communities throughout the country are seeking new economic opportunities, which hemp farming can provide.

A resurgence in the hemp industry, hemp production will create jobs in all sectors. For example, positions will open up in academics, agriculture, business administration, construction, health care, law, manufacturing, marketing, processing, retail sales, and transportation sectors. Since hemp can be produced into a myriad of products, all sectors will be able to take advantage of hemp benefits.

Increasing hemp acreage is paramount to realizing industrial hemp’s economic benefits. As U.S. farmers increase production, U.S. manufacturers and retailers will use U.S. grown industrial hemp, and will no longer need to rely on imported hemp. Having an increased, local supply of industrial hemp will enable U.S. manufacturers to engage in state of the art processing techniques to produce products from industrial hemp that are currently being produced from non-renewable materials, for example, hemp plastics. Eventually, the U.S. will export, rather than import, industrial hemp grown products.

Availability of U.S. hemp will reduce importation and transportation costs, which will lead to reduced wholesale and retail costs of hemp products. As wholesale costs decrease, manufacturers not currently using hemp in their products will be able to incorporate industrial hemp into those products. As retail prices decrease, more consumers will be able to afford items from the hemp industry and they will become common household items, in all households.

Increasing U.S. production will also provide significant environmental benefits. Hemp farmers that are currently allowing their fields to go fallow, can use industrial hemp as a rotation crop. When used in rotation, hemp plants can break disease cycles, replenish soil, and provide farmers with additional income. Industrial hemp can also remove toxins added to soil through conventional farming, assisting farmers converting to organic farming. Consumers are becoming conscious consumers, demanding sustainability produced and organically grown products. Industry representatives report that organic hemp products retail for three times the value of conventional industrial hemp grown products.

To guarantee the U.S. once again reaps the full potential industrial hemp has to offer, it is essential that laws enacted regulating industrial hemp provide for a sustainable, thriving industry. Arbitrary limitations today will have significant impacts on the development of the industry in years to come. Hemp laws need to protect agricultural, manufacturing, and consumer interests, while ensuring standards are put in place that protect public health and safety.

Industrial hemp is already starting to revitalize the U.S. economy. Development of the U.S. industrial hemp industry is providing abundant economic opportunities around every corner. As US hemp farmers begin to increase their production, processors are modifying existing hemp processing equipment as well as bringing new hemp processing equipment to the U.S., manufacturers are developing new products, and retailers are bringing those products to market. jobs are opening up in all sectors in states that are actively developing an industrial hemp industry. Industrial hemp will provide for a strong, sustainable economy.

Written by Courtney N. Moran, LL.M.


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