Hempin’ ain’t easy

cannabis plant
Cannabis plant | image via Pexels

Or maybe it is. We’ll find out through S.C.’s new pilot program. 🌱

ICYMI: Industrial hemp farming in S.C. was signed into law last May (bill H-3559; Act No. 37), joining 31 other states that have legalized it, and creating the 2018 S.C. Industrial Hemp Pilot Program – allowing 20 farmers to grow up to 20 acres each of industrial hemp for research (working with S.C.’s ag dept. + five universities, including UofSC).

I know what you’re thinking. No, industrial hemp can’t get you high. Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa that comes from the same plant as marijuana – but marijuana is the flower 🌺 of the plant + hemp is the fibers 🌱 of the plant. The two are genetically different: hemp is low in THC (the chemical that causes marijuana’s buzz: <0.3% in hemp; <40% in marijuana) + it’s primarily grown for agricultural purposes.

It’s used in a ton of different products ($580 million worth of sales in the U.S. annually) – so many that we made our own game: You’ll Never Guess Which Products Are Made With Hemp (can’t you just see the Facebook headline now?). Make your guesses then keep scrolling for the answers. 👇

hemp products
images via Pexels

Why was it illegal, if hemp ≠ weed?

Stigma. The DEA classifies hemp as a Schedule I drug (along with marijuana and heroin). Those against hemp farming say large fields of hemp could hide marijuana plants. Not so fast: S.C.’s hemp crops will be subject to random testing.

But back in the day, it was much more chill. Hemp was farmed in the 16-1700s in American colonies and sent to England so they could make all sorts of things, including supplies for the Revolutionary War.

Then the Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937. It got more expensive to produce + sell. Then the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 passed, classifying all forms of cannabis (including measly hemp) as Schedule I drugs. American hemp production pretty much halted.

Why is it legal now?

The 2014 Farm Bill passed, and ag departments started growing hemp again for research. Since then, 30+ states have legalized industrial hemp farming.

But it may be tough. Farmers see a shortage of seeds (90% of seeds have to be imported from China) and S.C. is tricky because it’s illegal for unprocessed seeds to cross state lines. A company named Tucker Naturals may save the day by building a hemp processing facility in Lake City, to open in 2018.

This could do major things for S.C., money-wise. Some say it could be as major of a cash crop for our state as cotton, rice or indigo has been. 💰

Seeds + Stems 101

The five schools doing the research for the pilot program are 🎓 UofSC, 🎓 MUSC, 🎓 S.C. State, 🎓 Clemson + 🎓 USC-Beaufort. They’ll collab with ag officials to see where in S.C. hemp grows best, test the progress of the crops + develop hemp products.

Of the 20 farmers chosen from 131 applicants, six are here in the Midlands:

  • Matthew H. O’Brien | Fairfield County | growing 20 acres
  • Patrick Jamison Jr. | Orangeburg + Lexington Counties | 5.46 acres
  • Albert Bueno | Orangeburg County | 19.54 acres
  • John Andrew Fogle | Orangeburg | 20 acres
  • Joseph Watson | Saluda County | 20 acres
  • Nat Bradford | Sumter County | 20 acres

Farmers will plant the hemp this Spring + harvest it in October. S.C.’s ag department will expand the program in its second + third years to 40 farmers growing 40 acres each. After that, research will determine the number of growers + acreage. (Comparatively, Kentucky grows ~12,800 acres of hemp, vs. S.C.’s pilot year total of 400 acres.)


Now for the answers…

All 5 products can be made with hemp. Gotcha.

Hemp is used in clothing and sandals (ever had a pair of hemp Rainbows?), rope (often used on cat scratching rugs, pads + posts), food (like one of my favorite granolas), paper (like toilet paper, which some genius patented back in 1996) building materials (like insulation + particle board) textiles + plastics, car parts (like the door panels of BMWs) and even biofuel for a more sustainable energy source (can’t wait ‘til my car runs on hemp and agave). While not FDA-approved, some say hemp oil has medicinal purposes like helping control seizures.

How did you do on our hemp game?

Let’s hope our 20 farmers also kill the hemp game. 🤘