If you want to see the power of the plant world in action, look no further than the Cannabis sativa plant. This plant, while only recently made entirely legal in Canada and parts of the United States, is responsible for two of the most important cultural changes going on today: Both the marijuana industry and the hemp industry.
As you may already know from the endless stream of marijuana legalization news, Cannabis sativa is a single species of plant that can come in multiple strains. While these strains look much the same and do share plenty of similarities, they're not identical.
If you need a little extra clarity, think of the species Felis catus, otherwise known as the domestic cat:
The Sphynx and Maine Coon belong to this species. They both share the same general size, head shape, hearing and vision capabilities, and "language" — there's no doubt they're both cats. But they have several other traits that are very, very different.
The same is true for marijuana and hemp.
How Did We Get Here?
Before we can thoroughly dive into the future outlook of the hemp industry, it's crucial first to ask how the hemp industry came to be in the first place.
After all, the commercial growth of hemp was federally illegal before 2018, while the growth of hemp for any reason was illegal as recently as 2014.
The long wait for industrial hemp
Why was such a seemingly harmless (or, outright beneficial) crop banned for so long? As you can probably guess, the answer is marijuana.
People generally hold one of two opinions about the exact role marijuana played in the delayed legality of hemp.
On the one hand, there's the practical side of allowing the growth of hemp but not marijuana — they look almost identical. So much so, that even trained botanists must look closely to tell the difference.
Even after hemp's commercial legalization in 2018, truckers have been arrested for transporting what law enforcement thought was illegal marijuana.
But, nope, it was hemp.
Then you have the side that borrows ideology from America's reefer madness of the 20th Century.
Although biologically speaking, hemp can't get someone high. The average person is unlikely to know the difference between these two strains of cannabis. After all, again, they look identical from the outside.
Breaking down legislative walls
But, finally, things changed in 2018. With the passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act (more commonly called the 2018 Farm Bill), hemp is now entirely legal to grow and transport throughout the U.S.
Although this poses issues, such as the truckers mentioned above, it ultimately means that hemp's many industrial and consumer benefits can now be researched and distributed to the general population.
Right now, CBD supplements have hit their peak. Products that you once needed to visit a specialty smoke shop to purchase are now bought at health food stores and even some gas stations. You can also order CBD gummies and tinctures online and have them shipped right to your door.
And while the hemp industry is still fighting the battle to prove hemp and marijuana are very different plants, it's quickly infiltrating the paper goods market, thermal insulation, automobile composites, and more.
Ultimately, only time will tell what the future of the hemp industry holds. But we can certainly make an educated guess.
The Green Rush: Is There an End in Sight?
A lighthearted play on the historic California Gold Rush, the term "green rush" has been used to describe the industrial and consumer push to areas where cannabis is now legal. Overwhelmingly, this name refers to the growth and sale of legal marijuana. But some also apply it to the hemp industry.
More specifically, when discussing the commercial potential of CBD.
The compound CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of the many botanical chemicals produced by the genus Cannabis. While there are definite nuances, many consumers view it as THC's (the chemical in marijuana that causes a high) non-psychoactive little sibling.
For a time, CBD was just as illegal as THC. With the federal legalization of the hemp industry, though, CBD is now available nationwide.
And with the popularity of CBD supplements, it's no surprise that so many investors flocked to the hemp industry as soon as possible.
Highs and lows of the cannabis market
Unfortunately, there's a thing called supply and demand in our free market system. If you're not sure where we're going with this, take a glance through the recent hemp industry headlines.
Recent reports claim that the U.S. is growing close to 180 million pounds of CBD hemp annually. So, what's the problem? Well, we can only consume one-eighth of that amount.
If this sounds familiar, it's because states with legal marijuana have experienced similar booms. Just like legal marijuana, hemp was a new and promising crop for farmers to invest in. Once the market is saturated with growers, however, the value of that investment quickly drops.
On the positive side, basic economics tells us that the price will eventually stabilize. Until then, and it could take several years, hemp industry investors will be stuck in a limbo of high competition and stabilizing demand.
Growing jobs for growing hemp
After the recent legalization of the hemp industry, it was no surprise to see the hemp-related job market soar. After all, workers were needed to grow, harvest, process, and transport the crop.
As for American farmers, it's a similar story. For many, access to the hemp industry marked relief from economically or biologically weak crops.
The question is, however, is this crop a sustainable option for the average farmer?
On the one hand, hemp is a remarkably hardy crop. For farmers, this means a higher yield on the same acreage previously used for more traditional crops like corn or soybeans.
On the other hand, many of these farmers have fallen victim to the oversaturation of the hemp industry. While the market is practically guaranteed to level out with time, how many of these same farmers will make it through to the other side is unknown.
No room for the little guys
When inklings of marijuana's legalization in Colorado and Washington, enthusiasts around the country dreamed of moving to these safe havens and investing their hard-earned cash in the industry. While some were talking, countless did make a move.
Even today, as states legalize marijuana one by one, conversations turn toward opening greenhouses and small dispensaries. But big business has taken over.
As time moves forward, we could also see the hemp industry play a significant role in the legal marijuana market. Just think about it:
With the legalization of hemp across the nation, large agricultural companies have an excuse to position themselves to take over marijuana production as soon as it's legalized.
This means breaking into the industry is going to be even harder, if not impossible, for small-time startups.
The Hemp Industry Takes on Pharmaceuticals
Of course, the legal hemp industry has made big waves in the recreational and industrial cannabis market. But there's another, reasonably obvious, question we've yet to ask:
Can hemp be medicine?
It's no secret that CBD supplements have been recommended to treat anxiety, nausea, sleep disorders, and more. Some consumers even swear by these products to treat chronic pain or addiction. However, it's crucial to remember that these products are just supplements.
Unlike medication, over-the-counter or otherwise, supplements have no governing body in the U.S. They don't receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other organization.
With that said, the FDA approved the very first CBD-containing prescription medication in 2018. Chances are, this is the first of many.
Cracking down on sketchy business
As of now, the FDA hasn't set a schedule for regulating CBD as a whole. However, that doesn't mean it won't happen.
Many hemp industry contributors are pushing for this change, with the hope that involving the FDA will pave a road for new research and developments in the CBD field.
There's another reason to invest in FDA regulation, not only for the good of the hemp industry but for the good of regular consumers.
Currently, anyone who has the time and resources can cook up their own CBD supplements and sell them directly to consumers. Yes, this means that CBD is more accessible and affordable than ever before. But that also means products enter the market without testing for safety or accurate dosing.
What are the most likely consequences of this practice?
There's a good chance some CBD supplements contain nowhere near the concentration or quality of CBD they claim. In other words, customers are wasting their money when they buy these products.
On a more serious note, however, CBD can have very real effects on the human body. While these side effects are generally minor, this lack of regulation puts more consumers at risk for drug interactions and improper dosing.
Is there a dark side to regulation?
Unfortunately, the answer is very likely, yes. In a perfect world, the government, including organizations like the FDA, would be entirely unbiased. But this isn't the case.
Because of this, some voices in the hemp industry worry that large pharmaceutical companies will take advantage of their political influence to block new developments in CBD. And depending on your political leanings, this concern might not sound very farfetched.
Looking Forward to a Greener Future
Sadly, nothing short of a crystal ball can tell us what's really in store for the U.S. hemp industry. Overall, though, there are likely some significant changes in the works.
Of course, not all of these changes will be good. Many will have little effect on the hemp industry as a whole, while others could be outright devastating.
Despite these ups and downs, though, one of the most significant changes to come from hemp legalization is the shift in public opinion and knowledge. With hemp fiber and CBD now widely available across the country, there's a good chance we'll see an increase in research and development for both.
So, whether CBD supplements have changed your life or you couldn't care less about the hemp industry, there's no arguing that a greater understanding of the natural world and its resources are an excellent shift for society.
Sometimes, green is the best color.
Do you have any experience with CBD supplements or another hemp product, like rope or paper? Let us know your experiences, good or bad, in the comments below!