Matt Collogan, the education director at Hemp Farmacy in Wilmington, says industrial hemp and marijuana are like a wolf and a poodle: same species, different creature.
Or, to use a closer analogy, same plant, different strains. Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis sativa, but the two are cultivated for different reasons.
Hemp has been grown in a way that over time encouraged a tall plant, producing the long fibers used in textiles and other applications. Marijuana has been cultivated as a shorter plant, grown in a way that encourages the concentrated production of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol and its analogs, often referred to collectively as THC. In essence, the height of hemp comes at the expense of THC.
While there are numerous distinct strains of cannabis – and some grew areas between hemp and marijuana – there has increasing been legislation to recognize the the difference between the two. A major factor in discriminating between the two is recreational use: you can’t get high on hemp because only produces a minuscule amount of THC.
Both hemp and marijuana are subjects of intense interest in North Carolina these days. Legislation in 2015 legalized industrial hemp production as well as the sale of hemp products. As a result, hemp farms and hemp stores such as the Hemp Farmacy have sprung up around the state.
In the last six months, two bills were introduced—one in the House, and one in the Senate— that supported the legalization of medical marijuana. Neither advanced, but one of the bills will be reconsidered in 2018, pending a court amendment that’s included in the bill. That’s house bill 185, “The North Carolina Cannabis Act,” said Tim Lounsbury, the deputy director of North Carolina NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“It’s our best hope,” Lounsbury said. “Things are unfavorable, but we’re trying to put our best foot forward.”
At least the populace seems to be on their side, he added, citing a survey in which 76 percent of North Carolinians favor the legalization of medical marijuana.
Hemp: the return of a native plant
“Hemp used to be a major crop in North Carolina,” Collogan said. “The British Crown required we grow it for food and nutrients before we were a nation.”
That’s because it was cheaper and more efficient to grow than pine timber and cotton, Collogan explained. The back of the $10 bill in 1914 even featured hemp being harvested in the fields, and it was used for a variety of products, including rope on ships and paper products.
Hemp eventually lost out to pine timber because of financial interests. The process of turning pine into paper had already been discovered as a lucrative one, which ultimately led to the prohibition of growing hemp in the 1920s.
In 2014, U.S. Congress overturned that, including a section in the Farm Bill allowing for the growing of industrial hemp, both for research and market purposes. The legislation had to be enacted state-by-state.
In North Carolina, this has meant the return to farming a native crop by at least a handful of groups that are farming hemp, doing research on it and selling it. Hempleton Investment Group is one of five aggregators in the state doing hemp work, Collogan said. The Hemp Farmacy where he works is an affiliate.
Collogan gives weekly classes on hemp at the store’s downtown location. They’re well-attended, by a variety of people, from gardening clubs to church groups, he said.
Most people are curious about the various uses of the plant, and how it could make them feel better.