At the time of writing, the cultivation of industrial hemp is currently legal in 34 out of 50 U.S states. Hemp enthusiasts may be wondering why we aren’t already seeing a hemp revolution. The wheels of progress turn slowly, and mass-scale industrial hemp production might still be far away.
Even though the hemp market was worth an estimated $581 million in 2013, the sweeping legalization of 2014 didn’t trigger the massive response many predicted.
Hemp was already being imported and used in a variety of products – skin-care lotions, hemp milk, hemp seeds, and industrial materials – but domestic production of the hemp plant was prohibited in America.
By 2016, the hemp market had grown moderately to $688 million a year, but this represents just a fraction of its potential. A gap in the generational knowledge still exists, and has drastically slowed hemp’s progress.
The criminalization of hemp in 1937 has resulted in crucial farming knowledge being lost to the ages, as farmers gave up their hemp crops for legal alternatives. Now, American farmers are racing to catch up, and the hit-and-miss nature of their task results in lost yields, and lost profits.
During World War 2, Soviet scientists sacrificed their lives to preserve precious seed banks which contained their most efficient wheat strains. The strains had been perfected over decades and were deemed more important than any one soldier’s life.
This little factoid should emphasize the importance of what we’re dealing with here – American farmers do not currently have this kind of ancestral knowledge when it comes to hemp. They are starting from scratch, and the process takes time.
Another roadblock in the mass-scale production of the plant comes in the form of mass-market farming machinery which simply isn’t set up to deal with industrial hemp.
Industrial hemp fiber is tougher and bulkier than most, and the current industrial machinery isn’t equipped to process it. American manufacturers will need to invest in a large scale renewal of their machinery in order to efficiently process bulk amounts of hemp.
Such an investment would come faster if it weren’t for the fact that hemp remains a contentious issue for many people. The old associations between hemp and its psychoactive cousin still haven’t disappeared, and many consumers are still hesitant to even consider getting into the hemp market.
Simple economics tells you that there has to be demand for there to be supply, and at the moment the hemp market is in something of a stalemate. Producers won’t grow more until people want more, and people won’t want more until hemp becomes more widespread and accepted culturally. In other words, the hemp market is in a catch-22.
Some industry experts predict a massive growth boom in the hemp market in the near future. Others predict a complete bust. This kind of uncertainty is symptomatic of the entire hemp set-up in the United States.
No one doubts the plant’s uses, but it’s a golden oldie that’s currently trying to find its way in a world that tried to forget it.