By Tyler Bauer
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Regardless of where you stand on the marijuana issue, I’m sure you’re at least somewhat familiar with what it is. It’s a psychoactive drug that is part of the Cannabis family. I’m sure we all know that it is used both recreationally and medically.
Hemp isn’t nearly as well-known as marijuana. Hemp, like marijuana, is outlawed federally. It is a member of the Cannabis family, but contains less than 0.3% THC (the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychedelic effects). Marijuana, on the other hand, is usually 5-35% THC. Hemp can’t get you high. Aside from the fact that weed and hemp come from the same family, they couldn’t be any more different. I’ll say more about hemp later on.
Weed and Big Pharma
One of the main reasons why marijuana remains illegal is the influence of big pharma. Among marijuana’s health benefits are reduced depression, anxiety, and PTSD; pain management; reducing and lessening the severity of seizures, aiding sleep; and increasing hunger.
Each of the health benefits mentioned above is also offered by a pharmaceutical company. Pharmaceutical companies are able to use patents to deter competing pharmaceutical companies from producing similar pills, allowing the company which created the original pill to have a monopoly for a set period of time.
Unfortunately for pharmaceutical companies, you can’t patent marijuana. It’s a plant, so it doesn’t qualify as any sort of intellectual property. If it were ever legalized federally, marijuana would immediately become a HUGE competitor to pharmaceutical companies, which would certainly shrink their share of the market and possibly even run pharmaceutical companies out of business. So, in order to avoid competition and retain power, pharmaceutical companies lobby the government to keep marijuana illegal.
This is crony capitalism at its worst. (By the way, crony capitalism isn’t actually capitalism. It’s socialism.)
Weed and Private Prisons
A second reason why marijuana remains illegal on the federal level is the influence of private prisons. As with any other private business, private prisons need a certain number of customers to make a profit (in this case, the prisoners serve as “customers” and the government delivers the “customers”). Since private prisons can only survive if laws are broken, they have an incentive to support as many laws as possible because, as we all know, laws are regularly broken. So, criminalizing marijuana provides a steady flow of prisoners, keeping these prisons in business. If marijuana were to be legalized, many prisoners in private prisons would be set free, and the number of future prisoners would decrease markedly. So, private prisons lobby the government to keep marijuana illegal.
Once again, this is a case of crony capitalism at its worst.
Hemp and… a Lot of Things?
For the most part, hemp is used for dietary products. However, it has thousands of other uses, too. For example, hemp can be used in making clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuels, plastics, and so much more.
One of the most interesting uses of hemp is for construction materials, particularly in houses. Hemp can be used to make “hempcrete,” which is an environmentally-friendly alternative to fiberglass insulation. According to CNBC, here is how hempcrete is made: “Mixing hemp's woody core with lime and water produces a natural, light concrete that retains thermal mass and is highly insulating. No pests, no mold, good acoustics, low humidity, no pesticide. It grows from seed to harvest in about four months.” As of right now, there are only fifty houses in the United States that contain hemp, but I expect that number to increase steadily as marijuana is decriminalized in various states because hempcrete is both effective and environmentally-friendly.
To my knowledge, there is no specific group lobbying against the legalization of hemp as it relates to any of its common uses. However, I would expect manufacturers of products like fiberglass insulation to suffer if hemp is ever widely-embraced as a construction material.
Among those who know what hemp is, it is generally seen as a beneficial and useful part of the Cannabis family. Unfortunately, relatively few people are aware that hemp is drastically different from marijuana, so its benefits remain unknown by a significant portion of the population and it will likely be vilified for years to come.