Unfortunately, many people associate hemp with marijuana, given that the two plants are very similar and the former contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in the drug. However, hemp itself is not a drug, and it's applications are wide and varied. So it was good news when the California legislature decided to legalize it as an industrial crop in September.
Hemp has been cultivated and used in a variety of ways, including as a base for many food items and even construction materials. The plant has astounding nutritional properties and can serve as an excellent gluten-free, vegan source of protein. In addition, it can be grown sustainably, without the use of environmentally destructive pesticides, according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Despite the fact that it is banned from industrial agriculture, many hemp products are imported from Mexico and Canada. Because it is typically mentioned in the same sentence as marijuana, it still has a way to go before becoming mainstream. Industrial hemp production is still banned at the federal level, so any farmers who choose to grow it in the Golden State could face prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice.
But recent efforts to legalize pot in states like Massachusetts, Colorado and California have had ancillary benefits for the hemp industry, which is slowly coming out from under the shadow of its less sanctioned cousin. Hopefully, as more Americans are exposed to the benefits of this crop, and the myths surrounding its relationship to marijuana begin to dissipate, these citizens will put pressure on their elected officials to legalize its production.