In the Colonies’ early years, Virginia’s House of Burgesses required planters to grow hemp. The plant — a close relative of marijuana — can be used for a variety of purposes, from the medicinal to the industrial. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other notables farmed the stuff. Hemp’s utility remained unquestioned through WWII, when the federal government ran “Hemp for Victory!” propaganda campaigns.
But then came the War on Drugs, and suddenly hemp became suspect — even though it contains so little THC you’d have to smoke a whole bale to catch a minor buzz. Lumped in with psychoactive marijuana, industrial hemp became verboten.
And there matters stood for the longest time. But a quiet campaign has labored for years to bring hemp back. At last lawmakers, once cowed by reefer madness, are regaining their senses. Moreover, Republicans are leading the reform effort. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell supports a hemp renaissance, for instance. And here in Virginia, Del. Joseph Yost plans to introduce legislation as soon as late July that would legalize hemp-growing in the commonwealth.
Yost hopes hemp could serve as a replacement crop for tobacco. “I can almost see this plant filling that vacuum left by the tobacco industry,” he recently told The Roanoke Times.
Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. But hemp does not need to attain that aggressive goal to help diversify the state’s crops, strengthen its farming sector, and expand its tax base.
Because hemp looks so much like its more infamous cousin, law enforcement might worry that legalizing hemp would make marijuana prohibition even harder: Growers could hide one variety in the middle of another. That’s possible. But law enforcement seems capable of combating moonshine and contraband cigarettes despite the prevalence of legal booze and smokes. A similar minor objection should not stand in the way of reviving what once was one of Virginia’s signature crops.