Dreaming of an American Hemp Industry

A raw hemp and flax seed cracker topped with olive tapenade, shaved fennel slaw, and chive oil from Elizabeth’s Gone Raw in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images for Girl Behind the Camera.

The United States is the world’s leading consumer of hemp products—derived from the fibers of low-THC cannabis plants unsuitable for getting high—but while intoxicating marijuana is illegal almost everywhere, we’re very unusual in not allowing any kind of hemp agriculture. Consequently, our hemp is overwhelmingly imported from Canada. But the United States has a lot of great agricultural land and a very productive agricultural sector, so now that many states are reforming their marijuana policies, proponents are hoping to bring hemp agriculture back to the United States.

To be clear, with total 2011 sales of $43 million, the hemp products market is not very large in the scheme of things. The total trade deficit for the United States in November was about $47 billion, so it’s not as if reshoring hemp production is some kind of economic game changer. But at the same time, it seems like a total no-brainer as a policy reform.