Hemp deserves legalization so we can explore its ‘untapped potential’

What do the first draft of the Declaration of Independence and Canadian supercapacitors have in common? Hemp.

Dr. David Mitlin recently led a research team at the University of Alberta that converted cannabis bark into carbon nanosheets, the building blocks for supercapacitors. Supercapacitors are energy storage devices that can charge and discharge power much faster than batteries, making them an ideal fit for electric vehicles. While a battery in an electric car can take up to 43 hours to recharge, supercapacitors can juice up in a few minutes. Graphene is currently the “gold-standard” building material for supercapacitors, but its high cost is an inhibiting factor in commercial scale production. Dr. Mitlin and Co.’s cannabis capacitors are made from recycled hemp material, and they produce the same results as graphene for a fraction of the price. This new discovery has the potential to make supercapacitors commercially viable and to revolutionize the electric car industry, and we should take advantage of it.

Supercapacitors are just one of the many applications of hemp. It can be used to make clothes, cardboard and maybe even cars. The close association of hemp with it’s psychedelic cousin, marijuana, subjects the plant to undue scrutiny and inspires irrational fear in federal regulators. Unlike marijuana, however, hemp does not contain enough THC to get you stoned, and some parts of the hemp plant, such as the inner-bark used by Dr. Mitlin’s team, contain no THC at all. Even so, some lawmakers and their constituents are wary of the mischaracterized miracle plant. I would venture to guess that the biggest proponents of keeping hemp under lock and chain are players in the petroleum industry. They actually have good reason to fear commercial scale hemp production. After all, if farmers could grow plastic cars and ethanol fuel, it would deal a serious blow to the oil industry’s bottom line.

Although hemp has been illegal in the U.S. for more than 70 years, our nation had a very cozy relationship with cannabis at its inception. In fact, in colonial Jamestown in 1619 it was illegal not to grow hemp. The tide might once again be turning for this controversial crop. Hemp has already been legalized in 10 different states, but it hasn’t been cultivated due to the federal ban. The Agricultural Act of 2014, or Farm Bill, signed into law earlier this year, changed that. The bill allows universities and state departments in states where hemp is already legal to grow it for research and commercial purposes. The bill’s “hemp-mendment,” put forward by Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), garnished bipartisan support. Massie hailed passage of the bill as “an important victory for farmers, manufacturers and consumers in Kentucky and across the country.” Massie also said, “Our amendment paves the way for production of industrial hemp by first allowing America’s academic and research institutions to demonstrate that hemp and the products derived from hemp present a great economic opportunity for our country.”

Hemp is an undeniably unique crop with tremendous, untapped potential. Fortunately, the bondage of ignorant policies, which has held hemp back for decades, seems to be yielding to sensible scrutiny. I look forward to seeing even more innovative uses for the good crop with a bad rap as the political climate continues to warm up to the economic and social benefits of hemp.

[email protected]