Seeing through the smoke


Christopher Gallagher

Let’s discuss the legal status of hemp, marijuana’s sibling

Ar 180419881
BCI Media file

A bee gathers pollen from a hemp plant at the CSU Southwest Colorado Research Station in Yellow Jacket in 2016.
Ar 180419881
BCI Media file

A bee gathers pollen from a hemp plant at the CSU Southwest Colorado Research Station in Yellow Jacket in 2016.

Hello, DGO! We are going to try something new here this week. I have constructed a rudimentary time machine from the component parts of Google search engine and MS Word that will allow us to travel back in time and examine a topic discussed here in early 2016, the legal status of cannabis’ non-psychoactive sibling, hemp.

The basics of the situation are this: Both hemp and marijuana are born of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L, which tricks people into believing that hemp is the same thing as a marijuana plant. These two cannabis subspecies are incredibly different in every way, though – genetically, chemically, and are even cultivated by different methods.

In the spirit of Gertrude Stein, though, I can assure you that a Kush is a Haze is a Girl Scout Cookie. Those stem from the “marijuana” version of cannabis plant, the one that we smoke, eat, drink, vape, boof, and whatever else, for the purposes of intoxication and medicine. It has a significant amount of THC, the cannabinoid that gets you high. A short generation ago, it was difficult to find bud with a THC percentage higher than 5 or so. Growers and breeders have quickly changed that in the past couple decades. Now every shop in Colorado has a solid dozen samples that approach and surpass the 20 percent range.

And the hemp plant is a plant that will never get you high, no matter how much of it you smoke. It contains less THC than the dirt outside. It will make you a sweet-ass hank of rope if processed correctly, at least according to the basics of botanical taxonomy. It’s the industrial marvel that can be used to produce an incredible array of commodities – including food, fuel, fabric, oil, rope, building materials, beauty products, paper, paints, [and] plastic – a list I composed months before J.B. Sessions swore to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office” of Attorney General of these here United States. Hemp’s THC percentage – ostensibly the reason a plant would be outlawed by federal and international law – is about 0.3%. Though you could roll, light, and smoke a thousand joints and never catch a buzz, this member of the cannabis family tree remains – in many ways – as illegal as Northern Lights #5 or Alaskan Thunderfuck, as illegal as it was when Aslinger was doing his Reefer Madness thing in the ‘30s, and when Jack Herer was exposing the political motives of Hearst, DuPont, Mellon and their cronies by publishing “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” in the ‘80s.

This concept of a cannabis plant that won’t get you high can be difficult to grasp, but it all comes down to how different plants in the same family can be. I have had plants growing simultaneously, in the same room, under the same lights, started on the same day, that took wildly different spans of time to develop and be ready for trimming, drying, and curing. It took 40 days for the Cinderella 99 strain, compared to 80+ days for this unidentified sativa goofball of a tall, lanky phenotype that used to go through her daily water so quickly that she would dry out completely and fall to the ground by the time I got back to her the next day (I must mention that she smoked like heaven, in spite of her eccentricities). They did not seem like the same plant until they were in jars. Some cannabis plants grow a few feet tall; some grow to the height of a few (circus) people standing on each other’s shoulders. Mother Nature is wild.

The federal illegality of hemp is insane, considering the vast differences between the two. But that may be changing with the help of some very unlikely allies. Next week we will take a look at the developments over the last 100 weeks that may have us headed in the direction of federally legal hemp. Be well, til then, DGO.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at chrstphrgallagher@gmail.com.