To make matters more confusing, nine states (including California, Washington, and Colorado) let residents buy cannabis-based products with or without THC. Nearly two dozen other “medical marijuana states” allow the sale of cannabis, including capsules, tinctures, and other items containing CBD or THC, at licensed dispensaries to people whose doctors have certified that they have an approved condition (the list varies by state but includes chronic pain, PTSD, cancer, autism, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis). Sixteen more states legalized CBD for certain diseases. But because all these products are illegal according to the federal government, cannabis advocates are cautious. “By and large, the federal government is looking the other way,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the Washington, DC–based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), but until federal laws are changed, “this administration or a future one could crack down on people who produce, manufacture, or use CBD, and the law would be on its side.”
Hemp is grown in temperate zones as an annual cultivated from seed and can reach a height of up to 5 metres (16 feet). Crops grow best in sandy loam with good drainage and require average monthly rainfall of at least 65 mm (2.5 inches) throughout the growing season. Crops cultivated for fibre are densely sowed and produce plants averaging 2–3 metres (6–10 feet) tall with almost no branching. Plants grown for oilseed are planted farther apart and are shorter and many-branched. The slender stalks are hollow except at the tip and base. The leaves are compound with palmate shape, and the flowers are small and greenish yellow. Seed-producing flowers form elongate, spikelike clusters growing on the pistillate, or female, plants. Pollen-producing flowers form many-branched clusters on staminate, or male, plants. Maximum yield and quality are obtained by harvesting soon after the plants reach maturity, indicated by the full blossoms and freely shedding pollen of the male plants. Although sometimes pulled up by hand, plants are more often cut off about 2.5 cm (1 inch) above the ground.
George Washington also imported the Indian Hemp plant from Asia, which was used for fiber and, by some growers, for intoxicating resin production. In a letter to William Pearce who managed the plants for him Washington says, "What was done with the Indian Hemp plant from last summer? It ought, all of it, to be sown again; that not only a stock of seed sufficient for my own purposes might have been raised, but to have disseminated seed to others; as it is more valuable than common hemp."
Cannabis sativa is extremely unusual in the diversity of products for which it is or can be cultivated. Popular Mechanics magazine (1938) touted hemp as “the new billion dollar crop,” stating that it “can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.” Table 1 presents the principal products for which the species is cultivated in Europe, all of which happen to be based on fiber. This presentation stresses the products that hold the most promise for North America, which also include a considerable range of oilseed applications (Table 2; Fig. 1).
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