Hemp is a useful crop. It's used to make paper, cloth, food, fuel, and many other products. But hemp farming in the United States has been illegal for 56 years. The government outlawed hemp cultivation because it didn't want people hiding marijuana crops in hemp fields (they look the same, but hemp does not contain psychoactive compounds, at least not enough to matter).
Interestingly, products made from hemp are legal in the US, but they must be imported from countries that aren't as insufferably schoolmarmish. This year, however, US farmers are starting to grow hemp again. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use, and some farmers are taking this as permission to grow non-psychoactive hemp in those states. (Hemp, both the inert and psychoactive varieties, is still prohibited under federal law). The first company in line to buy US-grown hemp is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. Alternet's April M. Short has a good article about the movement.
Hemp Returns to U.S. Soil After 56 Years -- and Magic Soap King Dr. Bronner's Is Ready to Buy
The U.S. is one of the fastest expanding markets for hemp in the world, and imports currently come primarily from Canada and China. America imported $11.5 million worth of hemp products in 2011, up from $1.4 million in 2000, the majority of which is used to make granola bars, cooking oils, and personal care products.
Steenstra says in addition to supporting American farmers, a local hemp industry will bring the prices down, and mitigate ecological impacts. Dr. Bronner’s is based in California, where just last month a bill to legalize hemp was passed— contingent upon the Justice Department’s reaction.
The law requires California to regulate the farming, processing, and sales of hemp for oilseed and fiber, just as soon as the federal government says it’s okay to do so.