one’s perception of the product and the regulations which will govern its growth.
Industrial hemp is not marijuana. The two may belong to the same family, indeed the same species, but they are different strains of the species (Cannabis sativa). They look alike to the uninitiated eye, but industrial hemp grows taller than marijuana. The part of the industrial hemp plant that is most useful is the stalk, hence the plant has been bred to have tall stalks.
The major difference between industrial hemp and marijuana lies in the content of an element known as tetrahydrocannibol (THC). It is this element which makes marijuana psychoactive and industrial hemp not. People may smoke as much industrial hemp as they would want, but it will not make them high because its THC content is low, typically between 0.05 percent and one percent. By contrast, marijuana has THC content varying between three percent and 20 percent, sometimes even higher. It is for this reason that marijuana is often used for recreational purposes. Industrial hemp cannot be used for such purposes.
Another element present in both these plants is cannabidiol (CBD). CBD content is higher in industrial hemp than in marijuana. It inhibits the psychoactive effect of THC and therefore makes the difference between the two strains of cannabis even greater.
Industrial hemp is the raw material that can be converted to a whole range of products, including rope, textiles, durable paper, insulating building blocks, biodegradable plastic, biofuel, food and animal feed. Its economic value, therefore, is immense.
However, its cultivation can be very tricky because some people who may be up to no goodwill, in all likelihood, mix it with marijuana or indeed grow a 100 percent crop of marijuana under the pretext of growing industrial hemp. For this reason not many countries have legalised the cultivation of industrial hemp. When I last checked, only 14 states out of 33, had legalised it in the United States of America.
The Government of Malawi, or whatever relevant authority, needs to be vigilant to ensure that cultivation of industrial hemp is not abused. I would like to propose a few regulations. First, only licensed people should be allowed to grow it. To obtain that licence, one will have to submit a comprehensive application, which will need to be subsequently scrutinised. If, and only if, the mandated authority is satisfied that the applicant is a person with a good reputation in society, should the licence be issued.
During the cultivation of the crop, inspectors must frequently visit the field(s) to take samples and conduct trials to check on the THC content of the crop. Should this exceed an allowable maximum level, the crop should be commandeered by the relevant authority and destroyed.
In the initial stages, the cultivation must perhaps happen on a pilot basis. Very few growers should be allowed to grow industrial hemp under strict surveillance from Government. This can go on for a period of, say, five years, to allow for the teething problems to be smoothed out. After that period, a few more growers can be allowed to grow it. Meanwhile, the laws prohibiting growing and trafficking of marijuana must remain in force.
Yes, strict measures will be absolutely necessary; otherwise, abuse of the crop will easily negate its potential economic benefits. A nation whose citizens are perpetually high on marijuana will suffer from warped judgment on issues, a recipe for plunging the country into a deep social and economic abyss. Industrial hemp can easily become a curse rather than the blessing it is meant to be. So, we need to tread very carefully indeed.
I would urge authorities to conduct an honest search within our structures and come up with fool proof methodologies of growing industrial hemp to maximise the benefits from its enormous potential while ensuring that it is not abused. n