Ask Our Experts: Hemp’s Utility Against the COVID-19 Pandemic
Q: Given the global shortages of surgical face masks and PPE, might hemp be used to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: In the months since the recognized global pandemic of COVID-19, innovative minds with industrial means have sought ways to address the infamous shortages seen throughout global supply chains.
Unfortunately, while the potential for hemp material and products remains both vast and versatile, the industry remains far too new for its own, logistically immature supply chain to accommodate any such immediate demand for masks or other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE).
To date, the hemp industry still suffers from a lack of processing capacity. Among licensed processors, so far but a small number are equipped to process hemp fiber. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of farmed hemp acreage in the U.S. is dedicated for CBD production. According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, approximately two-thirds of all planted acreage of hemp in the U.S. is for flower (i.e., CBD and cannabinoid production).
Hemp plants grown for CBD are not suitable for fiber production, much in the same way that hemp plants grown for fiber are not suitable for CBD extraction. Even were President Trump inclined to utilize the federal Defense Production Act to compel the hemp industry to apply hemp as sourcing for N95 respirator masks and surgical gowns, the requisite changes to the hemp supply chain would themselves require a massive, time-consuming undertaking.
Simply put, the nascent hemp industry is unprepared to offer a viable solution to the shortages. Had legal production remained in place since hemp played such a vital role in the U.S. war effort during World War II, perhaps it could have embraced such a mission. For practical purposes, however, that remains a hypothetical for historians to consider while the industry remains focused toward establishing its infrastructure for a more stable, commoditized market.