Hemp and the Auto Industry

By John B. Swift posted 03-25-2019 08:41


Industrial hemp in the United States has been largely nonexistent for the last 90 years due to heavy taxation and outright prohibitions, based on hemp’s association with marijuana. Then, in the flurry of legislation passed at the end of 2018, the state legislature amended the Industrial Hemp Research Act (MCL 286.841 et seq.) to rename it the Industrial Hemp Research and Development Act and also to allow for licenses to be issued for hemp production under the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) (MCL 333.27101 et seq.). Although this was much less publicized than the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MCL 333.27951 et seq.), it could still have a significant impact on the Michigan economy.

The history of hemp in the United States is a long and more involved story than I can discuss here. However, hemp once played an important role in the automotive industry and could do so again. Back in the early 1940s, Henry Ford experimented with a soybean car that used hemp in its body panels. There is Internet lore of the original Model T being made extensively from hemp and even running on hemp oil, but of course records of that are … well … nonexistent.

Hemp is currently used quite a bit in automotive components, especially for making lightweight and durable interior body panels. Additionally, it is now being studied for use in battery technology. Hemp is poised to become a cheap, valuable, renewable, and biodegradable resource in an industry that has struggled in that department. The use of hemp, like most raw materials in the auto industry, is determined largely on availability. Therefore Michigan’s work reforming its cannabis regulation could have far-reaching benefits for our state.