On June 28, 2018; hemp, the non-psychoactive cannabis plant closely related to marijuana, has finally become legal to grow in the United States. The Senate passed the so-called Farm Bill, wide-ranging agriculture and food policy legislation, with a vote of 86 to 11.
This piece of legislation contains specific provisions to legalize, cultivate, process, and sell industrial hemp. Championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Farm Bill will also make hemp eligible for crop insurance.
“Consumers across America buy hundreds of millions in retail products every year that contain hemp,” said McConnell. “But due to outdated federal regulations that do not sufficiently distinguish this industrial crop from its illicit cousin, American farmers have been mostly unable to meet that demand themselves. It’s left consumers with little choice but to buy imported hemp products from foreign-produced hemp.”
The GOP leader also introduced a standalone piece of legislation known as the Hemp Farming Act, in April. Its provisions were later included in this larger Farm Bill. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry approved it by a vote of 20 to 1.
Those who use hemp for medical purposes were under pressure, however, as Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), one of the most ardent opponents of marijuana law reform, was looking to pursue serious charges to the hemp provisions.
He was particularly interested in removing the legislation for several derivatives of hemp, such as cannabidiol (CBD), which is used by people for medical purposes. Luckily, however, Grassley never did file a floor amendment, sparing the bill from any devastating changes.
“Legalizing hemp nationwide ends decades of bad policymaking and opens up an untold economic opportunity for farmers in Oregon and across the country,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) about the Farm Bill.
“Our bipartisan legislation will spur economic growth in rural communities by creating much-needed red, white and blue jobs that pay well. I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues to get the bipartisan Hemp Farming Act through the Senate. Today marks a long-overdue, huge step forward for American-grown hemp.”
In a 2018 Congressional Research Service report, the global hemp market consists of more than 25,000 products. Nevertheless, House Republicans initially blocked a vote to make hemp legalization part of their version of the Farm Bill.
But now, with the approval of the Senate, the bill will be part of discussions by the bicameral conference committee, which will merge both versions of the legislation into a single entity, which will be sent to the President’s desk. As the most powerful senator, McConnell is expected to fight for the survival of his hemp proposal.
“For the first time in 80 years, this bill legalizes hemp. We forget, but hemp was widely grown in the United States throughout the mid-1800s,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). “Americans used hemp in fabrics, wine, and paper. Our government treated industrial hemp like any other farm commodity until the early 20th century, when a 1937 law defined it as a narcotic drug, dramatically limiting its growth.
This became even worse in 1970 when hemp became a schedule I controlled substance. In Colorado, as is true across the country–I have talked to a lot of colleagues about this–we see hemp as a great opportunity to diversify our farms and manufacture high-margin products for the American people.”
In a June 26 White House statement, which outlined several concerns regarding the Farming Bill, there was no mention of hemp legalization or its provisions.
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