Congressional lawmakers last week approved language authorizing state universities and agriculture departments to move forward with programs to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes.
The language, included in the final version of the omnibus federal Farm Bill, was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The Senate is expected to sign off on the measure imminently.
The provisions allow for the cultivation industrial hemp in agricultural pilot programs in states that already permit the growth and cultivation of the plant. Ten states — California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia — have enacted legislation reclassifying hemp as an agricultural commodity under state law.
Hemp is a distinct variety of the plant species cannabis sativa that contains only minute (less than 1%) amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Farmers worldwide grow hemp commercially for fiber, seed, and oil for use in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including food. However, US federal law makes no distinction between hemp and marijuana.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) — who advocated on behalf of the language to the 2014 Farm Bill conference, the group federal of lawmakers charged with finalizing the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill – called the bill’s expected passage “an important victory for … farmers.”
A 2013 white paper published by the Congressional Research Service concludes: “[T]he US market for hemp-based products has a highly dedicated and growing demand base, as indicated by recent US market and import data for hemp products and ingredients, as well as market trends for some natural foods and body care products. Given the existence of these small-scale, but profitable, niche markets for a wide array of industrial and consumer products, commercial hemp industry in the United States could provide opportunities as an economically viable alternative crop for some US growers.”
The agency notes that the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop.
Also last week, the American Farm Bureau Federation at its annual meeting approved a new policy resolution urging for the repeal of the classification of industrial hemp as a controlled substance under federal law stating, “At a time when small farms are innovating and diversifying to remain competitive, we should provide every opportunity to increase farm incomes and allow the next generation the ability to continue living off the land as their families have for generations.”
Federal legislation to reclassify industrial hemp and to allow for its commercial cultivation remains pending in both the United States House and Senate.