According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States is the only industrialized western nation that fails to grow hemp commercially. But that reality is rapidly changing.

In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal farm bill (the United States Agricultural Act of 2014) authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. States the new federal provision: “The growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the State in which such institution of higher education or State department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.”

Since that time, lawmakers in several states have approved legislation permitting state-sponsored hemp cultivation programs. Utah legislators have approved a measure allowing for the cultivation of hemp for potential medicinal extracts. Hawaii university researchers are planning to grow the plant to assess its potential as a phytomediator (a plant capable of removing toxins from the soil) and as a biofuel. Newly enacted provisions in Indiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee also allow for licensed producers of the crop. In recent days, lawmakers in Illinois and South Carolina approved similar hemp measures. Both of those measures now await action from their state’s respective Governors.

Nationwide, over a dozen US states now have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop.

But although state and federal hemp laws are rapidly changing, agents at the US Drug Enforcement Administration have been slow to respond to the memo. Last week, Kentucky state officials sued the US Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency refused to turn over a shipment of hemp seeds that were intended to be used as part of a state-approved research program. (State lawmakers approved legislation legalizing the licensed production of hemp in 2013.) After two federal hearings, as well as a face-to-face meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who represents Kentucky and was one of the authors of the 2014 federal hemp provisions), DEA officials on last Thursday agreed to authorize the shipment of hemp seeds to go forward -- ending the approximately weeklong standoff. Kentucky’s first modern hemp planting may occur as soon as this weekend.

In July 2013 federal report, entitled "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity," the Congressional Research Service concluded that the hemp plant is “genetically different” from cultivated cannabis and acknowledged that its components may be utilized in the production of thousands of products, including paper, carpeting, home furnishing, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, animal bedding, body care products and nutritional supplements. It concluded, “[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.”