On Wednesday, a majority of the United States Senate approved legislation on farming policy (aka the Farm Bill) which contains provisions authorizing certain states to move forward with efforts grow and regulate industrial hemp. House members had previously signed off on the legislation last week.
The President is expected to sign the Farm Bill into law imminently.
Federal lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), had advocated for the inclusion of language in the final version of the Farm Bill, to address the federal government’s longstanding ban on hemp production. The amendment permits state universities and/or agricultural departments to engage in industrial hemp cultivation in state-authorized pilot programs. It states: “The amendment authorizes an institution of higher education or State department of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes if the laws of the State permit its growth and cultivation.” Such pilot programs have previously been authorized in numerous states, including California, Kentucky, and North Dakota, but have never been implemented because of federal restrictions on the plant, which makes no distinction between cannabis and hemp.
Overall, 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.
The passage of the new provisions marks the first change in federal policy regarding hemp cultivation since World War II.
Commenting on the Congress’ approval of the amendment, Rep. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said, "The inclusion of our industrial hemp amendment in the farm bill reflects widespread support for cultivating industrial hemp and proves Congress can work together in a bipartisan fashion to help the American economy at a time when creating jobs is a national priority."
Added Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), “For far too long, states that have legalized the growth and cultivation of industrial hemp have been unable to conduct academic research on this important and historic crop. This is a step in the right direction towards utilizing this crop in a way that improves our economy and creates jobs.”
According to a 2013 white paper published by the United States Congressional Research Service, hemp is “genetically different” from cultivated cannabis because it contains virtually no THC. The agency stated, “[A] commercial hemp industry in the United States could provide opportunities as an economically viable alternative crop for some US growers.” The agency further acknowledged that the United States remains the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, at its annual meeting in January, approved a 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.”
Separate federal legislation to reclassify industrial hemp and to allow for its commercial cultivation remains pending in both the United States House and Senate, but to date has garnered little Congressional support.