In late November, legislators in the U.S. Congress and Senate in Washington, D.C., agreed on a version of the annual farm bill (titled The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018) that includes the legalization of industrial hemp.
Hemp, which is cannabis that does not produce buds from the female plant, does not contain enough THC to produce a high. To be legal, the hemp plant’s seeds, stalks, and oils must have less than 0.3% THC. (It is possible to grow hemp with high THC levels, so farmers will have to monitor their crops to ensure they do not exceed this legal limit.) Hemp has thousands of uses, including as fuel, fiber, oil, and food. In addition, hemp can be used to produce CBD, the medical uses of which are currently being investigated. One CBD-based medicine has already been approved by the FDA. Under the version of the farm bill headed for a vote in Washington, the CBD will be fully legalized as well, given that it is a product of hemp. Despite being illegal in some states, CBD alone is already a market of about half a billion dollars, and this is expected to grow substantially with legalization—estimates are the market could exceed $20 billion by 2022.
Ending eight decades of prohibition
Hemp was a staple crop in the United States until it was effectively outlawed by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. If the 2018 farm bill containing the hemp legalization provision passes, eight decades of prohibition will come to an end. The House Committee on Agriculture released a statement of its leaders—Chairmen Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Pat Roberts (R- Kan.) and Ranking Members Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)—stating: “We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 Farm Bill. We are working to finalize legal and report language…but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible.” General Counsel Jonathan Miller of the U.S. Hemp Roundtable is quoted as saying: “The U.S. Hemp Roundtable, the industry’s leading business trade association, strongly endorses the 2018 Farm Bill Conference report released today, and we urge the full Congress to pass this critical bill as soon as possible.”
Hemp legalization has the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has personally advocated for the legalization of hemp and for Kentucky to reclaim its role as a leading producer of industrial hemp. He has also “guaranteed” the legal hemp provision would appear on the final version of the bill. Although hemp is grown in 40 states as part of research programs, typically conducted by universities, if hemp is fully legalized many legal hurdles to commercial production and research will be removed.
Now that the House and Senate have worked out a compromise farm bill that should be acceptable to both, lawmakers hope to have the bill ready for the president’s signature before the end of the year. In the Trump administration, the chief opponent of all things cannabis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, no longer holds office, and the president himself, in offhand remarks, has indicated that he is not an opponent of legalization.
Finally, it is worth noting that hemp legalization is not the most controversial part of the farm bill. Other provisions, for example aid to California after its wildfires and the extent of the food stamp program, seem to generate more contention than hemp legalization. It thus seems likely that the federal government’s long ban on hemp farming is about to end.
What do you think? Will the federal government fully legalize hemp before long? Leave a comment below.