Photo via iStock/ johnwoodcock
This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which would fully legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp, as well as hemp-derived medicines like CBD oil. It may come as a surprise that the country's top Republican legislator is pushing for a legal form of cannabis plant, but McConnell has actually been advocating for legal hemp for years.
Hemp production has been prohibited in the U.S. for nearly a century, thanks to the Controlled Substances Act, which classifies the cannabis plant as a dangerous Schedule I drug. In 2014, the Obama-era Farm Bill established hemp as a plant distinct from its psychoactive cousin marijuana and allowed states to permit hemp farming for non-commercial research purposes. Regardless of these protections, new hemp farmers have struggled with the Drug Enforcement Agency and other federal agencies who continue to enforce prohibition laws.
The Hemp Farming Act would do away with this legal confusion by officially removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. This reclassification of hemp would make it fully legal for banks to open accounts or provide financing for hemp farmers, which is currently prohibited under federal law. The bill would charge the U.S. Department of Agriculture with overseeing the general aspects of hemp farming, with state agriculture departments regulating local production.
"As the tobacco industry has changed, some farmers in states like Kentucky have been searching for a new crop that can support their families and grow our agricultural economy," McConnell said in a speech introducing the bill, as reported by Forbes. "And many believe they've found such a product: industrial hemp. But the federal government has stood in the way. Mr. President, it's time to change that."
"It’s past time that we move beyond these outdated and frustrating restrictions on hemp farming in the United States,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill. “If we’re selling hemp products in the United States, we should be growing hemp in the United States — it’s good for jobs, good for our communities, and it’s just common sense."
Sen. Ron Wyden, another co-sponsor, tweeted about the non-psychoactive nature of the plant: “Federal law treats hemp like it’s a dangerous drug, but the only thing you’re going to accomplish by smoking hemp is wasting breath, time and lighter fluid.”
Hemp can be used for a wide variety of products, including fibers, clothing, oil, fuel, and food, and some advocates are hoping that “hemp-enomics” will help local farmers compete with Big Agriculture. The Hemp Farming Act would also have a huge impact on the medical cannabis industry. Many medical cannabis firms source CBD from non-psychoactive hemp plants, which has kicked off battles in states like Indiana, Idaho, and Alaska over whether or not such medicines are legal.
The Hemp Farming Act would put this legal confusion to rest for good by removing it from Schedule I classification. Jonathan Miller, legal counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told The Cannabist that “it could not be more clear that hemp, the plant, hemp extracts, hemp derivatives, hemp-derived CBD … they’ll all be made legal.”