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This week, the U.S. Senate passed its 2018 Farm Bill, including provisions to legalize hemp, which would make cannabis’ non-psychoactive cousin legal for the first time since the 1930s. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially proposed the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 as a stand-alone bill, but eventually rolled it into the larger farm legislation to ensure a greater chance of success. The bill passed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry two weeks ago, and was approved by the full Senate this Thursday with a resounding 86-11 vote.
"For the first time in 80 years, this bill legalizes hemp. We forget, but hemp was widely grown in the United States throughout the mid-1800s," Sen. Michael Bennet said to his fellow lawmakers during a floor debate, Forbes reports. "Americans used hemp in fabrics, wine, and paper. Our government treated industrial hemp like any other farm commodity until the early 20th century, when a 1937 law defined it as a narcotic drug, dramatically limiting its growth.”
The bill would remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively legalizing the plant federally and allowing it to be grown, processed, and sold as an agricultural commodity. Individual states would be authorized to draft their own regulations governing hemp cultivation, without fear of federal interference. If the bill becomes law, hemp farmers would be allowed to apply for crop insurance or research grants from the federal Department of Agriculture.
“This bipartisan bill would finally end an outdated ban that has held farmers back from participating in the industrial hemp market, allow states to decide the best way to regulate this emerging industry, and give farmers access to critical federal support to protect their investment,” said Virginia Senators and co-sponsors of the bill Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, according to the Augusta Free Press.
The legalization of hemp could also prove to be a boon for medical marijuana patients throughout the country. Most CBD products currently available on the market are derived from hemp, not marijuana, but despite the non-psychoactive nature of the drug, the DEA recently ruled that all cannabis extracts are Schedule I drugs with no valid medical use. The Senate’s farm bill, if passed, would officially legalize all hemp-derived products, including CBD oils.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley threatened to derail this aspect of the legislation, promising to propose an amendment to the bill that would reverse the legalization of hemp derivatives like CBD. Fortunately, Grassley did not propose such a revision, and the Senate version of the bill contains the language legalizing all hemp products.
The House's version of the farm bill is a different story, however, where Republican leadership prevented legislators from voting to include hemp legalization in their version of the bill. The farm legislation from both the Senate and House will now move to a joint Congressional committee tasked with merging the two versions into one. Although the future of the bill's hemp provision is uncertain, the fact that Sen. McConnell is firmly in favor of the legislation greatly increases its chances of success.
"I have heard from many Kentucky farmers who agree it’s time to remove the federal hurdles and give our state the opportunity to seize its full potential and once again become the national leader for hemp production,” McConnell said in a statement reported by The Hill. “That is why I strongly advocated for this measure to be included in the Farm Bill."