There’s a fine line or, if you prefer, rope between hemp and marijuana, though the two plants, have long been lumped together. Ever since the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, it’s been illegal for U.S. farmers to grow the once thriving cash crop. That might be about to change.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is planning to introduce legislation that will fully legalize the production of hemp.
Both marijuana and hemp are cannabis plants. Yet the difference is, hemp contains very little or no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Farmers can find themselves in hot water without a federal license to grow hemp because of its classification on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) controlled substance list.
Kentucky, which used to be one of the largest tobacco growing states in the nation, has taken a hit with the decline in tobacco use. Bringing back the industrial crop might infuse the state with more jobs and money.
“This is a huge development for the hemp industry,” Eric Steenstra, president of a hemp advocacy group, told Bloomberg Politics. “Sen. McConnell is critical to helping us move hemp from research and pilot programs to full commercial production.”
The pilot programs Steenstra’s referring to started after the federal 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed state agricultural departments to issue limited hemp-growing licenses for research and development.
What is Hemp Used For?
Hemp is actually a versatile agricultural product. Once primarily used to make rope, there is now any number of products derived from the plant. Some of these include:
- Hemp milk and cooking oil made from the seeds
- Soaps and lotions also derived from the seeds
- Thread for clothing
- Mulch from the fiber of the plant
- Building materials
Infographic from HempInformer
Will the Government Legalize Hemp?
Whether or not the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who’s taken a much harsher stance on federal marijuana laws and threatened states that have legalized it for medicinal and recreational purposes, will give McConnell’s bill a stamp of approval is yet to be seen. DOJ has so far not commented on McConnell’s bill.
As recently as February this year, the undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Trump Administration, Greg Ibach, said he was unsure about “opening the door…nationwide” to hemp farming.
Ibach argued that there might not be a large market for hemp right now and that it would be unwise to flood it what market there is with the industrial product.
The DEA, for its part, has argued that CBD, a cannabinoid derived from hemp and marijuana, though it has little to no psychoactive properties, is an illegal drug along the lines of THC.
When marijuana was up for a possible reclassification in August 2016, the agency fought hard to keep the plant listed as one of the most dangerous narcotics available.
Still, McConnell, as Senate Majority Leader, wields considerable influence in the Republican controlled Congress and says his bill shares wide bipartisan support.
“I think we’ve worked our way through the education process of making sure everybody understands this is a different plant [than marijuana],” he said.