Recent Push for Federal Legalization of Hemp Production

Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, recently announced a plan to introduce federal legislation to legalize the production of hemp within the United States. Along with this, McConnell also hopes to remove industrial hemp as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. Ironically, McConnell does not support legalization of cannabis. The difference between hemp and cannabis is that cannabis has tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) in it, which is the psychoactive part of the cannabis plant. Conversely, hemp is not ingested and contains virtually no THC, it is used to make clothing, paper, and other products.

The production of hemp was banned in the 1930’s, when timber, nylon, and plastic producers saw hemp as a potential competitor and worked with the federal government to make all cannabis byproducts illegal in the country. While hemp products are legal to sell in the U.S., its cultivation is currently banned outside of the limited exemption for state research programs. This means that manufacturers are required to import the raw materials from other countries that do not prohibit hemp farming.

This narrow exemption was included in the 2014 Farm Bill and was backed by McConnell. However, the research is permitted only in states that have approved hemp research and oftentimes only under university research programs. Additionally, confusion over what counts as research has caused problems as the Drug Enforcement Administration has in some cases sought to enforce federal laws that do not distinguish between hemp and cannabis. McConnell and others on board hope that legalizing the production of hemp will make it easier for researchers to explore the many uses of the plant. The light at the end of the tunnel is to eventually use hemp for numerous industrial uses as a more cost efficient substitute.

China is now reported to be the largest producer of hemp. Perhaps McConnell has seen the positive impact the use of hemp in China has had and is attempting to push for the same in the U.S.

McConnell has introduced the bill to the Senate in the Hemp Farm Act of 2018. Many believe the next step after the legalization of hemp will be to legalize cannabidiol (“CBD”), which contains many of the medical benefits of cannabis with minimal amounts of THC. It will be interesting to follow this proposed legislation in the coming months.