An industrial hemp field in France. The U.S. took a long overdue step by ending the illegal status of industrial hemp as part of the Farm Bill. PHOTO: Aleks, CC License
Congress did something that looked impossible a few months ago: pass a major bill in a bipartisan fashion. The Farm Bill sailed through the House 251-166 and the Senate 68-32. Buried in the massive, five-year, trillion-dollar bill is a provision that reverses a senseless law that has been on the books since the 1950s:
Hemp is no longer illegal in the United States.
Two points of clarification here: one, industrial hemp is not the same as marijuana. You cannot get high on industrial hemp. You can make fuel, rope, baskets and clothing out of it, and its oil and seeds can be eaten, but smoking it won’t do much. The reason that hemp has been illegal up until now is because of its familial connection to marijuana, but they are not the same thing.
Second: the farm bill makes it so that states can determine for themselves whether or not hemp is legal. Hemp is currently legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia.
Whatever you think of marijuana legalization, there is no reason whatsoever for hemp to be illegal. Illegal hemp is one of the most pointless policies of the last century. The U.S. has had worse laws, but it’s hard to think of one with less of a justifiable reason. In fact, it is thought by some that the push to make marijuana illegal in the 1930s was largely out of a desire by paper, cotton and oil producers to kill the hemp industry (it’s a very versatile plant).
Though hemp is still illegal in most states, expect more and more states to pass pro-hemp legislation now that the federal government has lifted the ban. It’s not often Congress manages to reverse an old and pointless policy, but they did today, and that deserves our applause.