Legal Victory For Industrial Hemp

by Vins
Published: Updated:

After nearly sixty years of prohibition, in February 2014 federal legislation introduced by Kentucky lawmakers has successfully redefined industrial hemp as an agricultural crop. In February 2014, when Congress approved the $956 billion farm bill, after four years of partisan haggling, the bill included an amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ken.), that legally defines hemp as an agricultural crop rather than a drug. Coco McPherson of Rolling Stone reports the history of this effort and some of the odd facts involved, including the glaring gap between U.S. hemp production and the rest of the world, and the variety of political activists and lawmakers who came together to make this a reality.

Industrial hemp has a long history in the U.S. dating back to before the time of the revolution. Hemp was produced for industrial purposes in the U.S. until just after World War II. In 1970, hemp was classified as a schedule 1 narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, although hemp does not have the psychoactive properties that its close cousin marijuana does. This classification essentially ended all legal options for domestic agricultural production, leading U.S. manufacturers of products that use hemp to import more than $500 million in hemp products and materials. The prohibition of hemp has lead to the U.S. being the only industrialized nation without a commercialized hemp industry.

A broad spectrum of interested parties came together to redefine the classification and to rectify this gap in use and production of hemp in the U.S. The movement for commercial hemp reform has been supported by such individuals as senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.); senator Rand Paul (R-Ken.); Tea Party activists against government overreach; David Bronner, a California business owner of Bronner’s Magic Soap, an iconic hippie brand; and Oregon liberal senator Ron Wyden who in 2012 called federal hemp prohibition “the poster child for dumb regulation.”

Corporate media has failed to adequately report on the change of hemp from a schedule 1 narcotic to a commercial crop recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Media attention instead has focused on DEA seizures of hemp seeds coming into the U.S. as part of the effort to start commercial production, and other law enforcement attempts to continue to lump hemp in the same category as marijuana. No media attention has been given to the economic impacts associated with the potential for bringing an environmentally friendly cash crop into U.S. agricultural production.

Source: Coco McPherson, “The Other Cannabis War: The Battle Over Hemp,” Rolling Stone, June 3, 2014, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-other-cannabis-war-20140603.

Student Researcher: Beau Bergstrom (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)