Hemp Could Soon Be Legal

By Keri Blakinger 07/02/18

A bill to legalize hemp has passed the Senate and is moving to the House.

hands holding hemp seeds in the shape of a heart

The U.S. Senate last week green-lit a bill that would legalize growing hemp. 

Included as part of a massive farm bill, the proposed legislation sailed through the upper chamber 86-11, paving the way to allow industrial growth of the non-psychoactive plant. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) touted the legislation as a farmer-friendly measure. 

"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. “That is why I strongly advocated for this measure to be included in the Farm Bill.”

This isn’t the first time McConnell floated hemp legislation; in April he introduced the Hemp Farming Act, which could have legalized the plant, according to Forbes.

Then in June, he inserted the measure’s key provisions into the 2018 Farm Bill. The move would later spark some squabbling in the committee on whether to remove cannabis derivatives like cannabidiol (CBD), but ultimately pot opponents opted not to demand the change, according to Forbes.

The consistently anti-cannabis Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled that he will not fight the hemp provisions, McConnell told the Associated Press.

Currently, hemp—a crop derived from the cannabis sativa species—is a Schedule I controlled substance. The new provisions would remove it from that list and allow farmers to get federal crop insurance when they grow it.

But despite its recent win, the bill still has other hurdles to clear before it passes. The House has a separate farm bill, one that tightens controversial work requirements for food stamps. That is expected to generate some contentious debate as the two chambers reconcile their competing pieces of legislation.

As of now, farmers in McConnell’s home state are already enjoying the benefits of hemp cultivation, thanks to a pilot program launched in 2014. That year, the state saw 32 acres of hemp planted; this year, officials have approved more than 14,000. 

“It’s tremendous for us,” eighth-generation tobacco farmer Brian Furnish told the Associated Press. “We can start going after crop insurance and research dollars.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.