The U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. could for the first time in history include cannabis as part of its national plant collection if three Democrats in Congress get their way.
In a letter sent last week to the institution, Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) requested that the garden include hemp in its display, noting that the low-THC version of cannabis is now federally legal and has myriad uses in food, medicine and industry.
Noting that hemp is also used to produce CBD, they suggested that “the plants might ideally be located in the ‘medicinal plants’ part of the Botanic Garden.”
“Given that hemp is legal and enjoys national, bipartisan support, now is an appropriate time for the Botanic Garden to display hemp plants,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was sent on the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20. “We understand that the display of the hemp plants would be the first time the Botanic Garden would display cannabis in its collection.”
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The group stressed in their letter that while marijuana remains federally illegal, cannabis plants with less than 0.3 percent THC are classified as hemp, which Congress legalized through the 2018 farm bill. And despite decades of prohibition, they pointed out, hemp has played an important role in U.S. history.
“Hemp has a long history of cultivation in the U.S. Hemp was grown by most of the Founders, and in 2018, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate harvested its first hemp crop since 1799,” they wrote. “All ships in every war prior to World War II had ropes and sails made from hemp grown in the U.S. Until the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which was found to be unconstitutional in 1969, hemp was a major agricultural commodity in the U.S.”
Since hemp was legalized federally, the market has “grown exponentially,” the lawmakers said, estimating the hemp market would be worth $26.6 billion by 2025.
While the recent request is specific to displaying low-THC hemp plants, lawmakers also hinted that further reform could make high-THC marijuana next on the list.
“While this request is specific to displaying hemp plants,” they wrote, “we note that more states and the federal government are beginning to legalize various forms of cannabis classified as marijuana.”
The lawmakers asked for a response from the executive director of the Botanic Garden by May 4.
At the federal level, Senate Democrats have indicated they plan to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has been talking up the forthcoming legislation in recent months, recently said the proposal’s language would be unveiled “in a few weeks.”
Given the difficulty of securing 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster for standalone legislation, advocates are urging leadership to pursue the policy change through a process known as budget reconciliation that would require a simple majority of 51 votes for a broader, must-pass package.
The majority leader told Marijuana Moment in an interview last week that one thing they want to avoid is to enact a policy change that’s temporary, such as attaching amendments to appropriations legislation. Schumer said their “first goal is not to settle for just partial measures.”
On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduce his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.
Another factor that’s frustrating advocates is a more long-term concern: President Joe Biden opposes federal legalization, and his press secretary on Tuesday wouldn’t say whether he would sign or veto a reform bill if it’s sent to his desk. She did note, however, that his position is at odds with the proposals that congressional leaders are working on.
Read the lawmakers’ full letter on hemp in the Botanic Garden below:
Photo courtesy of M a n u e l