The U.S. Senate, without objection from any lawmaker of either party, adopted legislation on Tuesday recognizing “the growing economic potential of industrial hemp” as well as its “historical relevance.”
The resolution, which was passed to commemorate “Hemp History Week,” also decries the fact that “the United States is the largest consumer of hemp products in the world, but the United States is the only major industrialized country that restricts hemp farming.”
“Despite the legitimate uses of hemp, many agricultural producers of the United States are prohibited under current law from growing hemp,” the measure reads. “Because most hemp cannot be grown legally in the United States, raw hemp material and hemp products are imported for sale in the United States.”
While this is the third year in a row that the Senate has adopted a nonbinding resolution recognizing the value of hemp without actually legalizing it, indications this year point to the strong possibility that Congress will finally take action to change the crop’s status under federal law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for example, recently introduced a bill to legalize hemp, which already has nearly a third of senators signed on as cosponsors.
The GOP leader also said that he intends to attach his hemp language to the larger Farm Bill that is expected to move through Congress soon.
House Republicans blocked an effort to add hemp legalization to that chamber’s version of the broad food and agriculture legislation, but if the hemp provision is successfully inserted into the Senate bill, it stands a good chance of reaching President Trump’s desk.
Previously, McConnell succeeded in attaching language authorizing state industrial hemp research programs into the version of the Farm Bill that was enacted in 2014.
But while he is among the foremost champions for hemp in all of Congress, the Kentucky Republican is no fan of legalizing its cannabis cousin, marijuana. “These are two entirely separate plants,” he said in a press conference last month.
On Tuesday, it was the majority leader himself who moved that the Senate adopt the resolution designating June 4-10 as Hemp History Week. No senators objected, and it was approved within a matter of seconds.
“Industrial hemp is an agricultural commodity that has been used for centuries to produce many innovative industrial and consumer products, including soap, fabric, textiles, construction materials, clothing, paper, cosmetics, food, and beverages,” the resolution states. “Industrial hemp holds great potential to bolster the agricultural economy of the United States.”
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and cosponsored by McConnell, along with Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), notes that “the value of hemp imported into the United States for use in the production of other retail products is estimated at approximately $76,000,000 annually.”
It also cites projections that the annual market value of hemp retail sales in the U.S. is worth more than $688 million.
“We applaud Leader McConnell and Senator Wyden for acknowledging the fast growing hemp industry during Hemp History Week,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said in an email. “Their resolution highlights the need to pass the Hemp Farming Act and remove barriers facing farmers and businesses.”
Last month, a key Senate committee set aside half a million dollars to support the restoration of a federal hemp seed genebank, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sent an internal directive instructing agents not to go after legal hemp products.
The senators sponsoring the hemp resolution approved on Tuesday each issued statements about it:
“It’s long overdue that we reverse the misguided ban on growing hemp in the United States and recognize the realities of science and the economy in the 21st Century. Removing the commonsense-defying restrictions on the domestic growth of hemp will unlock hemp’s full potential to bolster American agriculture, create good-paying jobs and support our economy. I’m going to keep working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make it legal once again to grow hemp in this country, by passing our Hemp Farming Act into law.”
“Since Kentucky’s earliest days, industrial hemp has played a foundational role in our agricultural history and economy. With our Hemp Farming Act of 2018, I believe that hemp can also be an important part of our future. Removing hemp from the federal list of controlled substances will give our farm communities the opportunity to explore the potential of this versatile crop. I am proud to join with farmers, processors and manufacturers across Kentucky to celebrate Hemp History Week as we work together on the plant’s growing future.”
“Industrial hemp has had a long and productive history in the U.S., and it’s time to revive that history now for the 21st Century. Outdated policies should not stand in the way of our American farmers growing a crop that is already used to make products sold all across the U.S.”
“I am pleased to see the Senate acknowledge hemp’s historical importance by passing our resolution to declare this ‘Hemp History Week,’ and I urge the Senate to take the next step by passing our Hemp Farming Act. It’s time for our farmers to be free to fully compete in this industry on the world stage and to reverse an outdated prohibition that has held back Kentucky’s economy.”
Photo by Brendan Cleak.