After months of debate, Congress has finally come to an agreement on fitting hemp legalization into their 2018 Farm Bill. The bill would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp – cannabis plants with less than 0.3 percent THC – making the 2014 Farm Bill pilot program for hemp a permanent part of the agricultural bill.
“For the first time in nearly a hundred years, commercial hemp production will no longer be federally prohibited in the United States,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “This represents a significant and long overdue shift in US policy.
Unfortunately, hemp has been illegal in the United States as long as marijuana has, simply for being a part of the cannabis plant family. Hemp plants, with uses such as textiles, fuel, food and much more, have been an important part of American history – and yet criminalization of the plant goes back as far as the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.
It has been illegal to cultivate in the U.S. since the 1970s when cannabis plants were wrongly classified with the implementation of the Controlled Substances Act, but the 2018 Farm Bill has amended the CSA to exclude hemp and hemp-derived CBD from the list. This could lead to far more CBD products being produced from hemp to reach consumers, as well as creating thousands of new jobs and economic growth.
“This farm bill is going to be a total game-changer,” says Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana Inc. While hemp has important differences from marijuana, “I think this is going to be a tremendous step forward” in winning federal approval of marijuana use, he says.
However, while this bill is a huge step forward, it is not without its downsides – one of the biggest being that it bans anyone convicted of felony possession of a controlled substance from growing newly legal hemp. Considering prohibition is costing many people a quality of life over jobs, housing and other situations where a criminal history can hurt you, the last thing this bill should do is prevent those affected by cannabis prohibition from benefiting from hemp’s legalization.
With lawmakers now feeling bold enough to change their minds on hemp – especially after spending decades in denial about their decision to criminalize it – what are the odds that the same happens with marijuana? As Canada rolls out commercial legalization and over half the country has legalized either medical or recreational cannabis, is the U.S. any more likely to do the same? There is certainly hope that legalizing hemp is only the first step into a more sensible cannabis policy at the federal level.