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States Chase Hemp In Wake Of Farm Bill

Tucked away inside February’s trillion-dollar Farm Bill was industrial hemp, a crop that’s been banned by the Feds for over 40 years. After a handful of months since its passage, new state laws are encouraging farmers to look into what's likely to be America's other cannabis industry.
Mature field of industrial hemp with a large seeded flower top in forefront

October 07, 2014

Originally introduced by Jared Polis (D-CO), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the new provision did not legalize commercial hemp farming, it only chipped away at the first layer of federal impingement of the industry, allowing states to pursue their own regulations and research programs.

For science and cannabis advocates alike, this is a long-awaited victory, not to mention a chance at truth for the mysterious plant. Bearing witness to the nation’s rapidly loosening attitudes on pot and the rising tide of demand for cannabis products, the group of witting lawmakers took the opportunity to draw out an important economic discussion on the hemp industry. They were quick to point out to Congress that hemp did $580 million in retail sales last year, that's large in the global hemp market according to the Hemp Industries Association.


Kyle Cline, policy advisor with the Indiana Farm Bureau, sees no reason American agriculture should be cut out of the deal. “Industrial hemp will allow the U.S. farmer to share in income that is currently going overseas," he said in a press release. "Right now, it is legal to import hemp but illegal to produce it. Therefore, there is no opportunity currently to share in the profit.”

States like Colorado and Kentucky are pursuing their own growing programs to get a jump on the rest of the country, but in the last few months we’ve seen states like Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Utah ink their own laws to clear the way for universities and agricultural agencies to begin their work. "I think it shows the growing movement by agriculture leaders to embrace industrial hemp as a crop of the future," announced James Comer, Kentucky’s Agricultural Commissioner.

"The fact that Tom Vilsack openly endorsed industrial hemp, and a week later, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the most conservation organization there is, endorses it, shows this is viable," he touts.

The low-input costs and its many end uses have drawn attention to the crop, not to mention its potential to reimagine green industry in the West. On the Kentucky Hemp Growers blog, hemp farmer Fred Curtis-Lewis takes a less pragmatic stance, “With the overproduction of cotton that requires massive pesticide use, paper from wood pulp that destroys forests and petrochemicals that continue to cause war and conflict, one would think that hemp would be a natural and logical replacement.”


America All Green

You might have noticed a sudden interest in low-THC cannabis coming from one of its least likely supporters in the news lately in the form of desperate mothers with sick children. For many cases heard, it usually involves epileptic child who's experiencing substantial relief from seizures using the CBD extracts from cannabis plants, which does not get you baked but remains a controlled substance under federal law – look closely and you’ll find some interesting linguistic politics with words like hemp, cannabis, marijuana and their corresponding traits.

States like Missouri and Alabama are passing cannabis bills that only permit access to the CBD chemical for medicinal uses, trashing the rest of the plant. "The reality is that hemp has been caught up in marijuana policy for 70-some years," stated Eric Steenstra from Vote Hemp. "There is no way to deal with hemp policy without looking at overall marijuana policy. These are two separate tracks, but at the same time, having a lot of people looking at marijuana policy has been a good thing for hemp."
Gaining legal access to the plant used to require three separate levels of approval, and getting a federal research grant is all but impossible. Attempting a legal permit also meant risking access to grant money and reputation-wary academics willing to associate with you. On top of all that, the thickheaded logic of the DEA remains a constant thorn. But still, the disarmament of cannabis pushes forward: seeing harmless lab techs and farmers tending plants just after a mother administers a tincture of CBD oil to her child on the nightly news does a lot to suck the poison from the idea of cannabis, but maybe that’s exactly what it needs.


In a game of free association, the farmer doesn’t often conjure images of activism and heroism of characters like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. But hemp has recently caught the attention of farmers, some willing to risk their land, subsidy payouts, and lines of credit with the banks to do so.

As Colorado activist-farmer Ryan Loflin told the NYTimes, “It’s well worth the risk. It’s hemp. Come on, it just needs to be done.” Just to our collective north, some farmers are bringing over $250 per crop acre in Canada, which grew over 65,000 acres last year according to Health Canada. Unless you’re among the cannabis trailblazers of Colorado, it’s doubtful you’ll pass by a hemp field anytime this year, although Kentucky has some pilot programs going, ranging from soil detoxification to medicinal uses to applications of the hemp fiber.

"We think this is pretty significant," Steenstra said about the Farm Bill. "It's an excellent first step to revitalize what was once a proud and significant industry in this country. A big part of our farming economy has been lost, and we have to work to recover it.”

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+ There are currently two hemp bills pending in Congress: HR525 and SB359. Email, write, call: visit Vote Hemp.

+ Photos ©

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