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Under Farm Bill Hemp Becomes Legal


U.S. lawmakers unveiled the much-anticipated Farm Bill compromise on Monday, December 3, 2018, ending the months-long impasse over whether a critical piece of legislation that provides subsidies to farmers and helps needy Americans buy groceries (SNAP) could pass.

The agreement was reached after a proposal to add stricter work requirements for those who receive food stamps was taken off the table. The huge piece of legislation will cost $867 billion over 10 years.

While much of the farm bill compromise mirrors current law, there is a major change coming for farmers: industrial hemp will be legalized. It’s a boon for the increasingly popular CBD oil industry, which is being used for medicinal purposes.

The proposed legislation would make hemp legal to grow in the United States for the first time in nearly a century. Hemp may be derived from the same plant as marijuana, but it doesn’t make anyone high and is commonly used in food, fuel, and bracelets. The new legislation officially acknowledges the difference between the two.

Technically speaking, hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Though its derivatives have been used for everything from textiles to medicine, hemp is currently everywhere in the form of a trendy ingredient called cannabidiol (CBD). Manufacturers promise that CBD will alleviate pain and depression and other health issues (despite a lack of solid evidence for many claims), yet CBD has lived in a legal gray area for years because of the tricky legal history of hemp.

Not only have cannabis derivatives like hemp been effectively banned in the US since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, other legislation has categorized marijuana products as dangerous Schedule I substances like LSD and ecstasy. Then in 2014, U.S. Congress passed legislation that approved small pilot programs for growing hemp, though to do so, farmers still needed approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration. (This 2014 provision was part of the Farm Bill, a massive piece of legislation that sets policy around food and agriculture. The Farm Bill needs to be renewed every few years, so the new decision to legalize hemp is part of the proposed 2018 Farm Bill.)

The 2018 bill actually goes in and amends the Controlled Substances Act to make very clear that CBD derived from hemp would not be considered a controlled substance.

There are likely to be more CBD products now, but that still doesn’t mean that everyone can just grow hemp in their backyard. Farmers will no longer need DEA approval, but there will still be significant federal and state restrictions on hemp products and growers will need to be licensed and fulfill other requirements developed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Proponents of legalizing hemp argue that it provides an opportunity for new jobs and economic growth, especially because hemp is a versatile plant that can grow in various climates. For example, Kentucky, the state of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sponsored the hemp provision, is one of the best places to grow the plant.

Many think this could help replace coal miner jobs in eastern Kentucky and could jump start local economies that have really suffered as economic transition.

At the same time, critics and hemp activists point out that the language of the bill prevents people with drug-related convictions from ever taking part in the hemp business, which is a loss for racial justice given that these drug convictions disproportionately have targeted poor people and people of color. Plus, this prevents growers with marijuana experience from entering the labor market. Growers will also continue to face environmental issues such as water use and energy consumption as hemp cultivation expands from smaller pilot projects to larger-scale agricultural enterprises.

While the 2018 Farm Bill could reach the House floor as early as Wednesday or Thursday, it might not get voted on in the Senate until next week. The farm bill is usually renewed every five years and the last one expired Sept. 30.


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