We support efforts underway in Congress to make industrial hemp a legal crop for U.S. farmers.
Hemp is a cousin of marijuana that lacks the chemical properties that produce pot’s high. Nonetheless, it is classified with marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law.
Hemp has been grown for fiber for centuries. Colonial Virginia required its cultivation in 1691 and it became an American staple until the 20th century. By the 1930s it had been lumped together with marijuana and made illegal by most states — some say at the bidding of cotton interests.
During World War II the federal government encouraged farmers to grow hemp to replace jute and other fibers from Japanese-held areas in the Pacific necessary for the manufacture of rope. The plant proved so prolific that farmers in the Midwest still struggle to stamp it out of ditches and fence rows more than 70 years later.
In the meantime, products — clothing, foodstuffs, cosmetics and essential oils — made from hemp outside the United States have become a staple in almost every store in the country. So while the federal government bans hemp production in the United States, it approves for importation products made from the same vile weed.
That’s the government for you.
As several states have legalized and regulated marijuana production and trafficking, there has been an effort to liberalize policies on hemp production. The mishmash of state legalization schemes and the lack of much processing capacity has left would-be growers in a lurch. For years we have advised farmers against growing hemp because of the considerable potential downsides should federal narcotics agents decide to swoop down on the farm.
But the law could soon change.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has inserted language into his chamber’s version of the farm bill to make hemp legal again.
“We’ve won the argument that this is not about marijuana,” McConnell said about hemp. “Now we just need to pass the law. And I’m in a uniquely well-situated position to make that happen.”
That he is.
Hemp is not marijuana. Concerns that hemp fields will be used to conceal illicit marijuana grows, one of the main reasons many have opposed its legalization, are probably overblown.
Hemp is clearly a crop that has commercial applications. Before growers can capitalize on that potential, processing infrastructure needs to be built and both raw materials and finished product must be able to move freely across state lines. Eastern Oregon farmers and soils could choose to diversify their crop rotation and their business. They should have that right.
First, though, it must be legal.
It’s not clear that hemp is the highest use of prime ground and precious water. And it remains to be seen if it can be lucrative for growers once restrictions are lifted.
But farmers should have hemp in their portfolio and the chance to make something of it. Hemp should be made legal.