U.S. Congress votes on hemp research

Republican congressman lobbies for farm bill to permit growing industrial hemp for research purposes

One version of the U.S. farm bill being considered in Washington would allow American university researchers to grow industrial hemp, says an industry lobbyist.

Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed a version of the farm bill with an amendment to legalize hemp production for research purposes. The vote was 216 to 208.

“This amendment is a small but fundamental change in the laws that hopefully will one day allow Kentucky farmers to grow industrial hemp again,” Republican congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky said in a release.

“It’s our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop.”

Massie’s statement was posted on VoteHemp.com, which lobbies for laws that would permit American farmers to grow industrial hemp. The amendment was the first hemp legislation to pass in Congress in more than 50 years.

Tom Murphy, Vote Hemp’s national outreach co-ordinator, said the House vote was significant because politicians of all stripes supported the hemp amendment.

“The people voting for it were all over the political map. You had very, very conservative people, very liberal people,” Murphy said from his home in Maine.

Murphy said politicians are more receptive to the idea of growing hemp, partly because Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012.

“(That) changed a lot of things in terms of cannabis policy in general.”

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Republican politicians from states such as Kentucky are backing changes to industrial hemp laws as well as politicians from liberal states such as California.

Kentucky passed a law in the spring that would permit industrial hemp production in the state, provided the federal government allows it.

James Comer, Kentucky’s agricultural commissioner, lobbied vigorously for the law. He hopes Kentucky farmers will be growing hemp in the near future.

Murphy said a number of U.S. politicians are promoting hemp as a potential industry in their states.

“Most members of legislatures, on the state and federal level, want to support small family farms. So the politics around that is good.”

According the Vote Hemp website, 31 states have introduced pro-hemp legislation and 19 have passed pro-hemp laws.

Nine states have removed legal barriers to hemp production.

Murphy said consumer awareness and demand for hemp products might also have encouraged U.S. politicians to rethink their positions on hemp.

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“If you look at grocery stores in the Midwest, where buying patterns are more conservative, you’re seeing a lot more hemp foods. Shelled hemp seed, hemp waffles, hemp milk in just regular stores,” he said.

“Consumers are becoming more educated. They like that it’s high in protein and has a good balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.”

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on hemp, released this summer, estimated the total retail value of hemp products sold in the United States last year at $500 million, including hemp foods, body products, clothing, auto parts and building materials.

Even though the National Farmers Union and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture support production of industrial hemp, the CRS report concluded that hemp faces a “number of obstacles.”

“The main obstacles … are the U.S. government drug policies and DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) concerns about the ramifications of commercial hemp production… that (it) could increase the likelihood of covert production of high-THC marijuana.”

Politicians will continue to discuss and vote on the farm bill when they return to Washington in September following the summer recess.

Murphy said it’s encouraging that politicians from across the spectrum support industrial hemp. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to forecast the political winds in Washington.

“If I knew exactly what was going to happen to the farm bill, I would be making millions of dollars,” he said.

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“Nobody is quite sure what’s going to happen.”

  • The Congress and the White House would do well to remember that Presidential Executive Order 12919 (June 7, 1994) , Part IX, Section 901(e), which deals with national defense preparedness, defines “hemp” as a “food resource”.