U.S. Senate leader pushes to legalize hemp

If a powerful politician gets his way, hemp may soon become a normal agricultural crop in the United States.

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, said yesterday that he wants hemp to become an “agricultural commodity.”

Those are not just words.

McConnell is working on legislation to make it happen.

“I will be introducing, when I go back to the Senate a week from Monday, a bipartisan bill in the Senate to continue to support this important Kentucky industry; it will be the Hemp Farm Act of 2018,” McConnell said, in a CNN report.

“First and foremost this bill will finally legalize hemp … and remove it from list of controlled substances.”

American farmers in a number of states, including North Dakota, Colorado and McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, have been growing hemp since 2014.

But they can grow hemp only for research purposes to study its potential as a crop. The federal government still views hemp as a controlled substance and its production is tightly regulated.

Neil Reiten, who farms near Petersburg, N.D., and grew hemp for the first time in 2017, learned how serious the U.S. federal government is about hemp. FBI agents fingerprinted his employees and the federal officers gave Reiten a direct warning.

“They straight out told us, ‘we will be watching you very closely,’ ” said Reiten, who founded a company called Legacy Hemp. He is selling hemp varieties to growers and building a plant to process hemp grain in Wisconsin.

McConnell’s bill would remove the need for fingerprinting, criminal background checks and other federal oversight. Instead, state governments would oversee hemp production.

Reports suggest the changes to hemp rules could be part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

If McConnell is successful it could change the hemp marketplace in North America. Right now Canada is the major producer of hempseed and hemp-based foods in North America. Last year Canadian farmers, mostly on the Prairies, seeded about 130,000 acres of hempseed.

More acres south of the border would mean more competition in the hemp market but also more opportunity.

Public surveys show that only 0.5 percent of Americans consume hemp foods, such as hemp oil, hemp protein and snacks made from hempseed.

Turning hemp into an agricultural commodity, like corn or soy, should increase public awareness and consumption of hemp foods.

“If we take that to two percent, all of us could be producing (more),” said Ken Anderson, Reiten’s business partner in Legacy Hemp.

“The fact that more and more Americans are being turned on to the benefits of eating hemp … I think that both countries’ acreage could increase.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

About the author

explore

Stories from our other publications