In a boon for farmers, the California government has finally legalized the lucrative hemp industry. Federal law unfortunately still places hemp in the same category as heroin and LSD, but there is hope that the tide is turning, and that hemp will be legalized nation-wide.
Although closely associated with marijuana, hemp has less than 0.3% THC and would have no effect if smoked. Hemp can be used to manufacture paper, textiles, rope, and sails. In fact, hemp has a long history in the United States. The first U.S. flag was made from it, and founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cultivated it. California now follows the footsteps of nine states that recognize its industrial usefulness by reclassifying it as "fiber or oilseed crop."Ignore word
Initial proposals to legalize hemp in California began in 1999, but efforts were vetoed by three different governors. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the last attempt in 2011 because of potential contradictions it would cause with regard to upholding federal law. This time around he relented.
Federal legalization of hemp was also added as an amendment to the farm bill earlier this year. It received bipartisan support from Democrats like Sen. Ron Wyden (D- Ore.) and Republicans like Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). However, because the farm bill ultimately failed, legalization of hemp faltered as well, causing hemp to remain classified as a prohibited substance. The Congressional Research Service, however, estimates the U.S. retail hemp market to be over $300 million.
Despite hemp's long history in America, its association with marijuana led to licensing requirements and taxes in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and eventually its prohibition in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Law enforcement officials are largely responsible for its continued ban. They fear that farmers may secretly grow marijuana plants among their hemp plants. Medical marijuana farmers are quick to note that this would be silly because cross-pollination between the two would result in marijuana with less THC. Moreover, this point is moot if marijuana is legalized states beyond Washington and Colorado.
If bipartisan support can overcome law enforcement skepticism, hemp may become a booming industry in America. It could prevent businesses from importing it from other countries like Canada. Although the two parties do not agree on issues like the debt or healthcare, if they if they are able to agree on the place of hemp within U.S. agriculture, we may see the rise of another booming industry in America.