In 20 years or so, long after the U.S. Farm Bill has become a thing of the past, Americans will hopefully be able to look back at the DEA’s illegal scheduling of hemp as one of the most foolish decisions ever to be made by the federal government.
For decades, American consumers have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on legal hemp-based products, including things like clothes, nutritional supplements, construction products, and cosmetics. Through this entire time, however, the production of hemp has been outlawed here in the US, meaning we’ve had to import the majority of it from other countries — namely China, India, and Canada.
| The 2018 Hemp Farming Act will allow for the legal production of low-THC cannabis to take place on American soil for the first time since the early 1900’s.
This has naturally resulted in the loss of countless millions of dollars in revenue for the U.S. economy, not to mention the loss of thousands of potential jobs for U.S. citizens across the agricultural, labor, transport, and manufacturing sectors.
With the passing of the U.S. Farm Bill – and more specifically the Hemp Farming Act – during the latter stages of 2018, however, the future finally appears to be on the up-and-up in terms of hemp cultivation and legalization here in the United States.
In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 – what some of its most important statutes are, and what it potentially means for American farmers, consumers, and for the U.S. economy as a whole.
What is the Hemp Farming Act of 2018?
The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 is actually a standalone bill that is part of the broader U.S. Farm Bill, which covers a wide range of agricultural and food legislation policies (including stipulations on the federal SNAP/food stamp recipient program).
Along with Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) was responsible for drafting the language of the new Act, which was introduced to Congress back on April 12, 2018. The legislation – now signed into law by President Trump – essentially allows for hemp cultivation to be 100% legal (under certain guidelines) for farmers across the United States.
In the past, the production, cultivation, and commercialization of hemp in the U.S. was only legal for select organizations that had received temporary approval through Pilot Research opportunities (as stated in the 2014 version of the U.S. Farm Bill).
While better than nothing, this prior legislation under the Farm Bill still made it difficult for would-be hemp farmers to cash in commercially on the crop. For example, insurance and financial backing for hemp crops was largely unavailable in the U.S, which of course diminished the commercial appeal for most American farmers.
Approval of the 2018 Hemp Farming Act will likely change all of this, and allow for hemp crops to be treated just as any other agricultural crop (including corn, wheat, soybeans, etc). As Senator Wyden has logically pointed out:
“It is time for Congress to pass this commonsense, bipartisan legislation to end the outrageous anti-hemp, anti-farmer and anti-jobs stigma that’s been codified into law and is holding back growth in American agriculture jobs, and our economy at large. [U.S.] farmers should be allowed to grow the hemp that goes into the products you can buy at your local supermarket.”
What Will the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 Do?
As we’ve mentioned, full-fledged approval of the 2018 Hemp Farming Act (President Trump signed the act into law back in December 2018) will allow for the legal cultivation of hemp crops for farmers all across the U.S. – without them having to apply for a federal Pilot Research permit (as they used to have to do).
More importantly however, approval of the act has removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, thereby opening the door for the unhindered research and commercialization of non-psychoactive cannabis.
In a Twitter post from April 12, 2018, Senator McConnell was quoted as saying: “It’s time the federal government changes the way it looks at hemp … [this is why we are] introducing legislation that will modernize federal law in this area, and empower American farmers to explore this promising new market.”
| “It’s time the federal government changes the way it looks at hemp … [we need to] empower American farmers to explore this promising new market.”
-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Having been passed by the Senate on December 11, 2018, the complete Farm Bill (which contains McConnell’s standalone Hemp Farming Act) was quickly signed into law by President Trump on Thursday, December 20, 2018. Now that it has become federal law farmers all across the U.S. will be able to cultivate and sell hemp under guidelines that are approved by the USDA (in other words, hemp will still be a regulated crop).
It is likely thanks to Senator McConnell’s persistence over the course of his campaign that the Bill survived and was not vetoed or killed off by President Trump:
“As I’ve traveled across Kentucky I’ve spoken with farmers, manufacturers, and small business owners. Time and again, they shared with me their enthusiasm for hemp’s potential to re-energize agricultural communities, and to provide a new spark to the US economy. This bill will help make that potential a reality.”
Full-fledged hemp legalization will indeed likely be a massive boost not only for Kentucky’s economy, but for the U.S. economy as a whole. The current American hemp industry is estimated to be worth around $600 million in annual revenue (through the purchase of hemp-infused products such as food, clothes, and cosmetics), but as we mentioned earlier, the vast majority of hemp used to make these products has traditionally been imported from other countries.
Now that it’s legalized across the U.S., hemp cultivation will hopefully provide hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue for the economy – not to mention provide thousands of Americans with new jobs. This would be particularly important in states like Kentucky, where poverty and unemployment have run rampant in recent decades.
In fact, just through the Pilot Research farms alone (which only cover about 12,000 cumulative acres across the state), the Kentucky hemp industry has already brought in $16 million for the state, in addition to creating nearly 100 new jobs.
Why Had Hemp Been Illegal For So Long?
The historically illegal status of hemp had to do with the fact that it comes from the same genus and species (Cannabis sativa) as marijuana plants. The crucial difference, however, is that hemp is defined as having less than 0.3% THC by dry weight – meaning it produces no psychoactive high whatsoever.
For decades, the U.S. government had been unable (or unwilling) to make this crucial distinction, and thus had classified any variety of the Cannabis sativa plant as a Schedule I narcotic – right up there with the likes of heroin, LSD, cocaine, and ecstasy.
Fortunately, it seems the Fed has finally come to terms with the fact that hemp is indeed a “genetically distinct” form of Cannabis, and one that has both agricultural and medicinal value (though industrial hemp has negligible amounts of THC, some varieties have been bred to contain high amounts of CBD – the natural compound that has been shown to have dozens of medicinal properties).
| With the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill signed into law, Americans will hopefully be reaping the benefits of hemp on a nationwide scale for the first time in nearly 100 years.
In fact, the U.S. Congressional Research Service has pointed out that hemp cultivation (which has taken place in Kentucky since 1775), can result in the production of over 25,000 commercially viable products. Furthermore, Hemp Industry Association president Colleen Keahey has recently suggested in a Consumer Reports interview that, once fully legalized, we can expect domestic hemp cultivation to “double or triple” over the course of a single year.
Other Considerations on CBD, Hemp Laws, and the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill
Perhaps unsurprisingly, several legal gray areas still exist within the CBD and hemp industries – even with the updated version of the U.S. Farm Bill having been passed into law.
For example, due to the recent FDA-approval of Epidiolex, which is a prescription CBD medication used to treat rare forms of epilepsy, CBD oil manufacturers are still technically not allowed to advertise or market their products as “supplements,” given the fact that the active ingredient has already been used during clinical trials as an “investigative new drug.”
Furthermore, it is our understanding that legal hemp-based CBD oils are not allowed to be marketed as over-the-counter medicines, regardless of the fact that hundreds of scientific studies have pointed to potential therapeutic uses of the compound.
Naturally, this brings up the question of how new CBD oil companies might legally be able to market and sell their products, if they are indeed “technically” neither medicines nor supplements.
It’s also worth pointing out that individual states will still have the power to regulate hemp cultivation as they please – as long as they devise and submit an agricultural plan that is approved by the USDA. If they do not submit their own “state-specific” plan, hemp cultivation in the state will fall under de facto federal regulations, which are yet to be implemented by the USDA.
As Representative McConnell points out, “[the 2018] Hemp Farming Act will not only legalize domestic hemp, but will also allow state departments of agriculture to be responsible for its oversight.”
This notion calls into question recent actions made by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, who have claimed that no form of CBD oil – whether made from marijuana or hemp – may be sold within state lines unless in a licensed Ohio Medical Marijuana Dispensary.
In other words, it sounds like even with the passing of the new 2018 Farm Bill – which makes CBD legal at the federal level – CBD oil may not be available to residents of some states, unless they are in possession of a valid Medical Marijuana License.
It sounds crazy for a non-psychoactive substance to be fully legal at the federal level yet illegal at the state level, but this remains a possibility even with the passing of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018.
Final Thoughts on the Hemp Farming Act of 2018
All in all, legal hemp cultivation in the U.S. through the 2018 Hemp Farming Act will likely prove to be one of the greatest achievements of cannabis legalization in the history of our country. The commercial, economic, and medicinal benefits of hemp are undeniable, and there is no logical reason why farmers across the nation should not be able to take full advantage of its multi-faceted value.
Now that the updated U.S. Farm Bill has passed through the House and Senate with almost unanimous approval – and has been signed into law by President Trump – we can hopefully start to experience the wide-ranging benefits of the crop.
All in all, the day that the 2018 Hemp Farming Act became a law should be a monumental one not only for cannabis supporters, but for Americans of all social and economic varieties. As Senator Jeff Merkley says, “If we’re selling hemp products in the United States, we should be growing hemp in the United States. It’s good for jobs, good for our communities, and it’s just common sense.”