Currently Colorado, Washington, California, West Virginia, Vermont, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oregon, Montana and Maine all have hemp farming laws in place, but farmers for years have been barred by federal law from cultivating the non-psychoactive cousin cannabis.
But a Republican-backed, 959-page farm bill that is quickly working its way to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives would allow for hemp cultivation in ten states under federal pilot programs.
“This is big,” Eric Steenstra, president of Washington-based Vote Hemp told the Associated Press. “We’ve been pushing for this a long time.”
Hemp supporters call the agreement to put the hemp language in the farm bill is a major milestone. Republicans who have long fought against hemp production because they think it will be a gateway to outright marijuana legalization apparently see it as a cash cow for traditionally-agricultural states struggling economically.
“From Oregon to Colorado to Kentucky, voters across the country have made it clear that they believe industrial hemp should be regulated as an agricultural commodity, not a drug,” said Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who has been pushing for federal hemp and marijuana law reform for several years now.
Just three years ago, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of hemp products from China and Canada. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, says he hopes farmers in his state can tap into that market.
“We are laying the groundwork for a new commodity market for Kentucky farmers,” McConnell said in a press release.
The bill heads to the House floor today for debate, where is expected to see some resistance. Not for hemp, though. The bill’s most controversial aspect is actually a 15-cent tax to be collected by the feds for every Christmas tree cut or imported in the U.S. – basically, it’s a tax on every tree but the ones farmed out by U.S. farmers. That, and language that urges Mexican citizens living in the United States to apply for food stamp assistance.
Despite those setbacks, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid says the bill will likely pass through the House and into his Senate without issue.